How to Do A Somatics "Warm Up"

"Programming your brain is more important than strength training and aerobics. Central nervous system programming must never be neglected at all stages of training." – Mel Siff, author of Facts and Fallacies of Fitness

I've been asked how athletes might "warm up" and "cool down" with Hanna Somatics. Hanna Somatics is exactly what Mel Siff refers to in the above quote: it is central nervous system programming, which adds a crucial element to an athlete's typical warm-up: increased sensory motor awareness.

Warm-ups and cool-downs are an important part of both pre-training and pre-competition readiness. Warming up muscles relaxes the fascia around the muscles and increases blood flow and increases sensory awareness to the brain (the command center of the muscles) - when done with attention to the movement. Paying focused attention to a movement affects the central nervous system, which controls your muscles. I've seen people warm up by yanking on their limbs and passively pulling their muscles... all the while chatting with their friend or listening to their iPod. This is not a warm-up.

I teach people to warm up with Somatics incorporating "no-stretch stretching" - otherwise known as pandiculation. Animals pandiculate every time they get up from rest: they put their paws out in front of them and slowly tighten the muscles of their back as they drop their bellies and relax the front of their bodies.

When you pandiculate muscles, you essentially "jump start" the central nervous system and give the brain the opportunity to reset the muscle length through movement. There are many basic Somatic Movements that lengthen and "wake up" the muscles that you will need for just about any sport you want to engage in - from baseball, running, dance, kayaking to weight lifting, high jump or football.  After addressing the core muscles, you can pandiculate specific movements you might need for your specific sport.

The more consistent you are with a daily routine of Somatic movement patterns before your training or competition, the more the brain can teach your muscles to remember how to move, and the easier it will be to prevent injury. These Somatic Movements are similar to the basic drills that every athlete in every sport will repeat daily in order to master the fundamentals of that sport.

Let's take soccer, for example. Here are a few basic movements that address the core muscles:

  1. Arch & Flatten
  2. Arch & Curl
  3. Back Lift
  4. Cross lateral arch and curl
  5. Washrag
  6. Steeple

Soccer players need to be able to pivot and change direction quickly. They need to have a relaxed, yet coordinated core that can move with every kick, stop, and start. Precision in kicking and directing the ball doesn't just come from their feet - it comes from their entire body - the feet, ankles, knees, hips, back and shoulders - coordinating together.

Here's an example of a sports specific movement that a soccer player - or any athlete who needs to be supple in the hips - can do as part of a warm-up:

"Walking" Exercises:

  • Lie on your back with your knees up and feet planted wide apart.
  • Slowly allow the right knee to drop inward toward the left foot. Relax the center of the body to allow the pelvis to rock. The leg and knee drop inward because the back relaxes and the waist lengthens. Notice how, when the knee drops inward, the foot "everts" (turns out). Repeat this 6-8 times.
  • Bring the knee back up to vertical and repeat on the other side: slowly allow the left knee to drop inward toward the right foot. Notice any difference between your ability to relax the left waist, back and pelvis on the left as compared to the right. Notice the connection between the knee dropping in and the foot turning out. Also notice how the left shoulder presses down into the mat as the knee drops inward, the back relaxes and lengthens, and the pelvis rotates. The body is moving as a coordinated whole. Slowly bring the knee back up to vertical. Repeat this 6-8 times.

This movement will help your walking and running by allowing your pelvis to relax and rotate gently as you move.

Anyone can do Somatics - no matter what your activity level or age!

You don't have to be a professional soccer player or even a weekend warrior to make use of these concepts and movements. Do this basic routine before going for a walk or a hike. Notice the difference in your movement. These simple methods will keep you moving pain-free, no matter what your favorite activity is.

If you are an athlete and are interested in learning more, or using Hanna Somatics to increase your performance, contact me directly.  I can create a personalized Somatics warm-up for you that will help you stay on top of your game - or get back into the game if you've been injured. I also offer specialized workshops for both fitness trainers and athletes wanting to learn more about incorporating Somatics Education methods and injury prevention into their training regime.