Sometimes when we’re limited for time in the gym, we try to cut out anything extra that’s going to take up time. One of the first things to go is usually a proper warm up. In truth, this is probably the last thing you want to exclude from your workout. In fact, it would be better for you to shorten your workout if you’re short on time than to skip the warm up.
As outlined in Framework by orthopedist Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, the tissues that make up our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints are temperature specific. What that means is that if a muscle or tendon is “cold”, then it’s stiffer and more brittle, therefore more susceptible to injury like strained muscles. By performing a proper warm up, you raise the temperature of your muscles, making them more flexible, and therefore less likely to strain or pull a muscle. Likewise, a warm up increases the blood flow to your muscles, getting them the nourishment they need to generate energy.
This also means that cold, static stretching (where you stretch a muscle and hold it) before exercise is NOT a good idea for a warm up. In one study conducted with the US Army, it was found that the group that performed a dynamic warm up, meaning movements to get the blood flowing, performed significantly better in tests of power, agility, and endurance than those who performed a warm up doing static stretching.
A separate study was conducted with a group of collegiate wrestlers to see if there were any long term benefits to a dynamic warm up. At the end of the four week trial, the group that performed dynamic warm ups before exercise improved in their tests of strength, agility, and endurance; thus proving that there are actually long term performance benefits to a dynamic warm up, not just the benefits you get in preparing for your specific exercise.
So what does all of this mean? Besides not skipping your warm up, it means you should be doing a warm up that includes something that gets your heart rate up and warms the muscles, as well includes movements that you’ll be performing in the actual workout.
So what does a good warm up include? Here are the three keys to effective workout:
- A low intensity cardio activity to get the blood pumping. This could include 2-5 minutes of a light jog, bike, elliptical, jump rope, or jumping jacks.
- Dynamic movements that put your muscles through the range of motion you’ll be performing during exercise. This might include 10 reps of body weight squats, lunges, butt kicks, or arm windmills, or going through a circuit with TRX. The video below is one of my new favorite TRX warm ups I like to do and like to have my clients perform.
- Finish with some movements specific to the exercise you’re going to do. For example, if you’re about to do a bench press, start with 6-8 reps with just the bar. If you’re playing basketball, perform 10 free throws.
The amount of time you spend on the warm up will vary depending on the activity you’re going to be doing. A longer warm up might be key for more intense exercise.
Bottom line: don’t skip your warm up, but perform a dynamic warm up before you exercise. It will help make you resistant to injury and help you improve performance.
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- Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits, Sonja Herman and Derek Smith
- DYNAMIC VS.STATIC-STRETCHING WARM UP: THE EFFECT ON POWER AND AGILITY PERFORMANCE, Danny McMillian et al.