You might be tempted to skip the warm up when you work out.  After all, you only have so much time to exercise—“Let’s just get on with it already!  I’m in a hurry!”

But warming up is a critical component of your fitness routine, and skipping it could have unpleasant and even dangerous results—such as muscle strain, muscle injury and pain.

Oh yeah, and a proper warm-up will actually IMPROVE your workout performance!

The Warm-up:  Basics

A warm up is a short workout period at the beginning of your exercise session.  It is generally low intensity and prepares your body for the upcoming exertion.

The purpose of a traditional warm up is to slightly increase your heart rate. This raises your core body temperature and increases the blood flow to your muscles.  Cold muscles and other connective tissues do not stretch very easily. A warm up session literally warms them up and relaxes them, making them more supple and ready to work.

Without a warm up, you will be more susceptible to poor movement quality, sprained tissue, and muscle strains.  Ultimately, these effects could keep you from exercising for an extended period of time as you recover, which is not conducive to the healthy lifestyle, or performance outcomes you desire.

It takes about three minutes for your body to realize that it needs to move more blood to your muscles, so the ideal warm up time is between five and ten minutes.

There is no set prescription for what your warm up should consist of.  You can choose a set of preparatory exercises (such as squats, lunges, toe touches, etc.,) or you can do a light intensity version of your upcoming workout (a brisk walk to prepare for a run, for example, or lifting light weights before increasing the load).

We prefer a bit more of an advanced strategy that consists of foam rolling, muscle activation, dynamic movements and motor pattern development.

The Warm-Up:  Advanced Strategy

Now with all that being said about a “basic” warm-up, let me share with you how I personally prepare myself, as well as every one of our athletes.

For long-term health and fitness combined with enhanced performance, it’s essential to understand that a proper warm-up is about more than just “warming up the body.”  It’s a about preparing the body for an all-out training assault that’s going to give you the best chance to improve your training effort and outcomes.  

Therefore, we look at the warm-up as a Preparation Phase for the workout to come.  Through research and practical experience we’ve determined that best results are typically seen when an exercise prep routine incorporates 3 key components:

  1. Tissue Quality
  2. Corrective Exercise
  3. Mobility & Activation

Tissue Quality

FOam Rolling- In reality, we as humans cannot produce the amount of force necessary to remodel our tissues. Our tissues are much more resilient than that. It actually takes thousands of pounds of force to accomplish this, which is probably a good thing because we don’t want our tissues breaking up or remodeling when we’re carrying groceries, sitting on a park bench, squatting with 500lbs on our backs, or anytime we put weight into them

The mechanism by which foam rolling works seems to be neurophysiological rather than physical.This means that foam rolling induces a global decrease in muscle tone. Muscle tone is the continuous passive contraction of a muscle controlled subconsciously by the brain. In other words, it’s a muscle’s resistance to passive stretch. Tone is created by a constant subconscious message from the brain telling a muscle to contract. Many times the sensation of muscle “tightness” has more to do with tone and less to do with actual muscle length.

Foam rollers can also be used as a tool to assist in mobility drills.

Corrective Exercise

We all have unique “issues” with our body mechanics and functional movement capabilities.  For some it’s a lack of flexibility, while others there may be a balance or mobility issue.  Perhaps there’s an asymmetry – one side is significantly “stronger” than the other leading to muscular imbalances, postural distortions and overcompensation injuries.  You can find out your individual corrective needs by going through a movement screen such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which we provide to all of our athletes. 

So, in a nutshell, the FMS is designed to

  • Identify functional limitations and asymmetries which have been linked to increased injury risk
  • Provide exercises to restore proper movement, and build stability, mobility, and strength in each individual

With most of our athletes, adult and teen performance, we tend to focus on shoulder mobility/stability, hip mobility, core stability, ankle mobility and thoracic spine mobility.  Most of the issues that we see from the FMS are covered in our pre-session “correctives”.

Mobility & Activation

More than just a typical warm-up, a mobility and activation circuit truly prepares your body for a maximum performance workout.

Mobility describes the ability of a joint, or a series of joints, to move through an ideal range of motion.  Though mobility relies on flexibility, it requires an additional strength, stability, and neuromuscular control component to allow for proper movement.  Activation is often paired with mobility because many mobility exercises activate key, and often dormant, pillar stabilizers in your hips, core and shoulders.

Activation has been a game changer for our athletes.  As an example, if we have a heavy squat or deadlift day, our activation will likely include some hamstring, glute, and core activation.  These are all muscles required to help stabilize the hips, pelvis and knees, which is critical for the demanding nature of squats and deadlifts.

Here is one we love using to catch activation and mobility, as well as motor pattern development.

More Than Just a Warm-Up…

So, as you can see, a warm-up is much more than just a warm-up when you’re training smarter for long-term health, fitness and performance goals.

Think twice before you skip the “warm-up” in your next workout…