By Kyle J. Smith
Whether today's workout plan is a bodyweight routine in the park or a 5K, warming up should be the first thing on the to-do list (after that pre-workout snack). But what's the ideal way to warm-up? Experts agree a warm-up should heat and loosen the body (and prepare the mind for action, of course). But there are a few no-no's, too.
Pre-Heat The Oven -- The Need-To-Know
Think we can jump right into our workouts coming straight from the office, the classroom or (better yet) the comfort of our own bed? Think again. We perform optimally, and better avoid injury, after a warm-up that does what its names promises: warms us up. And while a marathoner doesn't warm-up like a powerlifter, the same way an opera singer doesn't warm-up like a modern dancer, there could be some similarities.
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When it comes to strength training and a variety of sports, strength coaches often like to think of their warm-ups as "training preparation" — using techniques such as foam rolling and movement practice to get the gears aligned. Enter: the dynamic warm-up (buzzword alert!). This popular warm-up approach gets all the joints moving one at a time, then all together, taking the body through progressive bodyweight movements that turn up the heat (and turn chair dwellers into gym rock stars). Classic dynamic moves include walking lunges with a side twist, walking toe touches, and high skips (see complete warm-up routines below!).
For endurance or cardio routines, research shows a similar "dynamic" approach can improve performance, including dynamic stretching -- holding stretches for short bursts of about 2-8 seconds each. (Hold steady, though. No bouncing!) Some experts also suggest performing a few short intervals of the planned exercise before show time for best results. Leave static stretching for the cool down, though, as it may hinder performance and increase the risk of injury.
Warm'er Up! -- Your Action Plan
Every warm-up routine will be different, depending on all those Ws (who, what, when, where, and why). But as a great jumping off point, start with these four basic goals for every warm-up, as outlined by the National Strength and Conditioning Association:
Loosen up. Coming straight from bed or that cubicle chair? The joints and muscles will most certainly need to get warmed, wiggled and un-wound before the hard work begins. This is a great time for foam rolling. Start with the back then hit every section of the legs, using this time to visualize success.
Get the heart pumping. Increased heart thumping warms up the muscles and switches on the nervous system. Jog, row, ride a bike -- pick any enjoyable activity and go! But how hard? Be sure you're able to converse with your workout buddy (or sing Nicki Minaj -- at a reasonable volume, of course).
Stretch, baby, stretch. Stretch those warm muscles, but don't hold that pose. Studies show that static stretching (holding a stretch for upwards of 30 seconds) might hinder performance. Hold a stretch for a breath or two then release and repeat. Try touching your toes then reaching for the sky (this makes for a great wave if everyone in the gym joins in).
Practice. Move through the exercises planned for that day's workout at full range of motion at lower-intensity and with lighter weight (if lifting's on the agenda). Have a long, hard run ahead? Warm-up with a few technique drills. Back squats? Start with an empty bar. Practicing the movement patterns teaches muscle memory and continues to prepare the body for action.
Ready to get even more specific? There's no limit to the variety of warm-up moves that'll get you game-ready, and changing things up is always a fun (and often effective) approach. Here are just a few great warm-ups from some of our favorite exercise aficionados from around the web:
- The Dynamic Warm-Up, Nerd Fitness
- The Proper Warm-Up, Eric Cressey
- Mobility Drills for Any Warm-Up, Mike Boyle
- Olympic Weightlifting Warm-Up, Greg Everett
- How to Warm-Up Before a Run, Runner's World
- Dance Warm-Up Exercise, Canada's National Ballet School
Find an enjoyable warm-up and remember to listen to the body's cues being careful not to over do it. The warm-up is also only one slice of bread in this workout sandwich, so don't forget the cool down. And make sure to fill that sandwich with fun, high-quality exercise!
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