How to warm up before exercise

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Warm-ups may seem like a waste of time and for the weaker mortals only. But while you might be tempted spend that warm-up time exercising at full force and torching fat instead, you’ll find that trying to save that little bit of time will end up costing you a lot more (in injury time).

If you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to work out!

There’s a reason world-class athletes warm-up. Done right, warming up (and cooling down) has a bevy of benefits. A warm-up prepares your body and mind for the workout to come.

A warm-up should:

  • Raise your body temperature and promote blood flow through your muscles
  • Make your muscles more pliable and contractile
  • Mobilize and lubricate your joints
  • Innervate any muscles that are feeling sluggish
  • Provide an opportunity to practice the skills of the coming workout
  • Leave you feeling ready to perform at your best
  • Improve your athletic performance 1
  • May reduce your risk of suffering an injury 2,3

How to Warm-Up Properly

Warm-ups are made up from a number of components. How much time you spend on each step depends on the type of workout you are going to do. However all components should be part in most good warm-ups…

It may seem hardcore to go through all the steps, but if you’ve ever taken a workout class or followed a fitness DVD you would have completed all these parts (though you probably didn’t know).

1. Pulse Raiser

Why do it: During this first step perform a light cardio activity designed to get your heart pumping, blood circulating and increase your core temperature.

How: This should be progressive, in that you start easy and build up over a few minutes – for example, walk, jog and then run. This is NOT the workout so don’t do any longer than necessary or you may end up wasting valuable energy – 5 to 10 minutes is usually plenty.

2. Joint Mobility Exercises

Why do it: Mobility exercises ensure your joints are warmed-up, well lubricated with synovial fluid and running smoothly.

How: You’ve done them before! It’s nothing exotic and unusual – you just don’t know you’ve done them.

Examples of joint mobility exercises are shoulder shrugs, waist twists, shallow knee bends, ankle circles.

10 to 20 repetitions of four to six exercises should get the job done. But feel free to spend a little more time on joints that are about to be heavily used, or are stiff or sore.

3. Dynamic Stretches

Why: While slow, static stretches tend to reduce muscle power and speed,4 as well as balance, dynamic stretches (stretches done on the move) will actively stretch your muscles, wake them up, get them ready for exercise, and increase performance.5

How: Examples of dynamic stretches include lunges with twists, squats with an overhead reach and twist, leg swings, duck under/step over, butt kickers, high-knee marching and hurdle walks.

Where possible, use movements that mimic the activities of the coming workout.

4. Foam rolling (extra!)

Why: If you have especially tight or sore muscles, you may benefit from including foam rolling (properly called self myofascial release). This is a form of self-massage that can help release adhesions within your muscles and can help increase circulation to the connective tissue and muscle.

You don’t need to do this. But if you have a sort tissue restriction that prevents a full range of movement, a few minutes of foam rolling might just help restore normal function. Consider foam rolling as an optional extra.

5. Movement preparation

Why: This component provides an opportunity to practice the skills and techniques you’ll be using in your workout.

How: For a weights workout, this may include some light and progressively heavier sets of the exercises you are going to perform. If you’re running you might do some running drills to improve foot speed or stride length.

This is the final transition step from warming up to working out.

Generally, a warm-up between 5 to 15 minutes should suffice. How long you should warm up varies from person to person, from workout to workout, and depends on several factors. In total a warm-up should be a minimum of 5 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes long.

Personal factors that affect how long you should warm-up include your level of fitness, whether you have suffered any injuries, and your age. You should also consider the external factors, such as how hard you intend to exercise, ambient temperature, and time of day.

Read more: How long to warm-up before exercise

5 sources

  1. McCrary JM, Ackermann BJ, Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. B J Sports Med. 2015;49:935-942.
  2. Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P. et al. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med. 2012;10, 75.
  3. Fradkin A J, Gabbe B J, Cameron P A.  Does warming up prevent injury in sport: the evidence from randomised controlled trials? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 2006; 9(3): 214-220.
  4. Cramer JT, Housh TJ, Johnson GO, Miller JM, Coburn JW, Beck TW. Acute effects of static stretching on peak torque in women. J Strength Cond Res. 2004;18(2):236-241.
  5. Haddad M, Dridi A, Chtara M, et al. Static stretching can impair explosive performance for at least 24 hours. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(1):140-146.

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