YOU MAY HAVE OUTGROWN EVERYTHING ELSE from elementary school—the awkward crush, the katsupoy haircut, the cartoon-character lunchbox—but if there’s one habit that most grown men still carry from those days long gone, it’s how they warm up.
You know the drill: reach for the toes, pull your elbows up over your head, maybe press against a wall. “This is called static stretching,” says Christian Dominguez, M.S., C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Asia and the Pacific. “It’s designed to lengthen the muscles so that it will correct whatever body part is stiff.” Static stretches give you that relaxed feeling, and “we don’t want that to happen when we’re competing or playing,” stresses Dominguez.
Instead of merely stretching the muscles, a dynamic warm-up sequence fires them up, activating major muscle groups to prepare you for the plethora of movement you’re about to plunge into. A 2013 Iranian study found that dynamic stretching increased the fitness performance of soccer players compared to static stretching. The researchers theorized that novel warm-ups like these net higher post-activation potentiation, “a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction,” as D.W. Robbins explains in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Additionally, static stretching has been shown to, at best, be the poorer choice when it comes to your pre-game routine. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports analyzed studies of old-school warm-ups from 1966 all the way to 2010, and concluded that “the usage of static stretching as the sole activity during warm-up should generally be avoided.”
Still, it’s hard to break out of old habits. Even Dominguez concedes that his best athletes find it difficult to adjust to dynamic stretches, so he makes them start up with the old-school, before slowly transitioning to the dynamic way. “Whether you’re doing a gym workout, MMA, pep squad, ballroom dancing...across the board, you [need to] turn on the muscles you want to use,” he says of this sequence he has designed. Consider this an on-switch for all your muscles before you go all out with your activity.
A workout with just a warm-up is a sandwich missing a slice of bread. In a study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, research participants who did cool-down exercises after a tough routine of weighted front lunges reported significantly less pressure pain threshold after two days, compared with participants who just did a warm-up.
And this is where old-school static stretches finds their place—they’re more than welcome in your post-exercise routine. They not only stretch and lengthen affected muscle, but also “circulate the accumulated lactic acid,” says Christian Dominguez, M.S., C.S.C.S. Timely static stretching also relaxes muscle and improves flexibility.
Take note of the key word: ‘stretch.’ You’ll need to feel the pull to reap maximum benefits. In addition, US Men’s Health fitness advisor Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S., writes, “You get optimal gains by holding it between 15 and 30 seconds.” Unlike in dynamic warm-ups and workouts, there’s no need for reps here; just do one stretch for the affected muscle.
THE NEW SCHOOL WARM-UP
DIRECTIONS: Perform 8 to 10 reps of each move. The first five moves should be performed as ‘walks’—every rep should end with a forward step.
This activates your glutes and hip extensors. Keeping your trunk straight, raise your right knee to your chest and hold. Bring it down by taking a step forward. That’s one rep. Repeat with your left knee.
This pulls your abductors and adductors, so make sure your hands are in the correct ‘cradle’ position to maximize the stretch. Keeping your trunk straight, raise your right leg to hip level, bend the knee, and use your arms to cradle it (right hand under the knee, left hand holding the front of the ankle). Bring it down by taking a step forward. That’s one rep. Repeat with your other leg.
STIFF LEG KICK
This activates your hamstrings and glutes. Extend your right arm out to chest level. Maintaining an upright position, kick your left leg upward until you hit your palm, then bring it down as you step forward. Keep your leg as straight as possible throughout the move. That’s one rep. Repeat with your right leg and left arm.
This primes up your entire anterior chain. Lift your left leg up behind you and hold it up with your left hand, then extend your right arm above you. Lean forward and pull up on your right leg. Hold for three counts, keeping your spine neutral, then bring your right leg down into a forward step. That’s one rep. Repeat for your right leg, extending your left arm this time.
This works your stability. Bend forward at the waist, kick your left leg behind you, and extend both arms to your sides, thumbs pointing up. Hold for three counts, then bring your left leg down into a forward step. That’s one rep. Repeat for the right leg.
THE LUNGE SERIES
Lunges don’t just work the legs—they’re also vital for preventing injury. “A lot of sports injuries occur during the deceleration phase of a movement,” Dominguez warns. This is exactly where lunges, a deceleration exercise, prove useful.
Want to go for a lighter warm-up? Do this series as up-and-down one-leg squats instead, ditching the lunging movement.
Prisoner Squat Forward Lunge
Keep your hands on the back of your head to maintain an upright trunk, then lunge forward with your left leg and lower your body by bending your knees as low as you can. Go back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for the other leg.
Pistol Lateral Lunge
Hold your hands straight out in front of you. Keep your trunk straight, then step your right leg to the side and lower yourself. Make sure your right foot is pointing straight forward. Return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for the other leg.
Stand up straight, then lunge your left foot back and bend both knees until your left knee is close to the floor. At the same time, raise both hands up, keeping your upper body straight. Return to starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for the other leg.
The airplane too difficult for you? Fly a little lower with this trick from Dominguez: Instead of holding your arms out to the sides, push forward with your palms out in a Superman position. “Mas natural ang motion,” he notes, so it should be easier for you to do.