Before taking a client through an upper body workout, you have to make time for the upper body warm up. While there is no such thing as a purely upper or lower body warm up, as the body is an interconnected sheath of fascia, ligaments, muscles, and millions of miles of blood vessels, it is important to place your focus on dynamic upper body-specific stretches to ensure those muscles, joints, and tissue are ready for the workout.
The key element of a pre-workout warm up is to make it dynamic rather than static. Dynamic stretches do not involve moving a limb to an end range of motion and holding the position for a few seconds, known as static stretching; nor do they move through full ranges of motion in a rapid uncontrolled manner (ballistic stretching).
Dynamic stretches are active movements through full ranges of motion that are completed in a controlled fashion. These movements are usually performed when walking but not always. This ensures that the muscles are being activated and prepared for movement, bringing blood flow to those areas. This, in turn, warms the muscles, reducing muscle resistance and increasing flexibility.
Get your client’s upper body warm up right with these tips, along with some suggested stretches.
Keep Reading: A Dynamic Leg Day Warm Up
Is Dynamic Stretching Effective? The Science
A recent and thorough analysis of the current literature discusses the benefits of dynamic stretching. Twenty-two studies found the method effective in improving range of motion around a joint. Therefore, dynamic stretches can be considered a prevention strategy to safeguard against injury prior to exercise.
For example, many studies in the analysis indicated dynamic stretching improves power, sprint, or jump performance, making this mode of stretching ideal for before workouts. However, almost three times as many studies found no effect on performance and several indicated impaired performance.
Traditional stretches for the lower body include high knee hugs, walking quad pulls, and walking upward toe touches, all uniquely specific to sprinting. But which stretches are best for your dynamic upper body warm up?
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Dynamic Upper Body Stretches
Increasing the range of motion around a joint protects against acute and chronic injury. Thus, incorporating specific upper body stretches before upper body resistance training is key to ensuring a safe and effective workout.
Even more importantly, when you stretch the upper body (or vice versa), you’re stretching the entire organism. One particular study evaluated the effect of upper body dynamic stretching on hip flexor range of motion. Range of motion improved by 9 percent in the hip flexors. With this in mind, although the following are upper body stretches, the benefits affect their body as a whole.
Use these dynamic upper body warm up stretches to get clients ready for their favorite upper body workout.
Why: This stretch activates the muscles surrounding the scapula as well as the posterior chain of the lower body.
Coaching Cue: Crush the walnut between your shoulder blades.
How: With the arms fully extended and the torso perpendicular to the down leg, rotate the thoracic spine to each side and back. Focus on retracting the scapula and ONLY rotating the thoracic spine. Note, a bent knee will provide more balance and stability and recruit the glutes. Pull the torso (with the glutes) into an upright position and switch legs.
Reps: 3 each leg
World’s Greatest Stretch 2.0
Why: One only has to do this stretch once to realize it lives up to its name. This stretch is a full-body movement that opens the thoracic spine like a can opener and loosens up the hip external rotators.
Coaching Cue: With a flat foot, push your knee outward.
How: While walking forward, drop into a lunge position with the right leg. Place the left hand on the ground. Reach the right arm as far upward as possible. Instead of rising upward as in the traditional form of this stretch, bring the right arm down (see cue above) and push the knee out. Not that the foot must be flat. Reach your left arm as far upward as possible. Rise upward and lunge forward into the next rep.
Walkout to Yoga Pushup
Why: After one repetition, heart rate and temperature will soar. This movement will stretch the hamstrings and calves (if the heels stay flat), activate the core and anterior deltoids, and improve thoracic spine mobility.
Coaching Cue: Keep the head down and elbows in.
How: From the standing position and minimal knee-bend, place your hands on the ground and slowly walk your hands out into a plank position. Next, complete a pushup and shoot the hips backward. Keep the hands on the floor. Do not look up, and do not let the elbows flare or let the hips sag in the bottom position. Walk your hands back toward your toes to the standing position.
Around the World Stretch to Roll to Chest Opener
Why: This is the king of all upper body stretches. The chest opener is one stretch among many others you can use to stretch this area of the body. Though it is ground-based and not a traditional “dynamic” stretch, it’s still considered active and not static. This combination opens up the thoracic spine and chest.
Coaching Cues: Squash the bug with your knee and do not let it go
How: From the side-lying position, bring one knee up to 90 degrees and pin it to the ground.
The pinned knee's same side arm raises the arm over the head and circles the arm 360 degrees. Note that the key to this movement is a pinned knee. As a bonus, internally rotate the humerus and push the palm outward to stretch the anterior deltoid.
Turn to the other side but extend and abduct the opposite arm and lay it flat on the ground. The chest should lay as flat as possible. Turn your head the other way as you reach with the arm. Ensure that this stretch will be felt in the chest by keeping a perpendicular forearm to the ground with a big push into the ground with the palm.
Reps: 1 each side
Don’t Forget the Dynamic Upper Body Warm Up
Dynamic stretching increases core body temperature, range of motion, and they feel great for clients. Use these upper body warm up stretches to ensure clients are not only effective during their workout, but that they stay injury-free.