Warming up properly can make or break your workout. Do it wrong and you can end up injured, tired, sore or otherwise unprepared for your glute-busting, tummy-toning, fat-burning training session. Do it right and you will make your workout more productive, more enjoyable and safer. A good warm-up consists of three main phases.
The Pulse Raiser
This part of the warm-up is what actually gets you feeling warm. The aim of the pulse raiser is to increase your core temperature, pump oxygenated blood to your soon-to-be-working muscles, and increase your heart and breathing rate. Your pulse raiser should be progressive. That is to say, don't start off too fast -- increase your speed over a few minutes. How long should you spend on this phase of the warm-up? Five to 10 minutes is plenty in most cases. Suitable activities include walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, using a cross trainer, jumping rope or even just dancing around your living room to your favorite workout music.
Your joints are marvelous things. They're capable of a wide range of movements and allow you to move in all manner of directions. Joints are the places in your body where two bones meet, and, like any machine, these unions work better when they are well lubricated. Your body uses a substance called synovial fluid, like your car uses oil, to keep things running smoothly. Synovial fluid is produced on demand, so before you start asking too much from your joints, gently mobilize them so that the bone surfaces have plenty of synovial lubrication. To mobilize your joints, simply move your limbs in a gentle but progressively larger motion. Shallow squats progressing to deeper knee bends, shoulder shrugs progressing to arm circles, ankle circles, waist bends and twists are all good mobilizing options. Two or three minutes will suffice.
Stretching often conjures up images of yoga classes, touching your toes or doing the splits. While these are all examples of stretching, they are not really the type of stretching you should perform as part of your warm-up. These stationary stretches, called static stretches, will improve your flexibility, but while doing them your heart and breathing rate will start to fall and your temperature may go down -- not exactly what is required for a warm-up. Instead, the best form of stretching for warming up is dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves performing controlled movements designed to take your muscles through a large range of movement. Examples include deep squats to an overhead reach, lunges with a waist twist and repeatedly stretching your arms up and overhead. Unlike static stretches, dynamic stretches only take a few moments to complete as they tend to target multiple muscle groups. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions of three to five exercises and you'll be ready for your workout.
The ideal length of your warm-up depends on a number of factors. If you are feeling cold, have been sitting or otherwise immobile for most of the day, feel sore or achy, or are about to embark on a really hard workout, then a longer warm-up is in order; say 15 minutes or so. If, however, you are going to be doing a light workout, have already been quite active or are in a warm environment, a shorter warm-up is okay: 10 minutes or less. The bottom line: By the end of your warm-up you should feel as if you are ready to get on with your main exercise session.
- ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer; American College of Sports Medicine
- Dynamic Stretching: The Revolutionary New Warm-up Method to Improve Power, Performance and Range of Motion; Mark Kovacs
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas Baechle and Roger Earle
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images