Blog Post: July 26th, 2021

By Doctor of Physical Therapy, Jason Meyer

Research has clearly shown that passive stretching of “cold” muscles before exercise can lead to injury, rather than prevent it, as was originally thought. In fact passive stretching actually “switches” the muscle off! We also know that stretching effectively after exercises is a very worthwhile recovery and injury prevention technique. How then do we prepare our bodies in such a way that we can exercise in an effective and safe manner?

In order to ready the body for vigorous exercise we must bring it from its pre-exercise level of inactivity to a point of primed readiness to absorb training. This requires that the nervous system is “switched on”, that the muscles are both centrally warm and elastic, that the joints and their surrounding ligaments are fully mobilized and that the fibers in the muscle groups necessary for the upcoming activity are fully recruited.

By using a series of activities that gradually transition the body from its state of rest to a state of full readiness, the athlete can ensure that the body is fully facilitated and wholly ready to perform an event or workout. These exercises were designed to gradually warm, activate, lengthen and prep the body safely and in such a way that the athlete is ready to absorb the value of training fully. The drills include activities that lengthen muscle groups, get muscle groups firing in the correct sequence, raise core muscle temperatures to effective operating levels and mobilize joints effectively to promote relaxation and full, safe range of motion. 

Safety Points:

  • Always complete some light walking or running before commencing with these drills
  • Always start with the smallest range of motion possible and built up only to a level that is safe, comfortable and manageable
  • Avoid exercises that cause anything but mild and safe discomfort
  • Always stay within your capabilities- build your ability level from the inside out (don’t overreach)
  • Wear appropriate footwear and clothing
  • Preferably learn these drills under the guidance of a qualified instructor
  • Minimize the curve of the low back

Dynamic Warm Up Routine

  1. Forward Arm Swings (Freestyle Swim). “Swim” forward by swinging the arms in large loose arcs. Make sure that you swing them with enough speed to create a little momentum. This is a mobilization exercise. Allow the hips to rotate freely & naturally. Keep walking forward while you do this.
  2. Backward Arm Swings (Backstroke Swim). “Swim backstroke” by swinging the arms backwards in large loose arcs. Make sure that you swing them with enough speed to create a little momentum. This is a mobilization exercise. Allow the hips to rotate freely & naturally. Keep walking forward while you do this. Lead with the little finger & keep the palms pointing outwards over the top.
  3. Forward Arm Swings (Both arms together). Rotate both arms forwards with momentum. Keep low back straight & maintain forward lean throughout. Keep elbows bent to protect shoulders. Also rotate the shoulders.
  4. Backward Arm Swings (Both arms together). Rotate both arms backwards with momentum. Keep low back straight. Lead with the little finger & keep the palms pointing outwards. Relax face & keep elbows bent. Do not force the arms backwards, allow the arms & shoulders to loosen naturally & move through their full range of motion, no matter how limited. 
  5. Asymmetric Arm Swings. Rotate one arm forward & the other backwards. Allow the hips to swivel in order to accommodate the shoulder rotation. Practice until comfortable with the coordination component.
  6. Heel Walk. Walk forward keeping the forefoot off the ground. This is to activate the tibs/shins & stretch out the gastrocs/calves. Here you can do a little more than 7 steps per foot.
  7. High Toe Walk. Use a normal walking gait. Toe off strongly, pushing the body upwards & forwards. Keep the toe in contact with the ground- do not skip.
  8. Ankle Extensions. A combination of heel and toe walking. Using normal gait walking, strike with the heel and roll through the entire foot pushing off using the great toe.
  9. High Knee Walk. Use a normal walking gait. Strike with heel; roll through the entire foot & then fire the leading knee to at least hip height. Simultaneously toe off strongly as with #8, and keep the toe in contact with the ground. Keep leaning forward, especially when driving the knee upwards- do not skip. 
  10. Knee Huggers. Use normal walking gait. Lower leg action similar to ankle extension exercise. Opposite leg is pulled up to chest keeping a forward lean posture.
  11. Grapevines or Karaoke. Moving sideways, keep arms outstretched. Have the trailing leg alternately go across the front and then the back. It helps to turn the head with the trailing leg (i.e. when it goes across the front look in the direction of travel, when it goes past the back, look backwards). 1st walk this drill, with deep balanced steps, then run it with short rhythmic steps. Try to keep the upper body still while the hips rotate through 180 degrees. 
  12. Side Bends. Interlock the hands, spread the legs about shoulder width & lift the arms above the head. Keep the low back relaxed. Do not lift the arms so high that the low back arches. Bend to each side while exhaling. Inhale when returning to the top. Keep the body upright, keeping the shoulders & hips square. Being bent a little forward is a good idea. 
  13. Butt Kicks. Walk forward with bent elbows & flick the heel up towards the glutes. Be sure to use only the hamstrings & not the gastrocs (calves) or low back- keep the pelvis in neutral. Then jog gently forward & flick the heel up on every 2nd step following the same principles. Finally do 8-12 alternating heel flicks while running easily. Again follow the same principles. 
  14. Hip Extension Kicks. Maintain forward lean (do not arch back), walk on midfoot and step through supported leg before raising foot. Accentuate push off phase.
  15. Hamstring Kick Outs. Walk forward & with slightly bent knees, kick each leg out forward alternately. Bend the upper body towards the outstretched leg. Keep the support leg bent & make sure that the back foot stays up on the toe. Kick the leg out straight forward & reach the opposite hand out towards the extended shin or foot. Keep leaning & moving forward.
  16. Strides/Pick Ups. After the Dynamic Warm Up Drills, walk &/or run easily for 3 minutes & then do some strides. Start with the 1st one just a little faster than your warm up. Then gradually build pace with each consecutive stride. End with a pace just faster than your expected finishing or training pace. Complete 4-10 strides of 50-200 m, or 15-45 seconds. Be sure to rest sufficiently between strides. Fewer strides executed correctly is the way to go.