We’ve all heard how important it is to stick to a routine. Building habits, scheduling, setting and achieving goals, and so on are some of the terms used to describe it. The majority of these subjects (which are significant) focus on the wider picture of a person’s lifestyle. When we think about routine, we usually think of going to the gym on certain days, eating at certain times, and sleeping at certain times. What I intend to address is not the bigger picture, but rather how routine fits into individual action and how it prepares the body and mind for the task ahead.
When I am teaching my kettlebell classes I begin each session the same way. I have my clients perform circular motions at each major joint working up from the wrists to the neck, then down through the knees and ankles and I have everyone do the same static stretch routine after every training session is over. Now if anyone knows my style of training (and in this case my thoughts on warming up and cooling down specifically) I believe in simply raising the heart rate before training (ie a 500 meter row) and mobilizing for specific movements before and after (lacrosse ball work and foam rolling).
So why does the simple joint movement and static stretching appear in my class programming? One may argue that time may be better spent elevating the heart rate and mobilizing for certain movements. I still make sure both those things are addressed during the session but as the movements for the day are constantly changing, they do not establish a specific routine. So, although there may be some physical benefits to circular joint warmup and static stretch cool down, I utilize them mainly for the mental edge (leading to a physical edge) I believe they can provide to my client’s training session.
Imagine you have been sitting at your desk all day typing emails about this and that before you walk into the gym. Now, for some , perhaps the act of walking through the doors of the gym may be enough to get their minds right for the training session they have ahead. But I find I usually need something more. For instance, when I was powerlifting I would chalk my hands before each working weight lift for that session, including squats.
Some may argue that chalked hands are not necessary for the back squat but walking to the bucket and dunking my hands began to ready my mind for the lift ahead. My heart rate would begin to rise and a minor surge of adrenaline would flood into my body. The goal of the standardized warmup is to illicit a similar response in my clients as they work through each joint. The familiar movement signals their brain to prepare for the session ahead and in turn the brain signals the body to elevate the heart rate and hopefully stimulate a small hormonal release.
The static stretching after the session serves to bring the body back to a resting state after the training session. Instead of letting everyone run off into the world immediately after an intense session, the standardized stretching routine signals the brain that the session is over and the body can now relax and begin to recover.
An all encompassing routine is important to make sure you are productive both in the gym and in life. But, once a larger routine is established and you are regularly attending training sessions, begin to build smaller routines set in place to ready your mind and body for the training ahead and calm them both after the training has ended. This little trick may make all the difference in the effectiveness of your training session.