Warming up your Central Nervous System prior to working out will help you maximize your power, speed, and performance.
Want in on a little secret? Every great workout begins with a great warm-up. Just as you would warm-up and loosen up your legs prior to a heavy squat workout, or warm-up your chest prior to bench press, the same thought process must go into preparing the Central Nervous System (CNS) before all workouts in a similar capacity.
Now that I’ve got your attention, what’s the CNS and why should you care? Basically, the CNS controls all of your motor functions, which means the better prepared your CNS is, the better your workout will be. So how do you warm-up the Central Nervous System? Great question and this article’s got the answers you’re looking for. If you’re trying to maximize your speed and strength on commonly tested exercises like the 40 yard dash, NFL cone drill, and 1 rep max on the bench and squat, you’ve come to the right place.
In linear speed workouts, our main focus is 5 reps of 40 yards sprints that we run at the very end of the workout for top speed development. However, everything we do prior to those 5 reps is to prepare the body (CNS) to move at top speed. To do that, we begin the workouts with a basic warm-up of forward acceleration at sub maximal speeds, followed by speed technique exercises such as linear bounding, dynamic forward walking lunges, stiff-legged bounds, high knee drills and ballistic skips. All of these warm-up and speed techniques should be done in a forward direction to promote body-awareness in the linear plane… but check out the video below as it’ll give you a better understanding of the dynamic exercises we do before our speed workouts. If you take them seriously, you will see a noticeable improvement in your sprint speed.
For a lateral speed workout, our focus is a cluster of agility drills for improving acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction. Each workout ends with a group of 2 or 3 drills that we do at 100% intensity. Like the linear speed workout, our preparation for these full-speed drills takes place in the warm-up and training drills; however, these exercises are more specific to training the body’s lateral movements as opposed to linear movements. These warm-ups include lateral shuffles, lateral lunges and carioca movements, and technique based drills like ice skaters, lateral bounds, and side-to-side pogo hops. After the completion of these specific drills, the ankles, knees, hips and groin are ready for the body to change direction at full speed with a reduced risk of injury. Check out the video below to see what I’m talking about.
Having spoken about linear and lateral, let’s now transition to the weight room for the proper CNS warm-up for two specific lifts, the bench press, and the back squat. If you weren’t interested before, I’m sure you’re interested now. Starting with the bench press, the major muscles involved in this exercise are the chest and shoulders. Start with a general warm-up for those major muscle areas and once they are warm and loose, begin to shift to a more specific warm-up for pressing.
Our goal for this bench warm-up is to eventually get to a 1 rep max of 350lbs. What, you can’t do that yet? Well maybe if you warmed up a little better we’d get there. Anyway, begin with a set of push-ups on the floor for about 10-15reps. From there hop up on the bench and press 135lbs for 2-3 reps, take 1-1:30 minutes of rest, and then add 50-75 lbs for another set of 2-3. Now, after another rest period of 1-2 minutes set the bar at 225-255 lbs for one single rep, rest for 1-2 minutes and then do 1 rep at 315lbs.
But wait… there’s MORE! The next progression is where we really tap into the CNS. Remember the test weight is 350lbs. We’ve been getting progressively heavier each set, and now we’re going to skip past our test weight and hold 375lbs for 4 seconds. Use the static hold of heavier weight to “trick” the Central Nervous System in to believe the test weight is light, therefore giving you an advantage when going for the 1 rep max. Unlike the 1-2 minutes of rest time for the warm-up reps, the rest period after the static hold should only be about 30 seconds. Give this a shot and you’ll most definitely see an increase in your bench.
With the bench out of the way, there’s one exercise that all serious programs test: the barbell back squat. Why? Because it’s a true test of total body strength and power. This time we’re looking to get to a 1 rep max of 450lbs. Start with the linear warm-up listed above and then move into the squat rack and do 135lbs for 3-5 reps. After a short break, load on 225lbs and rep that 2-3 times. Still with me? Good.
Now begins the 1-2 minute rest periods between sets. After the first rest period, add 50-75lbs (275- 300 lbs) onto the bar for 1 rep, rest 1-2 minutes and then add another 50(315-350 lbs) for 1 rep. At this point the body is progressively preparing the CNS for the heaviest load it can handle. The key here is to take ample rest time between sets in order to allow proper recovery before you go for that max weight.
Some athletes will take another set of 1 with an additional 50lbs (375-400 lbs); however, most will load on the final weight for testing as they feel properly warmed for the test. Unlike the bench press, where we held a heavier-than-test weight, we choose not to do this due to the undue stress already placed on the lower back. However, if you’re using a weight belt or squat suit, you may choose to do a static hold of 25-50lbs heavier than the test weight. Either way, you’ll be more than ready to perform your best squat after the progression above.
Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but warm-ups really are a necessity to prevent injury, whether they are linear, lateral, or strength-based. But to get the most from your Central Nervous System during the specific movements, it’s very important to mimic the specific movement drills and/or exercises that you are going to do for that day’s training goals. So whether you’re trying to move at top speed or max out on lifts like the bench or squat, know that preparing your CNS properly will have a great impact on helping you perform at your best.