Movement prep, as the name implies, gets your body ready for movement. By completing a succession of dynamic movements, the goal is to raise your core temperature, prime your nervous system for physical activity and to strengthen your muscles.
In addition to preparing you physically, movement prep also helps you to dial in mentally. As your heart rate increases, it increases the blood flow to working muscles. This kick-starts the body and allows you to activate all your muscles, perhaps even the forgotten ones!! Most of us (even top-level athletes) have a muscle group that is not fully active. This, in turn, can cause other parts of the body to compensate, ultimately ending in injury. A common example is that of the small muscles located in the hips. If the gluteus medius is not activated this can lead to lower-back pain, knee pain, and even groin strain. Movement prep can solve all of this within a couple of days, by allowing the body to recollect movement patterns that perhaps have not been used for many years.
Movement prep allows you to reinforce muscles within a new range of motion, thus stabilising all the small muscles around the joints. Over time, this improves posture, performance and can help in reducing risk of injury.
Difference between normal/ old school stretching and movement prep
There will always be huge value in performing more traditional, old school stretching. However, by performing static exercise routines before a workout, you are only increasing your flexibility for a short period of time. The goal of this more static style of stretching is to get your body into a stretched position and then to hold it. In movement prep, you activate your muscles dynamically. This results in long-term improvements in mobility and flexibility. Instead of stretching your muscles out and then letting them go back to where they originally were, movement prep sets your body up to remember these ranges of motion. Movement prep helps you to develop more strength and stability in your training. It is best to do movement prep before every work out and then use static stretching as a cool down.
Movement prep not only prepares you for your upcoming workout, it keeps your muscles switched on all day. But why is that important? Imagine you are walking along, and just like in a cartoon, you slip on a banana skin. It is your bodies proprioception that determines how you react, and in turn how, or if, you fall. Proprioception refers to the structure of pressure sensors in your joints, muscles and tendons that work together to keep you balanced. Movement prep not only activates your small muscles, it also fine tunes your sense of proprioception.
The goals remain the same in both the traditional warm up and movement prep. The distinction is found in the fact that movement prep also prepares both the motor and neuromuscular systems.
How Movement Prep Works
To ensure a complete movement preparation, it is essential that you include all the foundational movement patterns: squats, lunges, push, pull, and rotations. Start slowly and in a controlled manner, and gradually and progressively increase speed, and intensity. You should set aside at least ten to twelve minutes to fully warm up the body. Be sure to tailor each movement prep session to the upcoming workout, it always needs to be adapted based on the movements that you are working on.
Top 5 Components of Movement Prep
General low-intensity cardio activity: A light jog, some gentle skipping to raise body temperatures. Animal movements are another fantastic way to kick off movement prep. By increasing body temperature there is a proven change in muscle and tendon stiffness. For those of you who are new to animal movements, this is a great introductory video.
Hip activation: Hips are the power house of our body. Full mobility and stability in the hips is critical to both enhancing performance and diminishing the risk of injury. The muscles around our hips perform huge amounts of work and provide the foundations for the agility of our entire body. It is also our hips that deliver most of the force and power from our lower body. It is this force that allows us to run and jump, and any lack of strength and mobility in this part of the body can have an immediate impact. Start off gently with some windshield wipers, some quadruped rock backs, and some glute bridge marches, work up to doing some goblet squats. For more inspiration, check out this video.
Use dynamic movements, not static stretches: Additionally, you should not think about doing isolated movements, but rather focus on complete movement patterns. The aim is to challenge mobility, stability and motor skills. Our muscles are rarely used in isolation of other muscles or movement patterns. Stretching your shoulders, or pecs may well lengthen the tissues but it will not ready you for movement in an effective manner. For example, instead of doing a static hamstring stretch, complete this drill instead.
Movement skills integration: This is when you can start speeding things up a bit. The objective is to incorporate the essential movements for the forthcoming activity. This will of course need to be adapted to what you will be working on in the gym that day, but it must still include the entire body. The majority of activities include locomotor movements, so it is extremely important to review those skills, always keeping in mind what you will be doing in the upcoming session.
Neural activation: by the final stage of movement prep you are now ready to introduce full speed efforts, coupled with short intervals. The aim is to activate the nervous system for the loads of the upcoming movements. Making progressions from general to specific, slow to rapid, low force to high force movements, allows for post-activation potentiation. These movements should again reflect the demands of the upcoming workout. There are some great ideas for neural activation in this video.