Warming up prior to your workout is an essential part of any exercise routine and should never be avoided. During this article I’ll be exploring the warm up routine and helping you understand exactly what warm up exercises you should be using and why they are so important.
Why Should You Warm Up Before Exercise?
Warming up prepares the body for the oncoming workout and reduces the risk of injury as well as optimising your performance.
Here are some of the reasons why warming up is so vital:
- Improve joint lubrication through the production of synovial fluid
- Increase your mental preparation for the task ahead, get in the zone and correct mindset for your workout
- Integrate the muscular stabliser system with the prime mover system so you are better able to perform full body movements more efficiently
- Warm up the soft tissue so your muscles are more pliable, move more efficiently and less likely to cause damage
- Increase blood flow through muscle tissue and thus increasing metabolism and temperature
- Elevate the heart rate so beginning exercise creates less of an initial stress to the body
- Increase muscle temperatures because oxygen is released more easily when warmer
- Improve motor unit recruitment of particular movement patterns suitable for the prescribed workout
- Integrate left and right brain hemispheres to improve movement skills
It would be a common mistake to go straight from sitting down all day to throwing around weights or putting your body through a demanding workout.
When Should You Warm Up?
You should always warm up just before your workout. Once you have finished your warm up you should move straight onto your workout. If you wait too long before starting your workout then your body and mind have time to cool down and you will have to repeat your warm up routine again. Leave no longer than 30 seconds to 2 minutes between your warm up routine and your workout.
Never skip your warm up regardless of the amount of time you have.
What Should You Include in Your Warm Up?
The further you can move your joints through their active range of movement the more mobile you are. As we age we loose mobility through the joints and become less and less mobile.
Good mobility truly is the fountain of youth!
A good mobility routine will not only help to lubricate the joints with synovial fluid but it will also help to maintain a good level of joint mobility. The stiffer the joints become the more laboured the movements become. It takes a lot more energy to move a stiff joint through its range than a mobile joint through its range. You will improve your economy of movement by increasing your mobility.
Your mobility also has a direct impact on the way your body moves as an integrated unit. If you have tight hips then your lower back will need to become more mobile in order to move fluidly. If you have tight ankles then your knees will need to compensate in order to deal with uneven ground.
Most of the injuries I see and rehabilitate come from a lack of mobility somewhere along the kinetic chain!
Joint mobility should be approached systemically from head to toe spending more time on stiff joints and less time on mobile joints.
Prepare the body for exercise by Integrating your body.
Your body consists of small stabiliser muscles that keep your joints in place and larger prime mover muscles that do all the heavy lifting. The easiest way to integrate your stabiliser muscles with your prime mover muscles is to challenge your balance. As your balance gets challenged your nervous system works overtime and survival systems get turned on. Ever noticed how alert you are when challenged with a survival situation.
Another important part of integration is activating your right and left brain hemispheres. Your right brain communicates with the left side of the body and the left brain with the right side. Simple ways to integrate the 2 brain hemispheres are to perform cross body movements that cross the centre line.
Movement preparation involves practicing specific movements that mimic the movements that you will be using in your workout. Jogging on a treadmill or sitting on an exercise bike for 5 minutes have no direction correlation with a workout that is focusing on Squats or Deadlifts.
If your workout is focused on Squats then you need to perform some bodyweight squats or light squats prior to your workout. In other words practice the movement patterns that will be used in your workouts.
Movement preparation based exercises not only copy the exact movement patterns in preparation for the workout but they also give you time to improve them. So if your squat pattern is bad then now is the time to really work on improving technique before adding further load.
It is very important to keep all of your soft tissue in good condition. Muscles, tendons and ligaments that have micro-tears, adhesions and scar tissue needs to be addressed and assisted in the recovery process.
You can use a foam roller, tiger tails, tennis ball and various other tools to improve soft tissue quality. I used to spend more time before workouts addressing soft tissue but now I tend to NOT include this procedure as part of the warm up. I now reserve soft tissue recovery for days when not exercising.
Finding a good sports massage therapist and having them address your issues every 1-4 weeks can make a huge difference to both your recovery rate and frequency of injury.
How to Warm Up Effectively?
Step # 1 – Joint Mobility
OK, so lets get started with the warm up.
You will want to begin with the Joint Mobility phase. I recommend that you start at the top of the body and work your way down. So you can follow this order:
- Neck (Cervical Spine)
- Upper Back (Thoracic Spine)
- Wrists and Ankles
Think about how the joint moves and then replicate that movement. So we know that the Neck moves left and right, forwards and backwards, and side to side. Take the joint as far as it will go without causing pain. Remember you are trying to improve your mobility so move right up to the extreme of your joint movement and not just your mid range.
If a particular joint feels tight or lacks movement then spend more time on that area. Gradually push the joint further and further to its extreme range. If a particular joint has great mobility then don’t spend too much time there move onto the next movement.
Here is my Full Body Mobility Routine…
Firstly, apologies for the lack of shirt, this was taken in Florida last year when it was very hot and humid.
This routine is a great supplement for everyone that suffers with their joint mobility. Perform the routine as many times as you can manage, it’s especially good for days off between workouts.
I guarantee you’ll feel amazing after you have finished!
Step # 2 – Integration
OK, now your joints are nice and mobile lets move onto the Integration Phase.Â As mentioned earlier the best way to do this is by challenging your balance and also performing exercises that cross the centre line.
Integration Exercise # 1 – Standing Elbow to Knee
Here’s a video so you can see how its done…
Here you not only get to challenge your balance and fire up your nervous system but also integrate your left and right brain hemispheres. If you find this exercise too easy then try performing the same exercise but standing on a BOSU ball or foam pad.
10 – 20 reps is a Good Start
Integration Exercise # 2 – Bird Dog with Rotation
Here’s the video…
This exercise is slightly more difficult than the standing elbow to knee and requires a little more core control. Again great for left and right integration. If you find this one too easy try it on a BOSU Ball, Foam Pad or Stability Ball.
5 – 10 on each side will do it.
Step # 3 – Movement Preparation
So finally we are onto Movement Preparation. This is the phase where you need to think hard about what exercises you are performing in your workout.
Depending on your workout you will mimic the same movement patterns so if you are performing a number of loaded Squats in your workout you will want to practice the Squat movement. The same theory applies if you are performing lots of Lunges or Deadlifts or Presses.
Here’s a simple Guide:
- Loaded Squats >> Practice Bodyweight Squats
- Loaded Lunges >> Practice Bodyweight Lunges Forwards and Sideways
- Loaded Bench Press >> Practice Light Bench Press and Push Ups
- Loaded Deadlifts >> Practice Bodweight Single Leg Deadlifts
- Loaded Rows >> Practice Light Rows
I think you get the general idea. Basically repeat the movement but with less or no added weight to the movement.
Here is a video of a Single Leg Deadlift..
You would use this as a movement preparation for further Deadlift exercises. Try 5 – 10 reps on each leg.
If your workout is going to involve running or sprinting then again you need to replicate the movement pattern. So some gentle jogging, knee to elbow rotational movements and lunging will prepare you.
Think logically about how your Warm Up applies to YOUR workout. Don’t just follow someone else’s warm up because all workouts are different!
Warming Up Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don’t have much time?
A warm up is an important part of your workout, it is not separate from your workout. If you are short on time then focus on warming up for a shorter workout. So perhaps your workout may only involve Squats and some Core exercises. If this is the case then warm up just for the Squat movement. For example 20 Bodyweight Squats, 2 x 15 Dumbbell Squats, 3 x 8 Barbell Squats.
What if warming up is too difficult?
For many people following the above format may be hard work. For example 10 bodyweight squats is a warm up exercise for one person but a workout for another. If you find bodyweight squats or warm exercises tough then this IS your workout. Spend time practicing the movements until you feel ready to move on to more difficult exercises later.
What if the warm up makes me feel tired before my workout?
Warm up exercises should leave you invigorated and ready to get stuck into your workout. If you feel tired following your warm up then you have either done too much, need to work solely on your warm up exercises or need to take another day off and come back refreshed.
How long should I warm up?
Your warm up should be a direct reflection of your workout and current environment. For tough workouts you should warm up more intensely. If you are in a warm climate then it will take less time to raise your core and muscle temperature. As a rough guide 10 – 15 minutes should do the trick.
Should I stretch as a warm up?
Research now shows that stretching prior to exercise can have a serious effect on muscle performance. Stretching in order to better maximise a movement pattern can be acceptable but it should be monitored by a professional. Joint mobility movements are far better at the beginning of a workout than the old fashioned static stretch.
Warm Up Conclusions
Hopefully you now understand the importance of warming up before exercise. Keep it simple and learn to not only listen to your body but also think about what movements will be involved in your workout. Begin with Joint Mobility, then move onto Integration and finally finish with Movement Preparation. A simple 10 – 15 minute warm up routine will not only help to maximise your workout but also keep you out of the Physiotherapists clinic for many years to come.
How do you like this Warm Up? Lets chat below…