If you have ever looked up information on warming up correctly, you have more than likely come across various elaborate ways to do that. Likewise, the internet is littered with all kinds of warm-up routines and recommendations, each seemingly more complicated than the last.
The question is do, do we genuinely need to complicate the process this much? Let us warm up and have a look at this topic.
Do we need to warm up before training?
The simple answer is yes; warming up before training is mandatory. Too many trainees like to skip this step and jump directly into their training, but that is a mistake.
Despite what many people believe, warming up well before each workout is one of the best time and effort investments you can make.
Why is warming up important?
The most obvious objective of warming up before training is to raise our core body temperature, which is vital on several fronts:
- it warms up our muscles and improves their elastic properties;
- it allows for enzymes responsible for energy production to work optimally and improve our training performance;
- it warms up the synovial fluid within our joints that lubricates them and reduce friction;
For example, think of how you feel when you first get to the gym. In most cases, you probably feel neutral - not bad, but not great, either. Then, as you start moving around, you start feeling looser and much more energetic.
Aside from that, a good warm-up helps us further prepare the muscles we will be training. For example, if you plan on doing the bench press as your first exercise, you would not walk up to the bench, load up weight, and lie down to press. Instead, you would gradually add weight to the bar and do multiple warm-up sets until you reach your working weight, right? Doing so achieves two things:
- You further prepare the muscles and surrounding joints, which helps optimize your workout performance for the day and reduces the risk of injuries and nagging aches.
- You get to practice the specific movement pattern with lighter weights, which helps your muscles and nervous system prepare for the work that awaits. In many cases, the first warm-up sets feel a bit awkward. But, thanks to repetition, you get to prepare yourself and improve your working sets' quality.
And lastly, a good warm-up helps prepare your mind and nervous system for the work you are about to do. While that may not seem like a bit deal, it is. Most people find themselves much more capable of going through a strenuous workout once they have warmed themselves up.
Do our warm-ups need to be anything special?
Given the many objectives of warming up, one would assume that we need to do all sorts of elaborate sequences and routines, right? Well, not really. A misconception in the fitness world is that we need to do an incredibly complicated warm-up to reap its benefits and stay healthy. But, honestly, that does not seem to be the case, as a minimalistic approach to warming up is sufficient.
With that said, what constitutes a good warm-up will vary from person to person. How you prepare yourself for your workout will depend on your goals, the type of training you plan on doing, and your injury history (if any). For example, an Olympic weightlifter or professional basketball player might need to go through a pretty thorough full-body warm-up routine to prepare for their workout and minimize injury risk. Then again, such individuals have teams of coaches who think about these things for them.
For the average trainee, however, less could be more. The truth is, many coaches and experts offer theories for what should be a good warm-up. But research is yet to catch up in this field and give us concrete ideas.
How to warm-up well - a practical guide
If you have read everything so far, you might feel a bit disheartened. But do not be because we will go over some suggestions below. It is worth noting that you should experiment and see what works best for you.
Do a general warm-up
The goal of your general warm-up is to get your blood flowing and your core body temperature up. The most reliable way to achieve this is to do some low-intensity cardio. For example, once you get to the gym, you can hop on the treadmill for five minutes. You can skip that part if you typically walk to the gym or ride your bike.
It is also a good idea to do some dynamic stretching, especially for the areas you plan on training. For example, if you plan on doing squats as your first exercise, spend extra time mobilizing the hip area with movements like leg swings.
There are plenty of good dynamic warm-up routines, and most of them will prepare your entire body for a typical gym or cardio workout. This whole thing should take you no more than ten minutes unless you want to spend extra time on tight spots.
Do a specific warm-up
Once you have warmed up, it is time to do the specific preparation for your upcoming session. This itself should not take you longer than five to seven minutes. For example, if you plan to train your lower body and the barbell squat's first exercise, you should do some warm-up sets to work your way up to your regular load.
If you plan on doing sets with 220 pounds (100 kg), you would not get to the squat rack and immediately load the weight up. Instead, you would work up. For example:
- Set 1 - 45 pounds (empty bar) for 10 reps
- Set 2 - 90 pounds for 5 reps
- Set 3 - 135 pounds for 3 reps
- Set 4 - 185 pounds for 1 rep
- Set 5 (first working set) - 220 pounds
While that might seem like a bit of a hassle, it is not. Working up is vital because it helps your body prepare for the heavy load you are about to lift. Doing so is also beneficial for getting in the groove of the movement pattern. Plus, doing that helps you discover pains or tightness while the weight is light. You can then address these by using a light weight, doing a different exercise, or going back to your warm-up. If you instead jump directly to your working weight, the risk of an injury is much greater.
How to cool down after a good Workout
We have spent a considerable amount of time discussing the importance of warming up, how to do it, and such. But cooling down after training is just as important as warming up before. Doing so:
- Lowers your heart rate
- Kickstarts the recovery process
- Brings a state of relaxation and bliss
- Gives you the chance to work on your flexibility
- Can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Like a good warm-up, your cooldown protocol does not need to be long or complicated. As little as a few minutes of purposeful action can be more than enough for you to reap fantastic benefits.
A simple way to cool down after a workout would be to spend a few minutes doing static stretches. For example, if you have just had a lower body workout, you can spend a few minutes stretching your lower back, quadriceps, hamstrings, and adductors. Doing so would be a great way to start feeling more relaxed, reduce the following soreness, and work on your flexibility. You might even prevent muscle pain from occurring in the following days.
There is also a simple way to streamline the process through an app. For example, Fitbod is a good option because it provides practical recommendations for doing both around your training. Numerous apps also provide practical stretching recommendations, regardless of your flexibility level. Good examples of such include:
There is a wide range of options for Android and iOS. Plus, most have a free version, so you can check out what is available on the market and pick the app you enjoy most. For example, StretchIt seems to be one of the best apps on the market. But Start Stretching is better geared for beginners.
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As mentioned above, many experts on the internet share their knowledge. You want to try and find the best one for you! For more actionable ideas on what to do after training, check out our post.
Fun fact aside, did you ever wonder if it is warm-up or warm-up (with/without the hyphen)? You can find the answer here.