Have any idea what this post might be about? No? I'll give you a hint, its not about the Hip Hop anthem by Nelly or taking your clothes off at the club! Still nothing? Well, here it comes: this little post is all about Warming-Up for your sport or training session! Now I'll admit, a 'quick tip' post will only scratch the most superficial surface of the 'warm-up' debate, so I'll be posting a more in-depth article this Friday July 8th; be sure to check back!
First things first, I hope you have a warm-up. Secondly, I hope your warm up is NOT SOLELY completing the main lift of your session at a lighter weight. But before we dive into the nitty-gritty on HOW one should warm-up, I think it's important to understand WHY we do so!
WHY AM I DOING THIS?
A warm-up serves several key purposes, and if you've ever had one of those perfect training sessions (the ones where you find the groove and all the weights feel light and you leave the gym feeling like a boss), you know that the benefits of properly preparing your body for sport or training are undeniable. So here are a few key reasons why you should warm-up before you play or train:
1. Get Your Mind Right
If you're a regular gal like myself, chances are you have a job or school (or both), maybe a family to take care of, and likely some sort of life stress on your mind on most days. Training may be your escape from all that, but entering the gym doesn't mean you automatically drop all that stuff at the door. Even if you're a varsity or professional athlete, pre-competition jitters may follow you into the arena or onto the field. Progressing through a pre-designed, specific warm-up can be as much of a mental transition as it is physical. A time to invest yourself in your physical practice and prepare your mind and body for what is about to happen. I've talked about 'mindless/meathead' training and risk of injury before, so use your warm-up as a time to become mindful of your movement, breath and practice.
2. Oil up the Joints
Do you want to end up like the Tin Man? No? Then take it from me, you need to show your joints some love. It is well established that movement helps bring synovial fluid into the joints, circulating it and allowing it to nourish our cartilage. But joints are more than just bones and cartilage; they're also surrounded by soft tissues like ligaments and tendons. Gradually taking your joints through movement progressing from lower intensity towards your working intensity will gradually load these tissues as well as get all our "joint sensors" firing providing increased feedback to our central nervous system. We know that in athletic or training situations, strains and sprains often result from a single, excessive force that supersedes the tolerance of our tissues (ligaments and tendons); warming up will help to gradually 'wake these tissues up' so you're not suddenly exposing them to an unexpected high force situation.
3. Fire-Up the Ol' Ticker
As healthy and beneficial as physical activity and training are, we also know that 'exercise' is a physiological stress. It increases the demands placed on our cardiorespiratory and neuromusculoskeletal system. For individuals at high risk of adverse cardiovascular events (who may or may not be aware of their risk level), a proper warm-up can help to decrease the chance of one of these events occurring. In a healthy, low risk population gradually progressing up to your work intensity through a structured warm-up can help you avoid hitting a metabolic wall! We've all been that person at one time -- when we start our run, MetCon, or training session with a little too much 'enthusiasm' and end up bent over at the waist gasping for air or fighting a 'stitch'... At least part of this phenomenon may be due to overloading our system so suddenly that our buffer and energy systems can compensate effectively. So warm-up, don't throw up!
4. Get Groovy
Movement and motor patterns are a thing; in the weightlifting world, performing a rep in the perfect sequence and path making it as efficient as possible is often described as 'finding the groove'. Performing lower threshold iterations of the prime movement(s) of your training session will allow you to find and prime that groove/movement pattern. It will also enable you to start recruiting motor units progressively from smaller to larger units... and we know amazing things are possible when we get the big guns firing!
5. Avoid Injury
Put all of these points together and what do you get: a lower risk of injury! You've prepared yourself to be mindful of your breath and movement, you've prepared your circulatory system to feed your muscles, and your joints and soft tissues to take load. Your nervous system knows exactly what sequence and timing to use for your prime movements and your muscles are primed, pliable, and ready to accomplish great things! What you end up with is a state of physical readiness and mental focus that will be more beneficial to your training than you can consciously realize!
SO TELL ME HOW:
Unfortunately, this is one of those "IT DEPENDS" type situations. I think you've probably gathered from those post thus far, that the specifics of your warm-up depend on exactly what you plan to do at the gym or on the field. While I cannot give you a detailed warm-up that you can use for every workout, I can give 3 common characteristics of a good warm-up protocol!
A good warm-up will be designed to prep your mind, muscles, joints, and nervous system for your exact training session! This means your warm-up should be mindful, it should include tissue-prep techniques such as Self-myofascial release (SMR), band work and/or dynamic stretching and lower-threshold movements that mimic the prime movement pattern(s) of your session. Your warm-up should also prime the energy system you'll be using. For example if you're going to be sprinting, it would be an awesome idea to include lower-intensity sprints of a similar distance towards the end of your warm-up. Running 10 km to warm-up for a set of 100-metre sprints would be less ideal as you would be using a completely different energy system,
There are a number of ways to interpret progression when it comes to a warm-up (I'll dive deeper into this on Friday), but at its most basic level, this means your warm-up should move from less-intense, lower threshold stuff, to more intense and specific stuff. As an example, for a Barbell Back Squat Session, you might start with some foam rolling, and then progress from band work to dynamic stretching, to monster walks, and finally light reps of back squat to set you up for your work sets.
Warming up is not your day job; if it takes you an hour to warm-up for an hour lifting session, something has likely gone awry. If you honour the first 2 characteristics, focusing your warm-up around exactly what you plan to do and progressing for example, from floor work to kneeling work, to standing work, then chances are this won't be an issue for you. Having said that, if you are so stiff/sore/stuck that you need to do 30 minutes of SMR before you can start moving, it might be time to get some professional advice on your training program, daily habits, and/or biomechanics. I'm not saying that maintenance work is not important; I am saying that we should be doing bits of it every day to keep the workload and time-requirement reasonable (but thats a whole other article). Making the effort to properly warm-up, cool-off and do maintenance work each day will truly pay off in the end!
JUST DO IT
I think I've made a pretty convincing argument for including a specific and thorough warm-up in your training routine (not that I'm biased or anything...); whether you believe me or not, try incorporating a proper warm-up in your sessions this week and see how it affects your training! I promise you won't be disappointed!
Happy Training Friends!
Like what you're reading? Click here to receive our bi-weekly newsletter with the most up-date information on upcoming blog posts, events, programming, and discounts!
Join us for Build & Burn, Toronto's newest Women's only bodyweight strength and conditioning class!
New Women's Tanks are available in the Small But Mighty Shop! Click here to get yours while you can!