Biofeedback Question: Am I Just Warming Up?

A question that comes up fairly often with people who are new to using biofeedback in their training is about whether or not they are simply warming up as they do movements and things test better and better.

Here’s the short answer: no, you’re not just warming up.

But let’s get into the longer answer, just for fun.

First thing’s first, I am going to assume that the testing results someone is getting are accurate, and not hampered by pushing to end range of motion, or ignoring the first signs of tension. See here for some common fixes. 

But what if everything really does test better and better?

The first thing to understand is that warming-up is not happening in the mechanistic sense that we often attribute to it by the words we use. There is no actual change in temperature of joint synovial fluids and any muscular temperature increase is debatable. The effects and benefits of warm-ups are hotly contested, and some studies have shown that injury risks actually increased with the use of a warm-up.

So what IS going on with a warm-up, and why do we do it? Why does it seem like we can move more freely when we do a warm-up? And an important question, why doesn’t it always work?

Warm-ups tend to have an effect that allows you to move more freely most of the time because movement that tests well allows for more movement! That is the entire basis of biofeedback testing. You quantify a movement (the toe touch), you do another movement, and then you quantify the movement again to see if it has increased. Theoretically you could do the same thing with your deadlift 1-rep max as the test, but the error introduced by the testing itself would be prohibitive. Using a brief max effort squeeze of a grip dynanometer is similar, at a lower error and cost of testing.

Range of motion is mediated by the brain, as an output that is generated after all of the various inputs from sesory receptors such as Golgi tendon organ and nociceptors as well as the brain’s own map of the body in space.

So when you do movement that tests well, you very likely ARE getting more range of motion. But if you think that all movement is going to “test well” and allow for more and more, think again. This is best illustrated with one of my favorite stories, as it’s so applicable.

A new client I was working with mentioned that whenever he went out for a run his first interval would be abysmal, but after taking a short walking break, all subsequent intervals felt great up until the end of the workout.

I asked what he was doing for a warm-up, and he told me that he was using a dynamic warm-up for runners that he got out of a running magazine.

So I suggested an experiment. Next time he went out for a run, instead of his usual warm-up, he was to do 3 sets of 10 bodyweight reps of the three exercises that regularly tested best for him in the gym.

Can you predict the outcome of this little experiment?

Sure enough, his first interval felt just as good as the rest of them. As it turns out, his regular warm-up did not test well for him at all, so subsequent movement suffered. The running itself seems to have tested well, so it was only after he took a short break that things reset and he was able to benefit from that movement. Switching to a warm-up of things that tested well allowed what followed to be performed at higher function.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

If you use biofeedback long enough, you are guaranteed to have the seminal moment in which you test an exercise and your range of motion is suddenly and significantly reduced. This may take a few sessions, a few months, or more than a year depending on what you do and how you move. But it WILL happen when you find something that significantly conflicts with what is best for your body.

Until then – keep testing.


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