Powerlifters who don't take warming up and stretching seriously are setting themselves up for disaster. Dan Austin, a 2011 Powerlifting Hall of Fame inductee, believes that many intermediate and advanced powerlifters fail to properly warm up and stretch, which will not only lead them to experience a loss in range of motion but could also cause them to suffer injuries or develop arthritis.
Powerlifters can avoid the problems associated with lack of warming up and improve their individual lifts, as well as their overall totals, through dynamic stretching. Austin, author of Powerlifting, says it is vital for powerlifters to make dynamic stretching part of their training regimens, calling it the best and most effective way to prepare their bodies for the weights they will be lifting. He pinpoints nine benefits that result from this combination of warming up and stretching at the same time:
- Higher body temperature. Increasing the body temperature allows the synovial fluid of the joint to turn to a liquid and coat the joint. “If you try to do work before the synovial fluid is warm, the joint can't effectively move through the range of motion,” says Austin. “If you wait until after you warm up, you will have less pain and will be able to go through motions fluidly and efficiently.”
- Increased respiratory rate. A higher respiratory rate delivers more oxygenated blood to the body, helping metabolize fat to produce energy for exercise.
- New flow of oxygen and stored energy to the muscles. A higher level of oxygen in the blood allows the energy in the muscle to activate.
- Activation of capillaries in the muscles. “By warming up, you allow the capillaries to fill with blood and deliver oxygen to the muscles, opening the muscle for the greatest amount of contractions and strength of contractions,” Austin comments.
- Breakup of scar tissue. Although scar tissue is a by-product of heavy lifting, breaking it up will make the muscle more pliable and give it greater contractile properties, allowing the muscle to be stronger.
- Increased elasticity in the tendons and ligaments. If not trained to be more elastic, tendons and ligaments become more plastic, which can increase the risk of tears. Sometimes the only work they receive comes as a function of the warm-up.
- Increased arousal, enthusiasm, eagerness, and mental readiness. The warm-up acts as a transition from the stresses of the day to the joys of the iron. “If you fail to warm up and use this transition, you might not be able to hang your worries on the coat rack and just train,” warns Austin.
- Warmer muscles relax more easily. A powerlifter doesn't want the body to fight itself to lower or lift a weight. All muscles should be working toward the same goal, and a dynamic warm-up creates a favorable agonist–antagonist relationship.
- More ability to lift heavier loads. Because the body is warmer, the muscles can withstand more force and easily adjust to heavier loads. The additional blood flow and mobility allow more force to be absorbed by the muscle for the exercises at hand.
Dynamic stretching can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, or body weight. “This type of warm-up helps reduce the risk of injury and increases range of motion,” concludes Austin. “Dynamic stretching is painless, fun, and simple—and it feels good.”
Powerlifting, co-written with Bryan Mann, offers technical advice on nutrition, flexibility, training, and strategies for competition. Learn more about Powerlifting.