It is important to elevate one’s body temperature to loosen up muscles and joints. We often neglect our nervous system as it relates to the exercises in our workout session though.
While working for a major health gym here in Minneapolis I had the opportunity to attend an education series called MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques). I call it a series because it was a commitment of one weekend a month for three months. We talked about the upper body, the lower body and the middle body and my purpose for going through the program was to get a deeper look into how the body functions. This was years ago and when I realized fully the importance of the nervous system in strength training.
If we take a fundamental look at movement and truly isolate movement to its most basic form we often times learn that we don’t have the range of motion we think we do and the muscles we’re actually trying to work might not be working at all. This is where the nervous system comes into play.
Let’s say I walk into a room where there is a light in the center of the room to brighten it and make it safe to move about. There is a light switch on the wall like most of the rooms we walk into. We flip the switch and nothing happens. Why? The answer is because there is a problem with the wiring. The switch has no way of communicating with the light.
Now, let’s take a look of this same analogy as it relates to weight lifting. I’ve warmed up by elevating my body temperature and loosening up my muscles but I haven’t given my wiring a second thought. I’m warm… let’s go bench or pull on heavy things. It’s a great idea and it’s also a great way to damage your body.
If you’ve watched enough people cruise the gym, like I have from behind a trainer’s desk in the middle of the fitness floor, you’ll know that many people skip the step I’m going to explain to you now.
Let’s say my purpose today is to work on my back and my biceps. That’s a pretty common split if you’re going to target a specific area of your body. Instead of heading straight for the heavy lat pulldowns or seated row I’m going to ease into big weight. I’ve got to address my nervous system first to make sure the signal is getting from my brain to the muscles I’m wanting to do the work.
How do I do that? Think about the muscles that will be resisting the forces placed on them. This includes gravity. Then, use the muscles you expect to lift the heavy weights with light weights (like really light) in the same way. The weight you use shouldn’t even challenge the muscles. The purpose is to wake up the nerves so the muscles you’re trying to use during your workout are actually the ones doing the work.
Let’s go back to our back and bicep day. Here are a few examples that might help activate the nerves in the muscles you’re trying to recruit:
Glut Bridge – You might say, “How does a glute bridge activate my back?” That’s a different conversation but it does.
Lying Superman – This one engages the entire posterior chain (keep the neck neutral)
Standing Wide Row – Keep your ribcage down and avoid hyperextension in your lower back (shoulders down)
Curl – This is your bicep warm up and will help stabilize the spine during your targeted lifts
Wide Pulldown – Keep your palm facing forward and bring your elbow straight to your side. There is no need for lateral spinal flexion during this warm up exercise.
That was easy. This targeted warm up for your nervous system won’t take more than five minutes, yet it will help you avoid injury as well as enhance your performance and speed your results in the gym. I've attached the PDF version below the image for you.