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The Warm Up: it's not just for our muscles

We all know how to warm up right? But, have you ever thought about warming up in a smarter way? In a way that avoids injury and keeps you doing what you love for longer? Have you ever stopped to think about it?

This post is a quick reminder that we are more than our bodies. People are physical, emotional and mental beings. Any training or exercise we do requires physical, psychological and cognitive effort. Yet when we warm up before a class many of us forget to include mental preparation. A warm up that solely focuses on the body can set us up for failure or for injury. It doesn’t matter how grounded in exercise science and expert knowledge it is if it doesn’t cater to the whole person.

If a warm up doesn’t take in your readiness to train; if it doesn’t allow space for stress from work or home; if it doesn’t support connection with your body; and facilitate a way for you to be fully present and motivated - does it actually prepare you for the class ahead?

I’m not going to outline all the ways that you can mentally prepare yourself for your exercise, your dance class or your run. You are clever, just knowing that it is a good idea might be the nudge that you need. Three things that I encourage you to do however are, start with a check in; mentally walk through tricky stuff; and use an anchor word for your session.

A check in is a quick way to help you observe any stress from work or home that you are still holding and to breathe through it. All that you need to do is spend a minute noticing your body and everything that you are feeling right now. People with high interoceptive awareness have better physical and mental health, these are people who are so practiced at noticing their bodies that they can feel their own heart beat. To be fully aware of our bodies we need to be attuned and listening. We need to be able to notice where we are holding unnecessary tension. Where our breath is in our bodies. How much energy we have and how we are feeling. Whether we can feel any niggles and respond to them. The exercise of noticing ourselves before we start is a good first step to address what our mind and body are communicating to us before we load ourselves with more learning and moving.

A mental walk through is a chance to practice tricky skills, a chance to break the skill into three to five stages and really see each of those pieces of a whole. It might then be followed with some physical practice of each of those stages. A mental walk through enables us to properly understand the skill that we are perfecting and it takes advantage of the predictive way the brain works. When we do a specific action -like cutting a lemon or even imagining cutting a lemon for example, our brain responds to ready us to eat or drink the sour fruit, starting with producing more saliva. When we start to imagine a movement, neurons in our motor cortex start to fire to ready our body for that movement, they travel along neural pathways essential for learning and mastering a skill. We mentally carve a path that will be reinforced with physical practice later in our session.

Being in the right frame of mind leaves you free to learn and move and enjoy yourself. Choosing a useful focus word for your session takes advantage of existing neural networks that are connected to a whole range of other concepts linked to your experience of your word. My interpretation of the word “flowing” conjures images of waterfalls, braided rivers and streams. This then jumps to my awareness of how much of our body is water (60 percent; the plasma in our blood is 90 percent; ground substance, is 70 percent). I also think of flowing silky clothing. I also see dogs with long fur and I imagine beautiful Martha Graham style choreography. If this were to be my word for my session I would write it on my hand and be reminded of it every time I saw my hand. When my daughter wants to be brave she repeats the word “dragon” to herself. Choose a word associated with a quality that you would like to improve on, it should bring you motivation, focus and help set an intention for your session.

Below is the handout for the workshop I did that fleshed out these ideas a little more.

Train well




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