Why your warm up is more important than your workout
You’ve probably heard that you should warm-up before training, but you’re not really sure why it’s so important and at the same time-what exactly you should be doing. I never train without a proper warm up and neither do my clients...here's why you should too!
I’m continually shocked by the number of people I see in community gyms, who stroll in, do a few arms circles (if that) then throw on some weight and start moving it. It makes me cringe like nails on a chalkboard. Every. Single. Time
What are these people thinking?
"You know what I need today? To get injured or to have an awful workout"
I get that we're all time constrained and no one wants to warm-up the way professional athletes do but you absolutely should warm-up for your strength training sessions.
And while it doesn't have to take you 25 minutes or include every warm-up drill you can think of off the top of your head, It should consist of a series of movements that:
A) target your specific muscle imbalances/mobility issues
B) are tailored towards the workout you have planned
That means your warm ups are not one size fits all.
Why Warm Up?
Let's clear up what a warm-up is first. A warm-up is the initial progressive sequence in a training session. I often term it 'Movement Preparation' or 'Movement Prep' to provide people with a better idea of the intent. Both these terms are synonymous to 'Warm-Up.'
Most typically in a resistance training your warm-up will last 5-15 minutes. It can include but is not just getting your body warm. It's preparing your body for what's about to come in the training session.
It is NOT stretching. At least not statically holding any stretches, like we used to when I was in high school. You know, hold the heel to your glute for a bit, get into a hurdler's stretch for your hammies. That sort of thing.
Maybe that works for yoga but not for strength training and or weightlifting but I'll touch more on this later on.
When I talk about warming up (or Movement Prep) I'm talking about four things your warm-up should accomplish:
Raise your core body temperature
Prime the mobility you have
Practice your intended training movements
Prepare your nervous system for what’s about to come
1) Increase Body Temperature
Arguably the most misunderstood element of a good warm-up.
How do I know? Well, I see it daily...
If you're not strolling into the gym for your arm circles and some stretches first, you're hopping on a cardio machine for 3-5 minutes and throwing on the jumping right into heavy lifting.
This might be better than no warm-up at all buuuutttt not really. This doesn’t do anything for the other 3 out of the 4 purposes for the warm-up.
Strength training/lifting weights is not walking, cycling, rowing or the elliptical. These tools can succeed at raising your core temperature, but they do NOT adequately prepare you to lift.
If you want to warm-up for resistance training, then your movement selection should mimic (to some degree) what you are planning on doing later in the training session.
Otherwise, you're warming up for a cardiovascular training workout, not strength training.
2) Prime The Mobility You Have
A point of distinction is priming the mobility you currently have, not creating a level of mobility you would like to have.
The warm-up should not be viewed as an opportunity to actively increase flexibility or mobility (that work should be done after the workout, as part of the cool-down, or even a separate session).
Instead, your warm-up should flow through the range of motion you currently possess. You want to prime that combination of stability and mobility within the range of motion you expect to need in the workout itself. This will allow more efficient control of what your tissues are already capable of.
In short, your choice of movements in your warm-up should serve as a rehearsal, a reminder to your body of a previously skill you’ve already mastered.
3) Practice the Intended Movements
This is ultimately and arguably the most crucial element that the majority of people typically skip.
Early in each training session your muscles are fresh. Meaning there is very little fatigue that has been accumulated in any given muscle group. This makes the warm-up the ideal opportunity for practicing movements.
Arm circles and some shoulder stretches obviously aren't even close to bench pressing. Yes, they would move some of the same muscles involved but in a non-specific way. Adding in push ups as part of your warm up would be much more efficient.
Regardless, it’s important that instead of jumping right into a moderately/ heavy weight right off the bat, you want to work your way up to it.
This might mean some practice reps with just the barbell and then slowly adding some weight for additional 'warm-up sets' until you get to your max weight for that day.
I can't really give you the specifics of what to rehearse without knowing what your training session will entail. There is no blanket recommendation for a warm-up sequence that applies to all strength training sessions.
If you want help with figuring out what an ideal warm up would look like for you, click here to schedule a call a free call with me.
4) Prepare the Nervous System
Without getting too scientific, your Central Nervous System (CNS), is basically your brain muscle connection.
Your central nervous system sends messages to your muscles to prepare them for your intended actions. The better you can communicate the intentions you have for your training with your body, the better you will feel and perform during your workout.
Activating your CNS before strength training will:
·Maximize your performance by signaling the recruitment of more muscle fibers
Aid you in breaking plateaus
Control balance and coordination to help you work against a weight or force
Essentially by warming up, you're increasing your ability to crush your workout. You'll also reduce the likelihood of any potential injuries.
Warming up well is about a lot more than doing a few stretches before you lift. It isn't just hopping on a piece of cardio equipment and hitting the weights.
Those 5 minutes are likely better spent on preparing or rehearsing movements like the ones you plan to do in your strength training session. This more adequately prepares your body for the stress you plan to apply to it.
When your body is adequately prepared, we see reductions in injuries as well as improvements in performance. Win Win! And yes, it can be just as little as 5 minutes, but it can't hurt to do more if you have the time ;)