By: Dr. Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS
With all of the blown-up hype and trends rampant in the world of health and popular exercise, the idea of the functional warm-up has withstood the test of time. The functional warm-up is the answer to the more recent scientific literature demonstrating that static stretching can actually hamper sprint and ballistic performance that closely follows. Performing a functional warm-up prepares the nervous system for work, and preps your muscles and tendons by increasing body temperature as it lengthens targeted tissue and fascia. The most obvious benefit goes without saying, but we’ll say it here anyway, a better prepped system does reduce the risk of injury.
There are other benefits of the functional warm-up as well, and its influence on performance is much greater than just performing an effective stretch routine without hampering your PR or vertical. It also can improve coordination, agility, and foot speed; and these types of improvements are what can translate to the type of vertical or speed work that can improve any kind of athletes’ performance, whether on the field, court, track, or on the road or trail.
From the lay person to the allied health or strength coach professional alike, the best selling point of the functional warm-up is the great range and flexibility of the work-out itself. While you can get a very challenging level of exercise with a functional warm-up, it is flexible enough to gently rev up your activity level after a lay-off due to pregnancy, an injury or surgery, or if you’ve fallen off the work-out wagon. The exercises that can be incorporated in the warm-up can range from a walking to all out sprinting pace, and the intensity extends along the same range from barely working it to laying it all out there. This makes the functional warm-up a great way to shake up your work-out, kick start some cross-training, and focus on some unique problem areas in a more interesting and challenging way than the typical isolated exercise alternatives of the past. And who can’t use a simple way to shake things up some days?
Finally, exercise professionals love the tri-planar motions inherent in the motions of the exercises typically contained in the functional warm-up. Translation for the lay folks out there? Our bodies move in 3 planes, but many sports, such as running, only makes us move in one (except for when we make that lateral move to dodge that car in the intersection, but I digress!). The functional warm-up forces us to move in all three: sagittal (straight ahead and backward), coronal (side to side), and rotational (think doing a spin on a BBQ skewer here- yes, you, literally, doing that spin around the skewer) planes. Participating in only the movements required of one or two sports strictly limits the movement patterns to which our bodies become accustomed, potentially reducing muscle and fascia length and increasing our risk of injury when one day we do venture out of our accustomed range of motion.
Adding the functional warm-up to your repertoire gives your body a smorgasbord of tissue lengthening and strengthening movement patterns, and by mixing it up, the novelty your training program just might be lacking. Just one more reason for tying up those shoes a few minutes early and engaging in the dynamic, challenging, and always engaging world of the functional warm-up!