Why You Should Warm Up… How you start determines how you finish.

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Warm up

How you start determines how you finish. Begin your training by warming up so you can be at your best.

BY Roger Lockridge

How Do You Warm Up?

Now that we’ve established why you should warm up, how do you add it into your own program? What should you do for a warm up? Do you walk on the treadmill for a few minutes or stretch or perform different movements for the whole body? The answer is yes! In other words, you should do all the above. A proper warm up plan should be able to do all the following:

When you’re a young and upcoming gym rookie it can be so easy to give in to the temptation of getting right to it.  As soon as you enter the weight room, you start with serious weight and get straight into “beast mode”. Let me be clear about this. Your enthusiasm and passion for training should be commended. There is no criticism of that. While you should do your best to maintain that passion, you should pay more attention to how your sessions should begin…

Sports Serving as an Example

Take a moment to think about your favorite sports league or team. When you’re watching them on TV, the broadcast begins with an introduction. While the commentators are speaking, you can see the players in the background. What are they doing? They’re moving around or stretching with a coach. Why are they doing this? They’re preparing for the game. They’re warming up. They know that their bodies have to be able to function to the best of their ability in order to perform at their highest levels. This is the same approach you, as a recreational athlete, should take with your training.

How Do You Warm Up?

Now that we’ve established why you should warm up, how do you add it into your own program? What should you do for a warm up? Do you walk on the treadmill for a few minutes or stretch or perform different movements for the whole body? The answer is yes! In other words, you should do all the above. A proper warmup plan should be able to do all the following:

1. Increase your body temperature so your body can be better prepared for the intense activity to follow.

2. Increase your heart rate so blood can be transported throughout the body getting the muscles ready to perform.

3. Maximize your range of motion and flexibility so you’re not as stiff while training.

4. Allow your joints to produce and distribute synovial fluid so they can support you while you’re exercising. This prevents joints from rubbing against each other causing long term issues like arthritis.

5. Help you focus and mentally prepare for what you’re about to do in the gym.

If your warmup doesn’t help you accomplish all five of these objectives then you should reconsider your plan. The outline that follows can serve as a template for you to follow if you’re considering adding warm ups to your time in the gym.

Begin with Movement

Since you’re going to be moving a lot during training, this should be a simple idea to grasp. We don’t want to begin with stretching because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. We want our body temperature increased and we want blood moving throughout the body. Committing your first three to five minutes to light activity will serve you well. You can opt for shadow boxing or an elliptical with moving handles to work the upper body. If you want to perform simple step ups or bodyweight squats with pushups that would be ok too. Remember that the goal is to prepare the entire body for intense activity. Simply walking won’t do that for you. After three to five minutes of this, you should begin to work up a sweat.  Then, you can move on to the next phase.

From the Ground Up

Now that we’ve prepared the entire body, let’s devote attention to the individual parts. We will do this from the ground up. That means starting with what touches the ground: your feet.

Feet – Raise your toes of your left foot out and wiggle them for around 10 seconds. Repeat this with the right foot.

Ankles – Stand on one foot while keeping balance against a rail or wall and perform ankle circles in both directions with the foot that’s off the ground. Repeat with the opposite foot.

Calves – Perform 10-15 calf raises for each leg (or with both legs at the same time). Next, we go above the knee.

Hamstrings – Stand with straight legs. Bend over and touch your toes. Walk your hands out as far as you can while keeping your feet at the same spot. Once you go out as far as you can, walk your hands back and return to the standing position.

Thighs – Stand with a wide stance and perform 10-12 bodyweight squats. Get down as low as you can, and keep your pace slow.  Once you’re “in the hole” push yourself back to the starting position and repeat.

Hips – Perform 20 hip circles for each leg. Your first 10 reps should be clockwise and the other 10 should be counter clockwise.

Core – While maintaining a solid standing position, perform standing twists using only your core. Turn your shoulders to the left as far as you can. Return to your starting position and repeat by turning yourself to the right as far as you can. Repeat for 10 reps per side.

Chest – Hold your arms out to your sides. Bring them in so they are stretched in front of you like you would perform a chest flye. Contract your chest while doing this. When you bring your arms back, make sure you feel a stretch in the area as well.

Back and Shoulders – Hold your arms straight overhead. Pull your arms down like you would perform a lat pulldown.  Make a fist while you’re doing this.  Once you’ve completed this action, open your hands and press back up like you’re doing a shoulder press.  Repeat until you’ve performed 10 reps of both. You should feel your biceps and triceps working here as well.

Neck – Turn your head as far as you safely can to the left, then to the right. You should feel a slight stretch on each side. Perform this for 10 reps per side.

Stretching

Now we’ve committed a few minutes to moving the entire body at once and we’ve also devoted time to moving individual parts. Now we can “stretch” this plan out. (See what I did there?) I know that you’ve done enough PE classes and have common knowledge when it comes to stretching so I won’t waste your time talking about which stretches to do. What I would like to do is share some advice on how to implement the stretches into your warmup time.

1. Make sure you stretch out the entire body like you did when you performed the individual movements. Start from the floor and work your way up.

2. Spend 10-15 seconds at a time to each stretch you choose to add into your plan.

3. Focus your mind on the muscles that you’re trying to stretch. This is going to help you establish that mind-muscle connection that will help you when you start training.

4. Devote extra time to stretching the specific muscles you will prioritize if you’re doing a split routine to train individual muscles.

5. Spend no more than five minutes stretching.

6. Drink water while you’re doing this. Hydration is important to prevent cramping.

1. Don’t devote warming up to high impact movements (like jumping or power type movements) that will take a toll on your joints.

2. Don’t hold your breath at any time. Your body needs oxygen and controlled breathing can actually help you. Holding your breath may be instinctive, but it’s a habit you should try to break if you find yourself doing so.

3. Don’t get distracted by something else like TV or having a conversation while warming up. Your focus should be on the task at hand.

4. Don’t make it too complicated. Warming up is important, but it shouldn’t be that difficult. Follow the guidelines above and you should find that you don’t need to add anything else to it.

5. Don’t waste time. If you stop and allow your body to get cold then you will need to start over. Get it done and get to training.

6. Warming up shouldn’t take an extreme toll on you. If it does, you’re either doing too much or you need to evaluate your overall fitness level.

What Not to Do

While warming up is important, you should be aware of what not to do as well. While warming up, avoid these pitfalls so you can get the most out of warming up while minimizing risk of injury.

When you’re a young and upcoming gym rookie it can be so easy to give in to the temptation of getting right to it.  As soon as you enter the weight room, you start with serious weight and get straight into “beast mode”. Let me be clear about this. Your enthusiasm and passion for training should be commended. There is no criticism of that. While you should do your best to maintain that passion, you should pay more attention to how your sessions should begin…

Sports Serving as an Example

Take a moment to think about your favorite sports league or team. When you’re watching them on TV, the broadcast begins with an introduction. While the commentators are speaking, you can see the players in the background. What are they doing? They’re moving around or stretching with a coach. Why are they doing this? They’re preparing for the game. They’re warming up. They know that their bodies have to be able to function to the best of their ability in order to perform at their highest levels. This is the same approach you, as a recreational athlete, should take with your training.

1. Increase your body temperature so your body can be better prepared for the intense activity to follow.

2. Increase your heart rate so blood can be transported throughout the body getting the muscles ready to perform.

3. Maximize your range of motion and flexibility so you’re not as stiff while training.

4. Allow your joints to produce and distribute synovial fluid so they can support you while you’re exercising. This prevents joints from rubbing against each other causing long term issues like arthritis.

5. Help you focus and mentally prepare for what you’re about to do in the gym.

Begin with Movement

Since you’re going to be moving a lot during training, this should be a simple idea to grasp. We don’t want to begin with stretching because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. We want our body temperature increased and we want blood moving throughout the body. Committing your first three to five minutes to light activity will serve you well. You can opt for shadow boxing or an elliptical with moving handles to work the upper body. If you want to perform simple step ups or bodyweight squats with pushups that would be ok too. Remember that the goal is to prepare the entire body for intense activity. Simply walking won’t do that for you. After three to five minutes of this, you should begin to work up a sweat.  Then, you can move on to the next phase.

From the Ground Up

Now that we’ve prepared the entire body, let’s devote attention to the individual parts. We will do this from the ground up. That means starting with what touches the ground: your feet.

Feet – Raise your toes of your left foot out and wiggle them for around 10 seconds. Repeat this with the right foot.

Ankles – Stand on one foot while keeping balance against a rail or wall and perform ankle circles in both directions with the foot that’s off the ground. Repeat with the opposite foot.

Calves – Perform 10-15 calf raises for each leg (or with both legs at the same time). Next, we go above the knee.

Hamstrings – Stand with straight legs. Bend over and touch your toes. Walk your hands out as far as you can while keeping your feet at the same spot. Once you go out as far as you can, walk your hands back and return to the standing position.

Thighs – Stand with a wide stance and perform 10-12 bodyweight squats. Get down as low as you can, and keep your pace slow.  Once you’re “in the hole” push yourself back to the starting position and repeat.

Hips – Perform 20 hip circles for each leg. Your first 10 reps should be clockwise and the other 10 should be counter clockwise.

Core – While maintaining a solid standing position, perform standing twists using only your core. Turn your shoulders to the left as far as you can. Return to your starting position and repeat by turning yourself to the right as far as you can. Repeat for 10 reps per side.

Chest – Hold your arms out to your sides. Bring them in so they are stretched in front of you like you would perform a chest flye. Contract your chest while doing this. When you bring your arms back, make sure you feel a stretch in the area as well.

Back and Shoulders – Hold your arms straight overhead. Pull your arms down like you would perform a lat pulldown.  Make a fist while you’re doing this.  Once you’ve completed this action, open your hands and press back up like you’re doing a shoulder press.  Repeat until you’ve performed 10 reps of both. You should feel your biceps and triceps working here as well.

Neck – Turn your head as far as you safely can to the left, then to the right. You should feel a slight stretch on each side. Perform this for 10 reps per side.

Stretching

Now we’ve committed a few minutes to moving the entire body at once and we’ve also devoted time to moving individual parts. Now we can “stretch” this plan out. (See what I did there?) I know that you’ve done enough PE classes and have common knowledge when it comes to stretching so I won’t waste your time talking about which stretches to do. What I would like to do is share some advice on how to implement the stretches into your warmup time.

1. Make sure you stretch out the entire body like you did when you performed the individual movements. Start from the floor and work your way up.

2. Spend 10-15 seconds at a time to each stretch you choose to add into your plan.

3. Focus your mind on the muscles that you’re trying to stretch. This is going to help you establish that mind-muscle connection that will help you when you start training.

4. Devote extra time to stretching the specific muscles you will prioritize if you’re doing a split routine to train individual muscles.

5. Spend no more than five minutes stretching.

6. Drink water while you’re doing this. Hydration is important to prevent cramping.

1. Don’t devote warming up to high impact movements (like jumping or power type movements) that will take a toll on your joints.

2. Don’t hold your breath at any time. Your body needs oxygen and controlled breathing can actually help you. Holding your breath may be instinctive, but it’s a habit you should try to break if you find yourself doing so.

3. Don’t get distracted by something else like TV or having a conversation while warming up. Your focus should be on the task at hand.

4. Don’t make it too complicated. Warming up is important, but it shouldn’t be that difficult. Follow the guidelines above and you should find that you don’t need to add anything else to it.

5. Don’t waste time. If you stop and allow your body to get cold then you will need to start over. Get it done and get to training.

6. Warming up shouldn’t take an extreme toll on you. If it does, you’re either doing too much or you need to evaluate your overall fitness level.

Conclusion

While it isn’t as glamorous as lifting crazy weights or running impressive distances, warming up is as important as the other aspects of your training. When done properly, it can enhance your workout and improve your overall fitness.  It may also reveal potential weaknesses that you can work on to improve. Remember to make the warm up a part of your regular regimen. Starting off right can determine how you finish and that means you’ll maximize your potential as an athlete.