Our baseball athletes undergo a rigorous offseason workout schedule that incorporates a ton of heavy weight lifting – mostly done with barbells, but we use dumbbells for single-arm exercises (rows) and pressing (bench press with the neutral grip and the occasional push press) as well. Most of the athletes that I get come into the gym ready to go wearing shorts and a cotton t-shirt and ask “What’s first, coach?” Assuming that they’ve already passed their initial assessment that all my clients undergo, we talk to them about proper warmup procedures and ask them what they typically do to get ready for lifting some serious weight.
The responses are varied and interesting. Most include basic static stretching, maybe a little bit of running or elliptical trainer work, a few minutes on the Airdyne, and in some exceptional cases, yoga poses and actual dynamic range of motion work. However, no one has come to me and discussed soft tissue quality and/or foam rolling as part of their warmup techniques!
Soft tissue quality is extremely important when maintaining and gaining flexibility/mobility and plays a huge role in “prehab” and rehab operations equally. This topic is worth studying and dedicating a few posts to later on, but for now I’ll just talk about proper warmups that we use at Driveline Baseball to get ready to move heavy weight (which are similar to the warmups we do before batting practice or throwing a bullpen).
First: Foam Rolling / Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
To me, foam rolling is a no-brainer. Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson wrote a groundbreaking article titled “Feel Better for 10 Bucks” on T-Nation that changed the way I trained athletes (and myself). Here’s a quick excerpt from said article:
It’s also fairly well accepted that muscles need to not only be strong, but pliable as well. Regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder, strength athlete, or ordinary weekend warrior, it’s important to have strength and optimal function through a full range of motion. While stretching will improve the length of the muscle, SMR and massage work to adjust the tone of the muscle.
I’m going to plagiarize Eric Cressey again and show you a video that he taped that discusses the foam rolling progressions he has his athletes go through. They are very similar and nearly identical to the foam rolling patterns our athletes go through:
Second: Dynamic Stretching / Mobility Work
For many athletes – and especially baseball players – this involves pounding away at hip mobility. Stronglifts.com has a great article on this topic along with companion videos. Basic stuff like simple leg swings can make a huge difference over the long run:
We also work on ankle mobility and stabilization (a topic I wrote about last month), as this is huge in any squatting pattern. You’ll also find that soccer players and baseball athletes (both pitchers and hitters) will have deficits between their “plant” leg and their free leg. Don’t just work on one ankle – work them both to bring them up equally!
There’s also a bit of static stretching involved prior to our lifts – I know, I know. Static stretching before lifting or power-based movements has gotten a bad reputation. However, like many controversial topics, it has been vastly overblown. Static stretching of the hip flexors prior to squatting or jumping has been shown to improve performance and working the agonist/antagonist relationships (hanging from the chin-up bar prior to bench press, for example) tends to help a lot as well.
Third: Band Work
We use resistance bands quite a bit between sets and prior to lifting to get the blood flowing throughout the body and to increase mobility in important areas. We’ll often do some facepulls and general scapular mobility work, X-band walks and other glute activation work, and simple internal/external ROM work for the shoulder.
I hope that this article helps you to think about warming up for weight training – and sports in general – a little differently, and perhaps more seriously. You can pick up resistance bands or mobility/flexibility products from our respective Products pages. Give them a shot – I bet you’ll notice a big difference next time you’re in the gym!