Ask Dan #1 – Stretching Before Workouts, Desk Warriors, and Lifting Weights in the Morning
- DAN NORTH
You have some questions, I have some answers!
Trainers and coaches get asked a lot of the same questions over and over again, which is great, but can be difficult to answer every single person all the time. So, I thought I would make an “Ask Dan” post where I answer your questions so you can refer to them anytime you want.
LET’S GET RIGHT TO IT.
#1: IS IT BAD TO STRETCH BEFORE WORKING OUT?
In a nutshell, no.
You have to prepare your body for the workout, and to me, warming up is part of the workout. I think a lot of people hear that stretching before you train can inhibit your body’s performance, and that’s true…to a certain extent.
For example, I wouldn’t do a thirty-minute yoga routine and then try to lift. After yoga or stretching for prolonged periods, your body is in a very relaxed state, and when it comes to lifting, you don’t really want to be ‘relaxed’, you want to be prepared.
I don’t recommend coming to the gym completely cold (not warmed up), doing the classic sit and reach hamstring stretch, maybe the standing quad stretch you see all the time where people are yanking their foot back for a couple seconds then jumping into their workout.
Instead, work on lubricating your joints and ligaments in order to improve their range of motion and prepare them for loading with mobility and activation drills.
#2: I WORK AT A DESK, IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR I SHOULD BE DOING AT THE GYM?
This is the most common situation I see in the general population. Sitting 8-10 hours a day staring at your phone and computer doesn’t do much good for the body. Your head protrudes forward, causing tension buildup in your neck and traps. Your lower back starts to ache because your core is disengaged while you’re sitting. Your hip range of motion is tight as hell because they are in a flexed position all day. And if you wear heels, your ankle range of motion is suffering as well because they are in a constant plantar position.
Every situation is different, but a good place to start for most people who sit at a desk for a living would be to tackle these four areas:
- Pecs: Your pecs and other anterior muscle groups become tight or restricted due to constant rounding forward of the upper back and shoulders. Relieve tension in your pecs, upper traps, and anterior deltoids.
- Hips: Your hips have to be able to flex, extend, rotate, adduct, abduct, and be mobile. When you sit all day, you are just flexing the hips.
- Shoulders/thoracic spine (upper back): Hunched backs are all you see when you go the office with people hovering over their keyboards. Its easy to forget we’re even in a slouched position, so work on improving your shoulder and T spine mobility.
- Ankles (especially women wearing heels): Your calves are constantly flexed when wearing heels, causing strain and tension buildup in the ankles. Try using self-myofascial release techniques like lacrosse ball work on the bottom of your feet where you take a lacrosse ball and roll it around the bottom of your foot while standing, applying about 7/10 pressure. Also work on improving your ankles’ dorsi flexion (opposite of plantar flexion which is the position they’re in while wearing heels).
When it comes to improving your body’s overall range of motion and mobility, a minute here and there sprinkled throughout the day is much more effective than trying to cram all of your stretching and mobility work within an hour at the gym.
These are four basic stretches you can do almost anywhere, helping to relieve tension in the pecs, hips, shoulders/T spine, and ankles. Try holding each position for at least one to two minutes. Perform 10-20 reps of the elbow to bench drill shown below.
#3: I LIFT WEIGHTS IN THE MORNING BUT I DON’T FEEL LIKE I’M GETTING STRONGER. WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MY WORKOUTS BETTER?
A lot of us have pretty messed up schedules these days, which means lifting early in the morning at the crack of dawn is a must for some of us. If this sounds like your situation, I’m going to guess you fall into at least one (or all) of the following categories:
- You are determined
- You are a go-getter
- You are a competitive athlete
- You have a demanding career
- You have children
- Your training is one of the top three priorities of your life
Even with all of these things tugging at you from all directions, you still have to get your training in. So that means waking up at ungodly hours to get to the gym day after day. And even though you’re training consistently and have a regular schedule, you don’t feel as strong as you potentially could.
Work ethic isn’t the issue, you’ve already proved you want it by waking up while others still have two to three hours of sleep left to enjoy. The issue lies in your physical and mental preparedness for training. What are you doing the night before and the morning of your workouts to ensure your time spent in the gym is going to be as successful as possible?
Implementing these simple strategies into your routine are going to provide your mind and body ample amount of preparedness to attack your training and get you feeling great and stronger during your workouts.
This is probably the most important form of recovery and it’s free. You cannot train to your fullest capabilities if you haven’t slept. Fact.
2. Get your protein in the night before
You won’t wake up feeling drained and malnourished. Give your body something to live off of throughout the night with something protein-based as your last meal or snack.
3. Do not stroll out of bed and stumble into the gym
This will definitely get your hurt eventually. It takes time to warm up, and if you’re just strolling out of bed and working out almost immediately, your body and your mind are still in a relaxed state. Your nervous system isn’t engaged for the workout, your back is achy from sleeping all night, and you’re going to try lifting weights right now? Please don’t do this. For your own good, ease yourself into the day before even thinking about rigorous exercise.
4. Drink water
Non-negotiable. This is the first thing you do when you wake up, especially if you’re training in the morning. Do it.
5. Start the day being PROACTIVE and not REACTIVE
Start the day by doing things that are directly benefiting you and your health. Drink water, brush your teeth, take your vitamins/supplements, eat breakfast, and make coffee. Don’t stroll out of bed, look at your emails, see something that pisses you off or stresses you out, then try to go to the gym and train. Your mind tells your body what to do and if it’s in a stressed state, your workouts are going to suffer. Start the day by being proactive and not reactive.
6. Move before you lift
Help relieve fluid buildup in your spine and mobilize the achy joints after sleeping all night and do some light movement before even thinking about touching the weights. Go for a light walk, do some light stretches…do something that will get you moving at least an hour or two before hitting the weight room.
7. Pre workout nutrition
Your body goes through a catabolic effect through the night and craves nourishment. If you sleep all night, wake up on an empty stomach, then try to lift weights where you are literally tearing your muscle tissue apart, your workouts will feel like trash. Give your body energy so it has energy to burn. If you wake up super early and work out before you go to work, you’re probably going to want something that is easy to make and doesn’t require much thought or effort. Protein and carbs are the way to go for pre weight training nutrition; a protein shake with a packet of oatmeal mixed in does the trick.
8. Visualize your workout and have a plan
Know what you’re doing before you even get to the gym and eliminate guessing so you’re not stumbling through your workout. If you’re following a program, review today’s workout and visualize yourself doing the exercises. From how you’re going to set up your weights to actually executing the movement. Warming up is as much mental as it is physical. Visualize.
9. Warm up…I repeat…warm up
Warming up is part of your training, they are not two separate things. Take this shit seriously, because if you don’t, I guarantee you will not only have half ass workouts, you will also hurt yourself. Maybe not today, but eventually your body is going to get fed up with your shitty warm ups and you’re going to feel it.
Half ass warm ups = half ass workouts (!!!)
If you have any questions for the next installment of Ask Dan, shoot me a message down below!