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Having had the privilege of working at a very busy health and fitness club, I got to observe many members’ workout routines. The one thing I noticed is how many people do not warm up properly or simply don’t warm up at all, prior to their workout. Now, I know what most of these people think – “I have a busy schedule and not a lot of time to work out, so I am just going to hit it hard and get the most out of the time I have.”
That approach (skipping the warm-up) may sound logical, but it is actually not the best. To get the most out of your workout, you have to warm up appropriately. Pulling on your foot and stretching your quad before you start running on the treadmill (or outside) does not count as a proper warm-up. Squatting and “benching,” or doing something that resembles squatting and bench pressing, 135 lbs. for 10 reps, as soon as you get out the car, does not count as a proper warm-up (especially if your 1-rep max is a 185-lb. half squat/bench press).
The purpose of a proper warm-up is to:
An ideal warm-up has three components:
A passive warm-up increases your body temperature by external means. If you are a member of a club that has a sauna, you could spend 2-5 minutes in there prior to going out on the floor and doing anything more strenuous. You may want to check with your physician before you do this, just in case you have any type of condition where spending time in extreme hot temperatures would NOT be in your best interest. If there is no sauna, you could take a hot shower prior to exercising. It will increase your body temperature, wake you up, and loosen your muscles, especially if you are working out early in the morning. 3-5 minutes should be long enough. No soap is necessary. If you find showering before your workout a little odd, you could choose to wear a heavy sweatshirt and/or sweatpants while you are performing a general warm-up.
A general warm-up raises your body temperature with non-specific movements. You could accomplish this by walking for 5-6 minutes prior to running, or biking for 5 minutes prior to your strength training session. Foam rolling, skipping rope and static stretching fall in this category.
There has been some controversy, as of late, whether static stretching prior to exercise is beneficial or not. Here is my take on it – If it makes you feel better, well, then do it. I don’t know anyone who got hurt running or strength training simply because they DID static stretching. Can you hurt yourself by static stretching? Sure, but, then I’ve heard of people hurting themselves getting out of bed. And yet we are not debating about whether getting out of bed is good or not.
Notice that it will take about 10 minutes (or less) to do both a passive and general warm-up.
A workout-specific warm-up is where you get the benefits of a warm-up by doing an activity very similar to the workout itself. Easy running (some people refer to it as jogging), and/or doing running drills (leg swings, “butt kicks,” high knees, skips, etc.) prior to a more strenuous running workout is an example of a workout-specific warm-up.
Doing 1 or 2 sets with 50% of the weight being used for working sets prior to a strength training session is another example. You can keep the reps in the 5-10 range depending on the exercise. For dead lift and upper body pushing movements, I recommend closer to 5 reps. For squat and upper body pulling movements, you can be closer to 10.
10-15 minutes of dynamic stretching drills qualify as a workout-specific warm-up too. Your workout-specific warm-up is basically a rehearsal of the more strenuous exercise. This type of warm-up may be the most important part, so you should pay close attention to it. During this time, you can decide to either proceed with your planned (hopefully it is planned) workout or if you should make necessary/appropriate changes.
Apply these three (or at least one, if you are not doing any) components of an ideal warm-up to your next workout and I am sure you will notice a positive difference in the quality of your workout.
Jasmin Lepir has over 17 years of experience in the fitness industry and is a Certified Strength and Conditional Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS) and a VDOTO2 Distance Running Coach. He is the owner of the Philadelphia Endurance Enhancement Project, LLC and is currently conducting personal training sessions at the Spark Fitness, LLC as well as the Philmont Country Club.