Today I want to discuss the most overlooked and taken for granted piece of your workout, your warm-up.
By getting your body warmed up properly and getting your central nervous system alert, you will be so much better prepared to perform and set PR after PR each workout, instead of struggling through the same weights (or distances/times for you endurance athletes out there) over and over again without making progress.
Rather than rehashing the same points many of us fitness professionals are discussing in our articles on warming up properly, I thought I’d go about tackling this in a different way, and address the 3 most common questions I get asked by people when we begin talking about warming up properly?
- Q1.) Why isn’t 5-10 min of light cardio work on an elliptical/bike/treadmill enough?
- Q2.) What should I do for a warm up?
- Q3.) How long should my warm up take?
Any of these sound familiar?
Let’s tackle question one, which is a huge mistake I see everyday in the gym. Why can’t I just get on a piece of cardio equipment and go for 5-10 min or until I start sweating?
It’s a great question and to answer it properly we need to first understand what your actual warm up should accomplish. Really what we want to do when we arm up is address 3 things: increasing the body’s core temperature to the point you are perspiring lightly, awakening your central nervous system so you feel alert, and lastly prepping your body for the workout to come. Ask yourself when the last time you felt like you accomplished all 3 of those things from 5-10 minutes on your favorite piece of cardio equipment? If you love that treadmill/elliptical/bike etc and want to keep using it, have at it, but it should only be one component in the warm up you plan to do, not the only component.
Question 2, “What should I do for my warm up?” is another common question which is a little bit more complicated, because in reality, it is something that is more specific to each person’s individual needs.
Again, we want to make sure we have the bases covered we discussed earlier with our warm up, but now we need to get into a little more detail based on people’s needs. Some folks, for example are just super stiff, and have very little range of motion when they first walk out on the gym floor. They generally want to begin with some foam rolling and mobility drills that get them moving in a few different planes of motion besides just up/down and forward/back to get them feeling better.
Other people, require much more stability work, and no I’m not talking about standing on one leg on a bosu ball saying the alphabet backwards while touching your nose. What I’m really talking about is actually engaging the muscles through some resistance work, light enough that you’re not fatigued at the end of a set, but challenging enough that you can actually feel your muscles working to go through the required movement.
Truth be told most people can benefit from a combo of both of those templates, with just a slightly different emphasis on mobility or stability depending on their needs. Lastly I like to do something that requires just a bit of brief explosive work to help charge up their nervous system. It could be something as simple as running wind sprints or doing a couple squat jumps, to something a little more complicated like a rotational medicine ball throw. This is when you will feel that Central Nervous System really get turned on and by the end of it you should feel energized and focused.
When addressing question 3 “How long should my warm up take?” again I can’t give you a definitive answer, because people are different. In general, most people’s effective warm-up routines seem take between 15-20min total in my observations, but that isn’t a hard number.
This 15-20min warm up window should account for any soft tissue work needed (foam rolling etc.), mobility/stability drills, explosive movements, and even the first couple of warm up sets for your first exercise. Some people may need a little less time than others, and some people more. In reality, you should go by feel here, and remember to ask yourself if you accomplished what your warm-up was meant to do, get you ready to achieve something great in the gym/on the field today? If not, take a little more time, and really focus in on what you feel the weak link in the chain was. That being said, if you’re taking too much time, catching up with your training partner (I’ve been the culprit of this before as well), buckle down, and focus on what you’ve got in store today.
Remember, today is just as good a day as any to achieve the unachievable, but that’s only gonna happen if you’re prepared, mentally and physically, and you better believe a thorough warm up is part of that equation.