We all know we should be doing it more, so why aren’t we? From static stretching to mindfulness and *ahem* butt kicks, here’s an in-depth exploration of warming up.
You can’t beat a good warm-up, but what you can do – and what so many of us are guilty of doing – is skipping them. We get it. You’re pushed for time. You’re excited and you want to dive right in to the main event. But slow your roll, hotshot.
“Let’s be honest, most people skip and neglect warmups because they’re really not as ‘fun’ or ‘important’ as the main workout,” says Carl Jeffers, personal trainer at MuscleSquad. “But, warming up is, and should be a fundamental part of any, and everybody’s training, regardless of what exercises you will be performing or what level you are at.”
There’s evidence to back this up, but the main point is that warming-up increases muscle temperature and blood flow, leading to improved performance and reduced risk of injury. In other words; huge benefits for such a simple task.
The benefits aren’t only physical. “Jumping straight into a workout without being prepared can lead to a less effective session, particularly in terms of the mental side,” adds personal trainer Emma Bord. “Using your warm up time to set mental goals and intentions can help with mental resilience when the workout becomes tough.”
As well as preparing mind and body for movement, warming-up is also a preventative measure. “One of the main benefits to warming up is injury prevention,” says Jeffers. “By warming up we’re effectively increasing the blood flow to an area, thus lowering the chance of a muscle pull or joint injury.”
But, you already knew all of that. To help you actually practice what we preach, we amassed some of the best trainers in the business to help get your blood pumping, and heart racing.
“Static stretching is basically what it says, stretching in and from a static position, holding for a rough count to stretch the muscle,” explains Jeffers.
The benefits include improved flexibility, and reduced muscle soreness... pretty handy for any and every work out then.
“Dynamic stretching is again also in the name,” says Jeffers. “It involves movement. Things like butt kicks, knee tucks, and arm circles, all involve movement that you can work your way into, slowly increasing the range of motion a bit."
Jeffers explains that dynamic stretches are great for getting your heart rate up, and are particularly useful in sports like football, running or weight training. They are a little trickier than static stretches though. “Dynamic stretching exercises require more coordination and control than static stretching, which may be challenging for some people,” adds Atkin.
We all know what cardio is. Its benefits are improved circulation, improved fitness and endurance, and reduced risk of injury, although it might tire you out before you’ve even begun your workout proper.
It isn’t just about getting on the bike, cross-trainer or rowing machine, though. “Your specific cardio warm-up should depend on the workout,” explains Jeffers. “If I’m doing LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio, then my warmups will reflect that – stuff like walking, butt kicks, simple jumping jacks.
If I’m preparing for a HIIT session, multi-joint movements like sprinting on the spot, getting arms and legs involved, jump squats and bodyweight squats would work.”
Leaning back into static stretching territory, Jeffers also recommends foam rolling or massage guns as a way of self-myofascial release i.e. relieving any muscle tension prior to your workout. This literally helps loosen you up, but the downside is you do require specific kit.
Another approach is using lighter weights for supplementary work. “You can also use resistance bands or cables to warm up the muscle they’re going to work, as well as its antagonist muscle (opposing muscle) and the surrounding or stabilizing muscles,” explains Jeffers.
“A powerlifter performing a bench press, would want to warm up the opposing muscles (the back) so they can remain “tight” and contracted under heavy loads. They’d also want to warm up the triceps which are secondary muscles used in the bench press.” The risk here if not done properly is overdoing it before you start lifting.
The best way to warm-up really depends on your goals. If you’re heading out for a run, you’re unlikely to warm up with some light weight work, for example.
Often, a combination of warm-ups might be best. Atkin points to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which found that a dynamic warm-up led to better performance in a sprinting task compared to a static warm-up, while another study published in Sports Medicine found that a neuromuscular warm-up led to improved injury prevention in basketball players. That said, there are some general techniques that you can apply across the board.
Bord advocates a mental warm-up to encourage focus and center your mind in your body. David Wiener, training and nutrition specialist at AI-based fitness app Freeletics, touts the benefits of breathwork which he says “helps to get rid of stale air in your lungs, and increase oxygen levels which you will need for your workout.”
We’ve explained why you need to warm up, taken a look at various types of warm-ups, and also explained that in some cases – powerlifting, basketball etc – you’ll need to perform sport-specific exercises prior to getting stuck in. But, is there one simple exercise that can get you loose and your blood pumping, whatever your workout goals?
“The best kind of warm up will incorporate static, dynamic and cardio warmups to make sure you are getting a full-body warmup, and lessen the risk of any kind of injury,” explains Wiener.
Work through 10 to 15 minutes of the program below next time you hit the gym and we guarantee you’ll feel the benefit. Oh, and don’t forget to cool down post-workout, either.
“Shoulder rolls target tight muscles in the neck and upper back, which is often forgotten about during warmups," says Wiener. "Rolling your shoulders is a great way to practice a posturally correct body position, which will help make sure you are maximizing the effect of your workout. Otherwise, poor posture can result in injury.”
“Doing a light jog during a warmup is a great way to add a cardio element to your workout, being both gentle on the body but also upping your heart rate and body temperature to make sure you are preparing for the full workout afterward.”
“Arm swings are a fantastic dynamic exercise which activates muscles such as your shoulders, arms, chest and back in your upper body. This gentle movement will give you a boost, slowly raise your heart rate and loosen up your muscles ready for a workout.”
“Making the lunge movement a more static and warm-up friendly exercise means simply holding your leg in a lunge position. It can prepare your glutes and hip flexors for your workout, helping to strengthen the muscles.”
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