Warm Up and Foam Rolling – is there a point?

Why do we warm up?

“Warming up” is a blanket term used to describe the actions we perform prior to an exercise to allow us to exercise injury free and prime us for ideal performance. During a warm up we increase blood flow to the muscles we plan on using, increase our core temperature, increase range of motion, and get our heart rate elevated. These are all necessary to decrease instances of injury and ensure we have the best performance.

Static stretching vs. dynamic warm ups

When I was in elementary school and took PE I remember warming up with static stretches. This involved grabbing various parts of your body and folding them in ways to stretch the muscles prior to exercise we performed. This mode of warm up is no longer recommended – it’s been replaced with dynamic warm ups.

Dynamic warm ups are not static – it’s movement of the muscle to stimulate it for action. This includes things like lunges, kicks, walking, etc. Any sort of movement that increases blood flow to the muscle. Study (source) after study has shown an increase in acute performance after dynamic warm ups vs. static stretching. This has been confirmed in all sorts of populations, from children (source) to D1 collegiate athletes (Source).

Some dynamic warm up videos:
Katie Anne’s Warm UpMegsquat’s Lower Body and Bench Warm Up

Foam Rolling

Over the last few years’ foam rolling has gained a lot of traction. A foam roller is a long foam device that allows someone to manipulate their muscles without the need of a second person. They come in a lot of different types – plastic, foam, some have rivets on them, etc. While I use “foam rolling” in the rest of this article, you can include using items like lacrosse balls, tennis balls, PVC pipe and massage sticks in this topic.

When I asked friends and family why they foam rolled, by far and away the most common response was “To break up the lactic acid in sore muscles, decreasing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).” This isn’t an accurate point for many reasons. First, lactic acid build up does not cause DOMS. While many theories have been explored – and the exact mechanism isn’t known – the lactic acid theory has been widely rejected and replaced with theories about microtears and inflammatory processes. Second, it gives the idea that the foam roller can cause fascial (tissue/muscle) manipulation at a level to “break up” or “release” anything. Studies have shown that you need somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-900kg of weight to cause meaningful manipulations in fascia (source). In fact, there have been quite a bit of papers debunking the idea that you can “release” fascia without serious force – as stated above.

So why foam roll? Well, there are studies that prove foam rolling increases acute range of motion (source). If you’re foam rolling a “tight” area of your body prior to exercising that area you will find that your range of motion has increased (source). However, this has been noted with any sort of warm up, not just foam rolling. Additionally, the science supports it being just an acute process. If you foam roll on your off days and expect that to carry over to the next day’s exercise you’ll find no improvement. It’s the movements you perform afterwards that are meaningful in long-term increases in flexibility and range of motion.

There’s also been a lot of interesting studies into why foam rolling seems to decrease DOMS (source). There are theories about stimulating pain perception points and even more theories about a placebo effect. Much like the cause of DOMS, the jury is still out on how this can decrease the sensation of soreness.


So how should you interpret this data and apply it to your life?

  • If you enjoy foam rolling, keep doing it. Limit it to <10 minutes pre or post workout and include it with other types of warm ups like dynamic stretches and movements.
  • Don’t guilt yourself if you don’t foam roll on your days off. Instead, try other active processes to increase blood flow to your muscles and help with range of motion and flexibility.
  • If foam rolling is not something you enjoy, you don’t have to do it.
  • As always – if it works for you and you feel better before/after you foam roll, keep it up! What works best for you is what YOU should do.

Fasted Cardio: an update

I’ve already touched on the topic of fasted cardio here, but a recent publication by some of my favorite names in the industry (ie Alan Aragon) has shed some more light on the pro/anti fasted debate.

As I stated before, the entire idea around fasted cardio is that you’ll burn more fat. Since your body has no circulating glucose to utilize, it will instead pull from stored glucose preferentially. This translates to burning straight fat. This has gone under fire from a lot of critics because a) the body doesn’t work so simply and b) long term vs. short term calorie burn. This paper focused on comparing females in a caloric deficit.

The paper, published in November of this year, took two groups of women. The first group trained fasted, the second did not. Both groups were in a caloric deficit, both groups did an hour of steady-state cardio 3 days a week.

And both groups lost the same amount of fat and weight.

This short addendum to my fasted cardio article from previously shows that fasted cardio has no added benefit over non-fasted cardio.

The Mind Muscle Connection

“I never ‘feel’ squats in my legs, my back always hurts the next day!”

“I don’t understand triceps push downs, they always hurt my shoulders.”

These are common complaints I hear from people working out. You can replace any exercise and any body system and hear this with almost any move, especially as the weights get heavier. There are a lot of factors contributing to this problem.

1)   Proper Form

First of all, an exercise should never “hurt.” Proper form is essential to a healthy, happy life in the gym. Sacrificing form to move heavier weights often leads to injuries. If you’re performing an exercise for the first time it’s imperative that you research the movement. Start out with almost no weight and attempt the movement multiple times. Once proper form is established, you may have fixed your initial problem and prevented further injury.

Instagram user “Squattingunicorn” demonstrates a full depth squat

2)   The Mind Muscle Connection

This is really the crux of this article. A lot of people go through the motions of a movement without really thinking about the movement as it applies to their training. Are you growing bigger biceps? Are you strengthening your glutes? Is this a carry over exercise to improve your sticking point on the bench? Why are you doing this move?

Once you identify the purpose of your exercise you need to focus on that intention. This is why we use cues like “squeeze on up” and “drive through your heels.” There are areas that should be focused on during a move to make it more effective and powerful.

Tumblr user iron-inside displays the powerlifting method of bench pressing

Next time you’re doing an exercise ask yourself these questions.

“What is the purpose of this exercise? What am I hoping to gain from this?”

“Which muscle(s) am/are I utilizing?”

“At the start of the move, what am I feeling?”

“As I progress through the move, what am I feeling?”

“At the end of the move, what am I feeling?”

These will help you narrow down what you should be focusing on. If you find that certain parts of the movement accentuate your goals, focus on those. Lower your weights and focus on that part of the move. Squeeze, hold, pulse, do whatever you feel will focus this move.

I’ll give you a great example.

I’ve been trying to build my lats for the better part of 6 months. I read that lat pull downs were the best way to do this. I loaded up the machine and repped out 12-15 reps of lat pull downs as heavy as I could. I rarely felt sore (which isn’t necessarily a sign of “doing work” as some would like to think) in my lats, and instead I’d feel it in my shoulders. My lats did not grow, but my shoulders were fatigued and painful. I was flirting with injury.

One day I saw a video of an IFBB pro doing lat pull downs. Not only was she sitting differently, but her elbows were pointed a different way than mine, her head was tilted differently, and her weight was much, much less than mine. But her lats were HUGE! I watched her slowly bring the bar down, hold for half a second, and then slowly raise the bar back up.

Oh. It hit me – I had been going about this whole move the wrong way. By sacrificing form for weight I’d been performing the movement inappropriately and was missing out on all the benefits that came with the movement. Once I lowered the weight and slowed down my movements to really focus on the individual aspects of the move my lats grew the way I wanted. My shoulder pain disappeared, as did some other aches and pains from the poor form.

The mind-muscle connection is an often overlooked part of anyone’s training plan. Identify your goals and focus on your moves and you’ll get more out of your workout.

Fasted Cardio: Myth or Fact?

Fasted cardio is one of the hottest topics amongst dieters, especially those who compete in body building. The idea of doing cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning makes sense to some people – with no immediate source of energy, won’t your body burn stored fat for energy? There’s compelling evidence for and against fasted cardio, so I thought I’d break down the main points of various studies for both sides and let you chose.


One study that is often cited (Bonen, A. et al. (2008). Effect of training in the fasted state on metabolic responses during exercise with carbohydrate intake. Journal of Applied Physiology. Apr;104(40):1045-55) showed that training fasted actually increased your muscle glycogen stores, making it a great adjunct to endurance athlete’s training. The idea is that increasing the body’s ability to store glycogen will allow athletes to compete at higher intensity long term.

Another study looked at supplementing your fasted cardio with caffeine and yohimbe and found that this increased catecholamines in the body, which helped to break down fat stores more readily. So fasted cardio, at least in the short term, increases the bodys’ ability to burn fat.

But, that’s pretty much where the science ends. The idea of fasted cardio – that your body would used its reserves instead of readily available food – was greater than the research. Now powerhouses such as Dr. Layne Norton and pretty much all of science have decided the cons far outweigh the pros.


A lot of data for this comes from a study done through The Strength and Conditioning Journal (Volume 33). They found that the thermogenic effect of exercise (that is, your long term calorie burn) is HIGHER if you’ve eaten before exercise. They also found that training fasted decreased your overall energy output, so if you felt sluggish you didn’t put as much effort into a training session as someone who ate before.

What is more alarming than this is the catabolic effect fasted cardio can gave. Muscle catabolism is exactly what everyone wants to avoid – why train fasted if you could possibly lose muscle in the process? Proteolysis (the break down of protein) is higher in fast training and nitrogen losses more than doubled in this state.

So what’s the take home message with these studies? Know your goals. If you’re trying to maintain muscle and lose fat then eating something before doing your cardio (oatmeal, BCAAs, egg whites, pop tarts, etc.) can help you from losing muscle and keep your energy high. If you’re an endurance athlete then fasted cardio can contribute to your glycogen stores. With this information you can make appropriate decisions based on your own goals and levels of fitness.

If Spot Reduction Does Exist, Why Are There Classes Called “Butts and Guts”?

I’ve mentioned before that “lengthening” muscles doesn’t exist, and that“toning” is a horrible misnomer. I’ve also written about how spot reduction – the idea that a thousand crunches can get you a six pack – is a crock of crap too. To people heavily invested in fitness these aren’t new ideas or concepts. With this knowledge, though, why are there classes like “Buns and Abs” or “Glute Smash” at the gym?

If we look back to my toning article we see that “toning” is really just a euphemism for “decrease fat and increase muscle mass.” If we renamed these classes appropriately they’d be called “Increase Your Heart Rate While Lifting Weights For Multiple Repetitions.” If I were going to the gym to lose a few pounds or to get into shape I definitely would not go to that class. Part of the reason we have these classes named this way is for marketing.

Additionally, let’s look at the clientele. People going to Buns and Abs want to create a tight, firm butt and a thinner waist with definition. Popular media tells these people that exercises like squats with weight, deadlifts, too much running, etc. will create the polar opposite of this. Naming classes this way creates a safe place for these people to be introduced to these exercises and see the positive changes they make for that individual’s body.

Unfortunately, not all classes or trainers use these names for the above reason. At some gyms, such as my school gym, a person can attend a one-day class and pay $50 to become a certified trainer. From then on they can teach any class or train any person at the gym. Obviously not all trainers fall into this category, many of them are incredibly intelligent individuals who undergo rigorous testing to become personal trainers. There are still plenty of trainers who don’t fall into this category and genuinely believe that doing a few hundred crunches a day will create a six pack. These people will perpetuate these myths and create a potentially dangerous environment for those new to fitness.

At the end of the day, we build muscle by challenging it and we lose fat by creating an energy deficit, either through exercise or diet. Where we lose weight is determined first and foremost by our genetics. Fat does not turn into muscle, muscle does not turn into fat, and doing a thousand bicep curls will not get rid of your arm fat. These classes introduce people to weight lifting in addition to cardiovascular activity in an attempt to increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat.