What is the best way to warm up for exercise? Let this very quick guide to warming up safely for exercise both in and out of the gym serve as a base which to properly prepare yourself for exercise.
But first before I tell you what you should be doing lets identify what we want to achieve with our warm up:
- Raise resting heartrate slowly and increase core body temperature
- Mobilise our muscles and joints in a way which will prepare us for activity and reduce the risk of injury
- Activate relevant muscles
- Prepare specifically for the activity we will be performing
These basic goals of a warm up are not achieved by 10 minutes on a treadmill and thus the warm up warrents more specific preperation. Here are some basic tips on how to warm up correctly:
Try Foam Rolling
Foam rolling? Sounds a bit weird i know! Let me explain, foam rolling is a form of self massage or self myofascial release (SMR) for the jargon lovers out there used by athletes and therapists to release tight muscles and trigger points ready for exercise. Grab yourself a foam roller and spend 5-10 minutes rolling your body around to find any particular areas of tightness, some of the common areas which need attention include the hamstrings, IT Bands, thoracic spine, glutes, and hips. If you find an area of particular discomfort try pausing for 20 seconds to see if this releases the tightness. Repeat this at the start of your warm up giving special attention to any muscle groups you will be using in the workout.
Formerly an area of much debate foam rolling was shown in a recent study to improve passive hip range of motion and even more when combined with static stretching confirming SMR as a valuable tool in the warm up.
For years people around the world used static stretching to prepare muscles for exercise but the research suggests this actually has a detrimental affect when used as a warm up before exercise. Static stretching is beneficial with long term usage for muscle range of motion (ROM) but as a warm up tool it falls short. Instead this type of stretching should be used either after or away from the workout.
The research on stretching before exercise suggests a better approach would be to use dynamic (active) stretches as part of your warm up to prepare your muscles for exercise. Not only do these have a beneficial effect on the workout which will follow but dynamic stretches are much more movement specific and can be selected based on what activity you will be doing. Examples of dynamic stretches include and is not limited to leg swings, hip circles, hip stretch with twist, lunges, and resistance band stretches.
Using dynamic stretching is proven to have a direct carryover in to sports or athletic performance, this means it is an important factor in any safe warm up.
Sports Specific preparation
If we had to look at why we are warming up it would be to prepare us for the transition in to a sporting or physical activity, so it would make sense to use some of the fundamental movement patterns of this activity as part of the warm up right? However this is often overlooked in favour of stretching the quads in a way which might have no effect on what you are about to do. Heres an example, if I am about to do a squat/lower based workout in the gym I always include 2 sets of very controlled goblet squats with a kettlebell right at the end of my warm up to prepare my body for this movement pattern, to fire up the neuromuscular connections, and to mobilise the specific muscles involved in the act of squatting, make sense?
Well this is perhaps the most important part of any warm up, carefully preparing your body for the specifics of what you will be doing. Take the time to make sure you are performing sports/activity specific warm up exercises before moving on to the main workout, this will prevent more injuries than pretty much anything else you do and have positive effects on performance!
A Quick Guide To Warming Up For Exercise
This very quick list of warm up tips should serve as an outline to help to prepare safely for exercise. In short, try foam rolling, use dynamic stretches instead of static, and utilise sports/activity specific movements to effectively warm up for your sport or gym based workout.