Lower Body Warm Up
The day has come to do lunges, squats and step ups. You want to get the most of your lower body workout. So how do you warm up?
Do you do some static stretches? Do you walk on the treadmill for a few minutes? Do you simply get under an unloaded barbell and perform a few reps? Or maybe you get on top of a stationary bicycle and you pedal for a few minutes.
These methods are ok, but they are far from optimal. If you want to increase performance and your chances of avoiding injury, then your warm ups should be more specific.
Massaging, Mobilizing and Activating
In an ideal scenario, you would complete a warm up that consists of the following three steps. They are smr (self myofascial release), mobility and activation. The process begins at the top of the pyramid (see image above), you then you work your way down. I will show you an example of how to put this together at the end of this post.
SMR- Self Myofascial Release
SMR stands for self myofascial release. Myo means pertaining to muscle, and fascia is a connective tissue that resides underneath the skin that connects muscles, tendons, joints and organs. Using smr techniques is an inexpensive and convenient way to reduce scar tissue accumulation and adhesion. It’s basically a self- massage. In order for smr techniques to be truly effective, it needs be done frequently and possibly even daily.
You can use different tools to apply smr techniques. You can use a foam roller, a lacrosse ball or even a massage stick. You will learn more about these tools in the following section. They are all useful in their own way. Some tools are more appropriate for specific muscles or muscle groups.
Here are some reasons on why you may want to include smr techniques in your warm up routines:
- Helps reduce muscle stiffness
- Improves range of motion
- Improves quality of movement
And here are some reasons on why you may not want to include smr techniques in your warm up routines:
- If you suffer from circulatory problems
- If you have been recently injured
- If you suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain (e.g., fibromyalgia)
A foam roller will be the largest tool that you will be using. It’s especially beneficial to target big areas like your back, quads and lateral thighs. They also come in different sizes and with varied densities. A person that is new to foam rolling should probably start with a lighter, less dense foam roller.
A more dense, harder foam roller will apply more pressure to the muscle and perhaps might be too much of a discomfort for a novice.
When foam rollers products started coming out a few years ago, they were boring, cylinder objects. Now there are foam rollers with deeper grooves, nods and grids for a deeper massage. Advanced foam rollers should be for people that have some experience foam rolling and that have acquired a higher threshold for discomfort.
This is an article for the lower body but I wanted to let you in on my favorite way to use a foam roller.
Most of us experience an achy or stiff back throughout the day. This may be due to poor, sluggish posture. Maybe you spend a good portion of your day slouched over your computer. I firmly believe that taking short breaks to foam roll your back, for even two minutes, will provide a significant amount of relief. You will even feel re-energized.
Ok, maybe you can’t foam roll in the office. But perhaps you can foam roll just a couple of minutes before you go out the door in the morning and then when you return home later in the evening. You can even do this while you watch tv.
This tool allows for better maneuvering due the handles, and for this reason you can easily apply different levels of pressure. Though a foam roller can also be a portable device, it may be too big to carry around. The massage stick is sure to fit in most backpacks and gym bags.
The lacrosse ball is the smallest tool you would use for smr purposes. I do have to mention that lacrosse balls have an extremely firm surface and may provide too much pressure on the targeted muscle. If you wish, you can use a tennis ball for a softer touch. Like the massage stick, the lacrosse ball is easy to carry around due to it’s size.
Having really good mobility will allow you to move better, lift heavier weight (if that’s your goal) and you will reduce the chances of getting injured. Mobility is the ability to move through a healthy range of motion with a particular joint(s). All the mobility drills you will learn in this article will pertain to the hips and to the ankles.
Glute activation drills improves the communication between the nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Basically, it primes the muscles of the hip for movement. Performing lower body exercises won’t guarantee that the muscle fibers of the hip are recruited properly. Glute activation will help the contractility of these muscle fibers.
Self Myofascial Release Drills
Calves (Gastrocnemius & Soleus)
Best tool to use: The foam roller can work just fine but if you want/need to apply more pressure then consider using a massage stick. (I make my son use the massage stick on my calves. He doesn’t really enjoy it but that’s OK).
Treating this area can reduce the chances of getting shin splints. Shin splints is a type of inflammation or stress fracture that occurs in the front side of the lower leg. Treating this area for injury prevention is not as common.
Massaging the tibialis anterior can definitely be helpful but if you suffer from recurring shin splints you may want to get better running shoes for your type of foot and work on your running form, and consider the type of surface you are running on.
Best tool to use: Since this is a narrower muscle, using a massage stick or lacrosse ball would be ideal.
IT Band (Iliotibial band)
The IT Band is a connective tissue (not a muscle) that provides stability to the knee and hip. This is a common site for inflammation, particularly among runners and cyclists.
Best tool to use: The setup for this application requires you to lay down sideways. The foam roller would be an appropriate tool to use for this area since it is long.
Having excessive tension in the quads can lead to anterior knee pain or cause an anterior pelvic tilt. An anterior pelvic tilt is when the front of the pelvis is shifted forward and this increases the curvature of your lower back. Applying smr techniques to the quads and specifically to the rectus femoris muscle won’t necessarily fix this issue by itself, but it can certainly help.
Best tool to use: You can use a foam roller or a massage stick. I am using a massage stick in the video above, and I am focusing on the vastus medialis and rectus femoris muscles.
The piriformis is a small muscle that sits deep in the hip. Though small, this muscle can cause problems to the lower body if it contains excessive tension or tightness. This tension can even irritate the sciatic nerve.
Best tool to use: A foam roller is too big to target such a small muscle. A lacrosse ball can do a better job at digging in the right site.
This is a two combo approach where you will perform leg swings front and back and then sideways. The front and back version will dynamically stretch the hamstrings and stretch the quads. The side to side version will turn on the outer hip muscles and lengthen the muscles of the inner thigh (adductors). Another benefit of this version is that it will also work on some ankle mobility.
Fire hydrants might look a bit funny to the spectator, but it’s a tremendously useful exercise for improving hip mobility. It is important to fully extend the leg when it is behind you. You want to try your best to rotate your leg outward in a fluid motion. You’re going to do a few repetitions with the leg rotating out and then inwards as well.
This particular warm up contains the most movement out of all the mobility movements listed here. This is great for ankle stability (for the leg that remains on the ground),and hip mobility, and it dynamically stretches the piriformis muscle.
Mini-Band Lateral Walks
This is a simple exercise that delivers so much value, and all you need is a $2 band. This drill will specifically strengthen the glute medius and minimus muscles. These muscles are small but they play key roles in hip and knee stability.
Putting these movements to work
All these movements can help you perform better and help you avoid injury. However don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time warming up. You don’t want your warm up to get you too tired for your sport or training.
The healthier and fitter you are, the less time you can spend warming up. Someone that is bound to a desk all day should spend more time warming up, as opposed to someone that is active on their feet for most of their day.
You don’t have to do every exercise in this article. Everyone has unique needs. Pick the movements that resonate most with you and your body. I made the following chart just to give you some structure, but feel free to spend more time on individual muscle groups.