Question: I am really tight on time at the gym. I like to get in and get out. So do I need to warm-up before my workout or am I okay to just start? Thanks.
– Sally F., Atlanta, GA
The answer to whether or not you should warm up before your workout is simple…YES! The more important debate is: how should you warm up?
Most of us grew up with PE teachers that taught us how to warm up by having us bend over and touch our toes. All we remember is…”Make sure to warm up before you exercise so you don’t get hurt”. Come to find out, the advice wasn’t all that accurate. Stretching and warming up are not actually one and the same. And, by the way, stretching prior to exercise has never been proven to keep injuries at bay.
Stretching can certainly be part of your warm up, but that’s not all you need to do to prep the body for working out. By the way, what you think of as appropriate warm up stretching (i.e. bending your knee and pulling your foot in to meet your glutes for a quad stretch) probably isn’t the best way to get ready for a run. Let’s take a look.
A warm up is designed to increase your body’s core temperature and help to reduce injury to the joints and muscles.
A well-designed warm up will increase secretion of synovial joint fluid which helps prepare the body for more strenuous movements. It will also increase the elasticity of the muscles and connective tissues, which decreases the risk of acute injuries to the soft tissue. Your body also preps itself with improved speed and sensitivity to neural messaging which helps with muscle control and reactivity. Equally as important, the brain is prepping to ‘focus’ on the work ahead allowing for more productive workouts.
- Plan your warm-up as close to the actual activity as you can. If possible, move right from the warm up into your activity.
- The warm-up should last at least 3-5 minutes. But, if you can spend 10 minutes or more you will find an increased level of readiness without fatiguing the body.
- For movement based warm-ups (preparing for sport, running, etc), begin slowly at a low intensity with smaller movements. Gradually progress toward larger, rehearsal movements that move your joints through full range of motion and provide an increase in intensity. Use movements that mimic what you will be doing in the workout. Stretching should be dynamic (moving stretches) and active (without assistance) if possible. Learn more about the different types of stretches.
- For strength workouts, begin from the inside out. Activate the core first and then progress from the ground up dynamically stretching the muscles you will be targeting in your workout. You will also want to add full body movements (i.e. squat to overhead reach without equipment) to prepare. As the warm up progresses, add range of motion and speed.
- The most important part of the warm-up is slowly elevating your core temperature. Start slow and gradually increase your intensity without causing fatigue. Three minutes of walking would be better than nothing at all!
- Keep in mind, the harder the workout, the longer the warm-up should be for best results. If you’re planning on a high intensity workout, ‘rev the engine’ before that first push.
- Any warm-up is better than no warm up at all! Don’t stress about the ‘perfect’ warm up… just move!
Want some ideas to spice up your warm ups? Try one of these three dynamic, full body warm ups before your next workout.