If you’re wondering how to warm up before exercise, then you probably know how important warm-ups are to improving performance and reducing injury. Learn the do’s and don’ts of a proper warm-up.
Benefits of a Warm-Up
The benefits of a good warm-up are many. When paired with an effective training program, a proper warm-up before exercise can enhance nearly every factor of physical fitness. Some of these benefits include:
- Increased Body Temperature
- Increased Heart Rate
- Increased Range of Motion
- Better Central Nervous System (CNS) Recruitment
- Improved Power
- Improved Strength
- Improved Muscular Endurance
- Increased Anaerobic Capacity
- Better Agility
- Reduced Injury
Avoid Static Stretching
Static stretching is what the majority of us were taught in school when we were younger. The basic idea is to bend over and touch your toes and hold that position for a certain amount of time.
There is no doubt that static stretching increases flexibility and elongates muscles. However, unless your sole goal is to improve flexibility, avoid static stretching as part of your warm-up.
For starters, static stretching hasn’t been shown to reduce exercise-related injury . However, there is some evidence that it can reduce musculotendinous injuries (muscle and tendon). This potential reduction in injury is great a benefit, except for the fact that static stretching has been shown over and over again to reduce physical performance and impair maximal force production   .
The cause of this decreased performance is not fully understood, but one explanation is static stretching causes an inactivation of muscle fibers when they are contracted . It could also be caused by muscle damage or an inhibition of the stretch reflex, which would reduce performance .
If your goal is to improve flexibility, incorporate static stretching after your workout.
Incorporate Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, not only has the potential to reduce the risk of injury, but it actually improves performance. Dynamic stretching is a way to increase performance by using movements that utilize momentum to propel your muscles through a range of motion. For example, doing some “high knees” or “butt kicks” before sprinting will have a much greater effect on your performance than the common static hamstring stretch.
Studies comparing the effects of static stretching to dynamic stretching overwhelmingly support the idea that dynamic stretching is the superior method for warming up prior to exercise. Dynamic stretching does a better job at increasing muscular performance, agility, sprint performance, vertical jump, speed, and power as compared to static stretching     .
How to Warm Up Before Exercise
The goal of a warm-up is to prepare yourself for the exercise at hand. It should complement your training, not inhibit it. A proper warm-up will improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. So what do you do?
- Step 1 – Increase blood flow to the muscle. You can do this by going for a short run (5-10 minutes), riding a bike at below your anaerobic threshold, or by doing any other activity that will get your heart rate up. This activity raises your body temperature, increases your heart rate, and begins the release beneficial hormones and chemicals.
- Step 2 – Start doing dynamic stretches. Focus on increasing your range of motion through various momentum “stretches”. If you’re about to do some sprint HIIT exercise, you might want to do some hopping, skipping, high knees, or lateral movements.
- Step 3 – Work up to your max intensity. You’re not just going to load up the bar with maximum weights right away. You need to give your muscles a chance to adapt to the increasing force production. Pyramiding up in weight if you’re weight training, or progressively increasing speed and intensity for other activities will ensure maximum motor neuron recruitment with minimal injury risk.
- Step 4 – Have a highly effective workout.
Follow these steps for a proper warm-up, and you’ll become both mentally and physically prepared to tackle the workout at hand.