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How To Warm-Up: A Complete Guide

April 24, 2019

One of the most beneficial parts of any workout happens before you even reach for a weight or step on a cardio machine: the warm-up. It can be tempting to show up at the gym and jump right into your workout, but warming up before your session is just as important as the workout itself. Warming up will not only prepare your body for the work it’s about to do, but will also help to prevent injury and aid in recovery post-workout. Read on for several great warm-up methods that can be done individually, or combined to make for an even better session.

Warm-Up 1: Self-Myofascial Release

foam rolling warm-up Self-myofascial release is a self massage and stretching technique that helps to work knots out of our muscles. Knots (or adhesions) form in our tissue when we increase the activity of muscles, and these knots cause weakened and tightened muscle tissue. By performing self-myofascial release either with a foam roller or trigger point therapy, we can release these knots and increase the flexibility of our muscle tissue. Foam rolling is extremely important, because without it, these knots can form permanent scar tissue, leading to muscular imbalances, weakened muscles, and possible injury.

Foam rolling tips:

  • Roll back and forth/up and down slowly with the roller in order to locate a tender/sore muscle
  • After locating a tender/sore muscle, place pressure on the spot with the foam roller for at least 30 seconds
  • Remember to keep your muscles relaxed, rather than fighting the foam roller
  • The “discomfort” should be around a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10, cringe worthy but bearable
  • Never roll over your lower back (lumbar spine) or knees, these areas don’t have enough muscle tissue to protect delicate bones/joints

Warm-Up 2: Dynamic Stretching

dynamic stretching warm up Dynamic stretching allows your body to move and stretch together, warming muscles while they stretch. Trying to stretch cold muscles can risk injury or pulling something, so make sure you are moving while you stretch, rather than simply pulling a muscle to tension and holding it there. The act of dynamic stretching will help your soft tissue to extend and relax, bringing muscles through a full range of motion as they prepare for weighted activity.

Dynamic stretch routine example:

  1. Walking high knee pulls (try 8-10 per leg while walking)
  2. Walking quad pulls
  3. Frankenstein walks
  4. Walking lunge and reach
  5. Arm circles and neck circles

Warm-Up 3: Activation Exercises

band-warm-up Once your body has been thoroughly warmed up and stretched, it’s time to activate your muscles or “wake them up” and prepare them to really get to work! Activation exercises can be workout specific, to ensure you are getting the most out of every exercise you plan to do. If you find certain muscle groups to be weaker or lagging behind others, it’s possible that this is caused by under-active muscles. In a squat for example, glutes are an important muscle group, but if your glutes are under-active (and thus weaker), your quads may take over and continue growing, while your glutes fall farther behind. Below are some examples of activation exercises for different muscle groups.

Activation exercise examples:

  • Resistance band lateral walks (glutes)
  • Resistance band pull aparts (upper back and scapula)
  • Glute bridges (glutes)
  • T-spine rotation (upper back)

Warm-Up 4: General Warm-Up

While the first three warm-up variations listed above are more thorough, this is a final and more basic method of warming up, which can be used when in a hurry or when equipment is limited. A general warm-up can include 5-10 minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio on the elliptical, stair climber, incline treadmill walking, or row machine. You can also utilize bodyweight movements such as jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, or incline push ups to warm-up your body quickly and efficiently. These movements help to increase blood flow and stretch your muscles. Again, stretching, foam rolling, and activating your muscles should be prioritized whenever possible, but a general warm-up is a good back-up plan.

Conclusion: 5 Minutes Now To Save Your Long-Term Health

Next time you’re tempted to head straight for the weights, remember to pause for a warm-up first. Preserving your health and fitness long term means taking care of your body from every angle and in many ways. Warming up before a workout will decrease your risk of injury, aid in recovery post-workout, and increase your overall performance during your gym session. You will feel better, move better, and perform better, both in and out of the gym with a great warm-up before every workout.

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