Warm-Up: The Why & How
Have you ever gotten deep into an intense workout, only to experience a sharp pain in a certain joint or tendon? Well, if that sounds familiar, odds are that you have not warmed up well and have thus increased your risk of injury. In this article, we’re going to give you insight on how to properly prime your body for a workout, in order to maximize your output and minimize the chance of injury.
What Happens When We Train?
When you are working out, what you’re doing is activating certain muscles and systems in the body that make it possible to provide energy and force for the movement/exercise you’re doing. In the case of weight training, you’re activating your muscle fibers and your central nervous system, along with the cardiovascular system and energy pathways that grant sustained energy for muscular contraction.
From that point of view, the goals of a warm up are the following:
Activating the muscle fibers
Activating the central nervous system
Gradually increasing heart rate
Gradually increasing respiratory rate
Stretching Before A Workout
Many people consider stretching to be one of the most important elements of your warm-up routine. However, the truth is that stretching can actually be COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to your workout, due to the fact that it RELAXES the muscles. That is to say that if you just stretch before a workout, you won’t really improve your strength output.
What You SHOULD Do Instead
Now, of course, we are not telling you to ditch stretching altogether, but instead, try to also FLEX the muscles after stretching. This is what we refer to as dynamic stretching, which involves both parts of the muscles’ range of motion - The stretch and the contraction.
The combination of these two phases, will allow you to prime the muscles for work, by activating the muscle fibers and stimulating the central nervous system. On top of that, once you get into the exercises, you can start off with up to 3-4 warm-up sets, where you gradually increase the working weight.
Try This Warm-Up Routine
With the goals of priming your entire body for an intense workout, there are a couple of logical steps to take.
Do some cardio
To warm up the body, get the blood flowing and increase your heart and respiratory rates, low-intensity cardio is one of your best bets before a workout. Do up to 5-10 minutes of slow-paced cardio, such as jogging, rope jumping or cycling. Remember though, don’t overdo cardio before a workout, because that can rob you of energy for your heavier lifts.
2. Do Dynamic Stretching
As we already mentioned, dynamic stretching is one of the best practices to include in your warm-up.Make sure to get each joint through its entire range of motion, by activating and then stretching the muscle groups attached to that joint.
For instance, if you’re training your chest, open your arms out to stretch the chest, and then push them towards the midline of the body to contract even the deepest fibers of your chest muscles. This will grant sufficient activation for you to move into the warm-up sets of your first exercise.
3. Do Warm-Up Sets
After you’re done with your general warm up that consists of cardio and dynamic stretching, it is time to get into the actual exercises. For the first couple of sets, start off with a light weight (i.e an empty barbell) and with each set, gradually increase the weight, until you reach your working weight.
Though light, try and do those warm-up sets more explosively, as that will further activate your nervous system and muscle fibers, thus granting better output for the working sets. For instance, if you can bench press 70 kg for 10 repetitions, do the following pyramid:
Set 1 - Empty bar, 15 reps
Set 2 - 30 kg bar, 15 reps
Set 3 - 50 kg bar, 10 reps
After the third set, you can bump the weight up and start your working sets, where the goal is to be near failure at the last repetition.
If you cold-start a car and instantly start running it into the redline, odds are that something will eventually break, faster than it would if you waited a couple of minutes for the car to warm up. The same goes for the body - If you’re planning to go through an intense training bout, you are better off gradually priming all the systems and tissues involved in this training activity.
The best way to do so, is to create a warm-up routine that consists of cardio, along with stretching and flexing of the musculature, after which, you can gradually move into your heavier exercises. THIS is how you prime the body for peak performance, without risking the chance of injury.
What is YOUR favorite warm-up routine? Let us know in the comments below!