by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS
The significance of a proper warm up is undermined by the majority of gym goers. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that most people, including seasoned lifters and athletes, don’t know how to warm up properly. Wander over to your local commercial gym and if you’re lucky you might see a few people pedaling languidly on a recumbent bike while they catch the news or sports highlights on one of the TVs overhead. Some may take it as far as arbitrarily dabbling in a few stretches before going about their work for the day. More disparagingly, are the people who completely disregard warming up.
I’d also wager that people don’t have the vaguest clue in how to construct a warm up – which we’ll soon cover.
A proper warm-up is a pivotal component of the training session, setting the tone for the impending workout and conferring a number of benefits which include:
- Elevating core temperature and increases blood flow, which improves the extensibility of muscles and range of motion
- Lubricating joints by reducing the viscosity of synovial fluid
- Aligning joints by activating the muscles which govern their movement
- Driving up the excitation of motor neurons and the emission of catecholamines through activation exercises
Collectively these serve to improve power, strength, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, and agility performance, as demonstrated by a 2008 study involving college wrestlers (1). If warming up conjures performance improvements in highly trained college wrestlers, imagine what warming up can do for you.
As such, it should be structured to elicit the aforementioned benefits, through:
- Engaging in a brief cardiovascular warm-up first to increase blood flow and body temperature.
o Examples include: a field or track based warm up of skips, hops, and running conducted at progressively increasing intensities or if you’re in the gym, an elliptical, treadmill, or recumbent bike
- Performing self-myofascial release with a foam roller or lacrosse ball to improve muscle extensibility. Recent research has shown that SMFR protocols enhance joint range of motion (2).
o SMFR can be performed with foam rollers, PVC piping, lacrosse, tennis, medicine, and golf balls
- Performing a dynamic warm up to improve flexibility and to align joints.
o Dynamic warm ups consist of bodyweight movements, such as lunges and hand walkouts performed in multiple directions
- Performing activation exercises to turn on the agonists, or prime mover muscles involved in compound movements
- Warm-ups also may entail movement patterning of the exercise performed unloaded or with lighter loads to reinforce proper execution of the exercise as weight is progressively increased.
I’d like to point out that warm-ups should not be taken lightly and should be completed with unwavering focus. Warm-ups aren’t the time to talk with friends about your day at work or recapping the weekend, they’re about getting your mind and body prepared for the rigors that lie ahead. Also, if you don’t have the time to properly warm-up, you don’t have the time to workout.
I’ll safely wager that you’ll be better prepared for your workouts if you invest more time warming up.
- Herman SL, Smith DT. Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22:1286-1297.
- MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27:812-821.
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