Warmup and Motor Concepts

Something I find interesting is the rationalization of using “correctives” in a program is by placing them in the Warmup.  My train of thought at this time suggests this positioning as a mistake and both detracts from the Warmup and the goal or intent of these drills to begin with.  By default, choosing drills that are best positioned as motor skill acquisition for fundamental skills, such as mobility and stability, are really just being mailed in not delivering on the adjustments or adaptations that they are ideally used for in the first place.

The Train of Thought from Inside Out kinda looks like Mater.

The Train of Thought from Inside Out kinda looks like Mater.

So in mixing the principles of the warmup and motor skill acquisition, I’ll give my view on how these are categorized in the systematic model of training and rehab.
I’ll start with the warmup and a brief trip down memory lane.  I’ve mentioned before that a hallmark in my career was the summer of 2003 when Keith D’Amelio and I attended what was at that time the precursor to what we know now as the Perform Better Functional Training Summit.  This conference was a joint effort from Perform Better and Northeast Seminars.  It had some PT names at that time, and it was the first time I saw the likes of Mark Verstegen, Stuart McGill, and Mike Boyle live for the first time.  I still remember some of the visuals and presentations like it was yesterday.  Mark Verstegen left an indelible impression as he explained 4 tenets to a great warmup, and it is a concept that I reconsider liberally to this day.  I’m not 100% sure if my thoughts are the same as what AP still uses today, but below is my interpretations of how to build a great warmup.

My how life would have been different.

My how life would have been different.

The Warmup
1)  Increase Tissue Temperature
–I think this is fairly conventional and dogmatic.  Increasing the extensibility of human tissue via thermal change is fairly reliable and useful prior to motions calling upon excursion or power.
2)  Prime the Mobility You Have
–Ah, this will be a key point to discuss later.  This concept suggests the choices of the warmup should create proprioception for what the individual current possesses, but not necessarily try to create more mobility.  Creating mobility will come another day, another time.  Introducing desirable mechanoreception will ideally allow for more efficient control of what tissues are physiologically capable of.  Improving mobility is quite a different process than prepping or priming what you currently have.  The GAS for improving mobility is quite different and basically impossible to occur in the typical time frame of a Warmup as well as with 1) increasing tissue temperature.  Can we suggest this improves stability?  Yes, if we define stability as control in the presence of change.  However, this control, in my mind, would have already had to have been learned, and the choices in the Warmup would be a rehearsal, a proprioceptive reminder if you will, or the already acquired skill.  And this brings us to the 3rd concept of rehearsal.
3)  Rehearse the Intended Movements of your Training Session
–We now get into another crux of the matter because it is very difficult to pre-package a warmup when you don’t already have a training plan.  This is part of the Start At The Finish concept I have presented on this summer.  I can’t tell you or help you make decisions on the best way to get somewhere until you tell me exactly where you want to be at the end of the process.  And when we can bucket a training session on the type of Preparedness we are targeting as well as the acute variables of the session, then we can further decide how to exploit this concept in building out a Warmup.  Now indeed if the training session is more neurologically based in terms of motor skill acquisition or physiologically based in terms of fitness, the warmup will likely be very different, and this difference is remarked by the 4th concept.
4)  Prep the CNS for the Impending Training Session
–As with 3), it is increasingly challenging to define this concept without knowing the profile(s) of the individual training as well as the intent of the training session.  We can talk about progressing sagittal to frontal to transverse; slow to fast; simple to complex; closed loop to open loop; immature to mature and advanced; the list goes on.  The ideal CNS prep for a focus of changing pain, increasing mobility, acquiring new motor skills, or improving fitness can be four different approaches.  With 1) and maybe 2), you can just mail in a Warmup, which I think is exactly what most people do, but to take advantage of GAS, nailing as much of these 4 concepts as possible I think is ideal and worth thinking about.

Now is there a place or room for motor skill acquisition within these 4 principles?
I think the answer is no.  At best, populating the Warmup with drills that are best positioned to acquire a new motor skill is inefficient.

I'd guess Russian too.  Funny how a Motor Learning patriarch apparently coined the word Biomechanics.

Funny how a Motor Learning patriarch apparently coined the word Biomechanics.

I choose specifically to not term these drills as corrective exercise because I don’t believe we’re correcting anything, but rather optimizing the body’s ability to get into positions to absorb and adapt to stress.  We all know you can improve fitness with poor form and execute incredible power and mastery despite what is obviously poor form.  But in training, there is utility in Regressing so that our best choices are marked with maximal force production and minimal joint wear.  The Warmup sets us up for this, but the Warmup is not the place when we need learning.  The Warmup is a reminder, not a teaching and learning session.
There are dozens and dozens of brilliant movements, often steeped in the common principles of PNF, that relatively quickly change uncued motor performance.  If it quickly reverts to a previous undesirable performance, the body listened, but it didn’t learn.  Call that an adjustment, and it simply requires further progression or repetition of Dynamical Systems.  If the new performance “sticks,” then call it a neurological adaptation, and you win.
We’ve already totally gotten away from the goals of a Warmup which can live preceding any kind of training and the goals of the a skill acquisition session.  It almost like mashing together apples and oranges.

Ummm, yeah.  No.

Ummm, yeah. No. No.

A Warmup can precede a training session to change pain, improve mobility, acquire motor skills, or improve fitness.  But it doesn’t quite work vice versa.
When you choose a drill that is best positioned to acquire a fundamental motor skill, does it also increase tissue temperature?  Probably not.
Sport-specific motor skill?  Yes, but this isn’t what people are putting into the warmup.  They’re putting Birdogs and Rib Roll and ASLR, typically executed miserably aside.  When we are looking to gain Mobility and Stability, these can wind up increasing tissue temperature for deconditioned individuals, but again, that’s not the same time-duration-etc. of a warmup.  Rib Grab for 8-10 garbage reps in a warmup is not going to increase t-spine rotation.  Is it the best choice for a Warmup?  What else do we have to nail all 4 of the above tenets to the Warmup?  How about some tempo-paced med ball throws?  How about some rolling and crawling variations or Getups?
Does a motor skill acquisition choice prime the mobility they have?  Of course it does, but when we look at tissue temperature or prepping the CNS for an impending intense session, are they the best choices?  Again, I think the answer is now.  Instead of LL Quad T-Spine, let’s throw a rugby ball or swing a golf club randomly, and we get 3-4 of the tenets instead of 1.

There are rules to acquiring motor skills, and they are different from changing pain, increasing mobility, or improving fitness.  Those rules include all of the tenets of Dynamical Systems such as proper selection of drill, progressing to random practice as well as deliberate performance towards the end-state goals, and also performing under sub-threshold physiological parameters.  These concepts can not be honored or maintained in even a 90 minute warmup, which is just a GPP session in disguise.
My suggestion is to leave motor skill acquisition for another day, another time, and when it is time to jump over buildings, lift heavy things, and battle, the Warmup should reflect that.
It’s too late to worry about “correctives.”

Oh, the irony.  And the truth, which I guess is ironic.

Oh, the irony. And the truth, which I guess is ironic.



  • August 25, 2015

Leave a Reply 2 comments

Nick Tartaglia Reply

Hey Charlie

Thanks for the post. Though provoking for sure. It’s made me reflect on my session programming, where i felt i was doing great things preparing my clients for sessions with correctives blended in with some traditional warm up drills like locomotion and movement patterning.

Some 1/2 kneeling and bracing drills i find are very affective in stimulating CNS as well as raising tissue temperature and heart rate, hence, i’d continue programming these things.

However when it comes to improving mobility, how would you suggest mobility is programmed or implemented. As a S&C coach i might only see an athlete 1-2 x per week, and this is time to crush. We sure as hell know that the majority wont do mobility work at home. The clients that i see 3-4 times per week usually love a mobility focused “reset” session…but for those that don’t have that luxury?

I have one other question. When it comes to bringing in a physical therapist for manual therapy releases, what is the expiry date on the mobility gain? what kind of time frame are we looking at for the coach to then lock it down with stability?

I feel integration should be performed as soon as immediately, but some are of the school of thought that movement should be left aside soon after manual therapy. Of course many factors involved here.

If a client has manual therapy and then has a session with coach the day after or the next, is it still as effective to then work on inhibited muscle groups?

Thanks Charlie. Keep the knowledge flowing

Charlie Reply

The expiration on the manual therapy will be different for everyone, but ultimately there is a suggestion that we should be supporting the changes within 60-120s and on a continual basis.

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