"You better stretch or you're going to pull a hamstring!"
"Warm up those muscles or you are going to hurt yourself!'
We have all heard it. Everyone has been told that they should warm-up before they do any sort of physical activity.
But why? - What is the purpose behind a warm-up? What should you do for a warm-up? How much is enough?
Most people don't know the answer to these questions. And because they don't know, they opt to not do one, or maybe go through one haphazardly, run on a treadmill, or perform a few light stretches.
Maybe you do know the answer to these questions, but choose not to really pay much attention to your warm-up because, "I don't have the time."
Well let me ask you a question. If I told you with a know how and a little time, you could set yourself up to have better workouts than you have right now, would you do it?
We all like to crush our workouts. It's amazing feeling.
But, when was the last time your body felt really prepared to totally annihilate your workout? I mean, really ready?
Well today, you are going to learn about the importance of a proper warm-up and how to properly perform one so that you are ready to crush your workout.
Why do you need to warm-up?
Think of your body like a car in the winter time. If its freezing outside, do you just turn your car on and drive?
Well, some of us might, but we shouldn't. It's extremely hard on your car and over time can lead to some serious malfunctions. And not to mention, when you do this, your car performs sub-optimally.
Your body is no different. To decrease your risk for injury and prime yourself for optimal performance, you must prepare your body for the demanding tasks you are about to place on it.
Phase 1: General Warm-up
The general warm-up is just as it sounds - general.
It's main purposes include:
1) It increases your body's core temperature and increases blood flow to your muscles and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments).
2) It prepares your cardiovascular system for the impending workload.
3) It prepares your muscles for the impending workload.
4) It decreases muscle viscosity - which allows your muscles to contract and relax faster, and as a result, you improve your power output.
5) It prepares your body for the next two phases of the warm-up.
In the general warm-up, I like to include things such as:
-Hip Circles (forward and backwards)
-Leg Swings (lateral and forward/backward)
-Lunges (lateral and forward)
-Body-weight Hip Hinge
-Arm Circles (forward and backwards)
-Scapular Wall Slides
*This is just a small sample of exercises that may make up your general warm-up.
(Notice these exercises are all dynamic in nature. 95% of exercises that you perform in the gym are dynamic, so prepare yourself to move).
Don't get carried away with this phase. Hit a little bit of every part of your body, with a little more concentrated focus on joints and muscles that you may need to pay a little more attention to. It should take about 5 minutes.
If you were to perform each exercise listed above (including both sides for unilateral exercises) for 20 seconds each, it would take you exactly 5 minutes - with transition time included, maybe 6 minutes.
Remember the goals of this phase. You are not trying to get a workout in during this. Save the intensity for your actual workout.
Phase 2: Mobility
The mobility phase will be specific to each individual. What one person needs to improve upon in regards to mobility may not be what another needs to improve upon.
So, the first thing you need to do is to assess yourself or have someone assess you and figure out which areas you need to improve upon.
For instance, if you can't get your arms overhead, you may need to work on some shoulder mobility. Or if you struggle getting down in a squat, it may be more ankle mobility or hip mobility that you need to work on.
Whatever it is, this is a great time to work on it.
There are a few reasons why:
1) Your muscles and connective tissue are warm and are receiving an increased amount of blood flow.
2) Your nervous system is somewhat "turned on" at this point and this allows for greater range of motion to be achieved (foam rolling may help further help this to be accomplished).
3) Temporarily improving your range of motion before you do your main movements for the day, will help "lock in" the new found range of motion and will lead to quicker improvements in mobility.
Now, before you get carried away with tons of mobility work, know this - once you have achieved your optimal range of motion , you do not need to continually approach it like you are still trying to improve it.
This means, work consistently and diligently to get you mobility where it needs to be, but don't overdue it and once you do reach that target range, it does not take as much to keep it as it did to achieve it.
Here are a few resources you can use to learn more about mobility and how you can improve your specific needs:
Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett
Phase 3: Specific Warm-up
This phase needs to be specific to the day - it needs to mimic your main movement for the day.
For example, if you are doing a lower body workout and you are squatting, then you will do warm-up sets with lighter back squats, front squats, or goblet squats depending on your main movement for that day.
Or, if you are doing an upper body workout and your main movement for the day is the bench press, then for your warm-up sets may include some push-ups and/or light bench press.
The goal here is to be as specific as possible to the movement that you will be performing for your working sets.
This accomplishes a couple of things:
1) It allows you to practice and improve technique while working at a lower intensity.
2) It completely "turns on" your nervous system and prepares you for your heavier working sets.
Again, don't get carried away here. Perform a few sets, working up to your working sets, while concentrating on technique.
Here is an example of what this would look like:
Main movement for the day - Barbell Bench Press 4 x 5 @ 225
Specific Warm-up Sets:
Barbell Bench Press -
1 x 10 @ 45
1 x 8 @95
1 x 5 @ 135
1 x 3 @ 185
1 x 1 @ 205
By doing this you have worked on your technique using a lighter weight and have fully prepared your nervous system to dominate your workout.
Phase 4: Crush Your Workout
After a total of 10-12 minutes, you will have completed all the necessary components of a proper warm-up and should feel primed and ready to crush your workout and stay injury free.
The next time you set out to complete a workout, take care of your body and warm-up properly. Not only will your body thank you, but your performance will as well.