There’s no debating that the key to a healthy lifestyle is working out 4-5 times a week — whether it is going for a brisk walk, a run or even to the gym. However, there is one thing that is as important as the workout itself and is often overlooked, compromised on or worse completely skipped – the warm up!
Technically speaking, what is a warm-up?
A warm-up is a primary element in any workout session. It includes a set of low intensity movements and exercises one must do before jumping into the main workout routine. Ideally it’ll leave you with a light sweat and prep you for the main workout. A good warm-up helps to warm up your muscles which in turn lessens the chances of an injury during the actual workout.
Not all warm-ups are created equal. There are different types of warm-ups – active and passive. For the purpose of this blog let’s focus on understanding active warm-ups. These are further divided into two types:
- Non-Specific Movement Warm-Up: This type of warm-up has exercises that increase the heart rate such as jogging or cycling. These exercises are usually basic physical activities that most people can do.
- Specific Movement Warm-Up: This warm-up includes activities and stretches that are specific to the workout that will be done after the warm-up. Like if you’re preparing for a brisk walk, then the warm-up could include slower-paced walking.
But, why should you warm-up?
Well, it’s not so much about breaking a sweat as it is about prepping your body for what’s coming next – your workout. A good warm-up routine prepares the body physically and mentally for the upcoming workout. It helps in improving the muscle dynamics so that you are less prone to injury and prepares you for the upcoming workout routine.
The idea is that the warm-up leads to
- Faster movements in your workout
- Better flexibility
- Improved stability
You do this properly and everything else flows better – no ripped hamstrings or ankle sprains!
There are also other benefits to doing a warm-up:
Increases blood flow
Blood carries the oxygen needed for your muscles to function. Hence and increased blood flow is one of the best things you can do to set your muscles up for your workout.
Activates the nervous system
While performing any exercise, the body works in harmony with the skeletal and muscular system and also the nervous system. Activating the central nervous system will help recruit more muscle fibres and allow you to perform your workout with more power and thus increase efficiency and quality of your workout
Increases mind-muscle coordination through related movements
Warming up with related movements mentally prepares the body for the main workout and the brain becomes focussed on the way the body is performing during this process. This kind of coordination and focus will help you do your workout with better technique & coordination and thus improve overall performance.
So what are the key components of a warm-up?
Now that you have understood the importance of a warm-up, here are the key components of a good warm-up routine!
Heart rate elevator
It has an aerobic element that is low on intensity but works on the cardiovascular system to gradually increase the heart rate. Your heart rate should not rise too quickly. Going from 50 to 100 would be like leaping out of bed in the morning without sitting up or stretching. By steadily raising your heart rate, it reduces the stress on the heart. Good heart rate elevator movements include spot jogging, jumping jacks, foot fires and more.
Mobility drills focus on the joint and muscles simultaneously and increase the range of motion and elasticity respectively. This works on increasing the capacity of movement in a joint which decreases the risk of injury, increases performance and efficiency. Mobilizer movements include the cat and camel, dynamic frog stretch, world’s greatest stretch and more.
Dynamic stretching gets the body primed for activity. It helps to increase strength and speed of contraction of muscles for exercises like jump squats, lunge twist, knee to chest and more.
Multi-dimension / Multi-planar movements
During an exercise regime, the body needs to move in multiple directions and with a full range of motion. The joints and muscles around it aid in doing so.
Activating muscle groups that are to be focused in the workout
Muscle activation is an essential part of warm-ups. It triggers and strengthens muscle fibres. You must activate the muscles that are going to be worked while performing the workout. The ability of muscles to contract increases by doing so and thus increasing the performance. For instance, on the day you’re going to do deadlifts, good mornings are a great option to perfect the hinge pattern.
How long should a warm-up be?
Every warm-up is different as there are various ways, various intensities for every body type. A greater level of intensity in the warm-up will cause a greater increase in muscle temperature, but according to the studies intensity above ~60% of a person’s maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) has been shown to reduce the concentration of available energy phosphates.
Ideally, a warm-up should be kept between 3 to 10 minutes depending on the duration and kind of exercise which is to be done. The intensity should be kept between ~40-60% VO2 max to increase muscle temperature. This could also be measured by light to mild sweating, without fatigue under normal circumstances, if appropriate measurement instruments are not available. The perfect warm-up will come with practice, experimentation and experience only!
Does a beginner have a different warm-up routine than an advanced athlete?
Ideally a warm-up should be tailored to meet the individual’s demands. It needs to increase your muscle temperature but at the same time should not have a significant decrease in high-energy phosphate availability. The key components in a warm-up for people of different levels would be the same. However, the intensity should ideally vary between someone who is just starting their fitness journey as compared to someone active and regular with workout regimes.
How do you know you’re warmed up enough?
An effective warm-up routine should not be intense or gruelling. It should adequately warm up all your muscles and you should ideally break into a light sweat. This is because a light sweat indicates that the body’s cooling system has been activated which subsequently ensures that the working tissues are warm and prepared for the workout. The focus should be on preparing your central nervous system, primary movers and pushing your core temperature.
Finally, a few things to remember while warming up
- You should majorly focus on the muscles that are going to be activated during the workout. For example, high marches can be done as a warm-up before a workout that needs sprinting.
- Your warm-up should consist of key components like increasing the body’s core temperature or movements to be done that are specific to the exercise.
- You should add movements to increase neuromuscular activation. This can be done by adding balance and postural stability exercise in the warm-up like standing single-leg scapular activation, glute bridge, supine torso rotation and more.
- Ensure core activation in the warm-up routine.
- A basic yet major don’t – never skip the warm-up. By warming up your muscles, you are priming them to do their job more efficiently and it also lowers the risk of getting injured while performing the main exercise.
- Do not exhaust yourself while warming up.
- Don’t spend too much time.
- Do not perform non-targeted or non-specific movements.
While we understand that work and other commitments can leave you running short on time, tempting you to skip the warm-up, these few minutes of the warm-up will make your workout more efficient, effective. This is precisely the reason why at Cult.Fit we do not encourage you to join a class if you are over 5 minutes late. So the next time you decide to skip the warm-up, think again and don’t skip it! These 5-10 minutes are worth the effort.
Credits – Shoaib Hussain, Fitness Expert at cult.fit