My dad always says there are two types of people in this world: athletes or hoodlums. When it comes to warming up for a workout, I feel as though he is right – and the hoodlums can present themselves in a few different ways.
You might be a hoodlum if your warm-up consists of hanging your arm from a strap hooked to the rig, bent over while texting your friends. Or maybe you sit in a butterfly stretch on the ground while you watch MTV Pop Up video on the gym TV and then pop up and attempt to PR your back squat. You might be a hoodlum if your warm-up for your 3-mile run in your neighborhood is the time it takes to lace up your shoes and walk to the end of your driveway. Or maybe you spend 45 minutes on a foam roller addressing your tight hamstrings or hip flexors you have had forever before your in-home workout.
A proper warm-up is paramount in prepping our bodies for optimal output in our exercise of choice as well as prevents us from being more susceptible to injury!
So whether you are about to take part in a Pilates class, Crossfit WOD, neighborhood jog or in-home workout in your living room – establishing an effective and efficient warm-up is a MUST. Here are some thoughts to consider:
Mobility is a word thrown around frequently that can, quite frankly, be very confusing to patients, athletes, coaches and health professionals. Mobility, simply put, is a person’s ability to move through a range. Many things can influence mobility; poor muscle length, nerve tension, joint capsule tightness, or poor motor control. A warm-up is a set of exercises and drills to prep your body for a workout, to ensure optimal output and performance, not to address potential mobility problems. Mobility work is an absolute must to make sure our bodies are moving optimally, but I would encourage mobility work to be added as a supplement to your workouts and warm-ups, not as the main source of warming you up. Here is more information on the enigma of what we call mobility.
Just using simple context clues, the name itself implies we should literally be WARM prior to beginning our exercise for the day. A good, effective warm-up should result in raising our body temperature 1-2 degrees. This rise in temperature means an increase in blood flow, increase in muscle extensibility (ability to move and stretch) and better central nervous system conduction. Quick and dirty ways to accomplish this are aerobic drills (jogging, rowing, biking, jump rope). Don’t have enough time? I would even encourage people to “8 Mile it” and wear a hoodie while you crank up the heat in your car as your drive to the gym. Weird. But can be helpful when needed.
Over the past 10 years, dynamic warm-ups have become “best practice” for athletes as they prep for exercise or sport. Dynamic, or a moving stretch, encourages athletes to move their joints and muscles through ranges as opposed to holding static poses to stretch their muscles. Examples of dynamic movements include high knees, butt kicks, leg swings, air squats, arm circles… really, any movement that allows muscles to be lengthened and shortened. I always teach people to start small and increase range, speed, and power in each movement with each rep.
Studies show that there is actually a small dip in strength immediately following low load, long duration (static) stretches. So only focusing on static holds right before a workout, especially lifting can be potentially harmful and absolutely not beneficial.
I try to have a conversation with each and every one of my patients about their goals before starting treatment. If you want to walk, what do you think we will do? Walk. If you want to run, we will run. If you want to jump higher, we will practice jumping. The same thought process needs to go for your warm up. If you are planning to squat during your work out, you would be doing yourself a disservice by spending your time only stretching your lats and riding a bike prior to starting your sets.
After your heart rate is elevated and you’re warm, make sure you specifically target the joints and muscles that you will use specifically for your workout.
All in all, as you warm-up before your next exercise session, focus on task-specific and efficient drills. Studies are showing warming up properly can be accomplished quickly if you are good stewards of your time and thoughtful in your movements. I think a warm-up can be accomplished in 8-10 minutes consisting of 3-4 movements if done well.
Here is an example of my go-to warm-up for any squatting or lower extremity dominate work out! (Sped up x1.5)
There is no perfect warm-up, nor one right answer. I do think there is good, better, best as you prepare for your workouts. So don’t be a hoodlum. Be an athlete. Spend some time being intentional about your warm-ups and I bet you will see less injury and better performance in your workouts.
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