Whether you do your exercise in the gym, at home or out and about in the great outdoors, it’s worth giving a bit of thought to the way you prepare for your session – the warm up. I’ve seen an array of methods used – from no warm up at all and “bang” straight into a weights session, to 15 minutes on a stationary bike prior to lifting weights….
So why warm up at all? If you have a Diesel vehicle, you’ll be used to seeing indicator lights on your instrument panel which go out when the glow plugs are sufficiently hot to start the engine. Your body essentially works on a similar system. You need to mobilise joints, activate muscles and increase circulation to get the most out of the workout to follow and avoid injuries.
When you only have a limited time available to exercise, you understandably want to crack on with the main programme and so may be tempted to skip the warm up entirely. The risk of skipping 10-20 minutes preparing your body for exercise is that you suffer an injury preventing you from exercising for weeks or longer.
I have no huge dramas with a warm up including a short time on a treadmill, bike or similar equipment if it (a) helps you mentally prepare for your workout and (b) it mimics movements similar to those you are intending to undertake in your programme. Preceding an upper body workout with a stint on a treadmill is just bonkers to me, as you have done virtually nothing to prepare the arms, shoulders and back.
The time you take to warm up should also take into account how you feel on the day – if it is really cold outside/where you are training then you should factor in extra time to warm up the muscles and joints prior to loading them with weights to avoid potential injuries.
It is also worth making your warm ups dynamic – using movement and co-ordination helps increase circulation, stretch muscles and “get you in the zone”. Static stretches (where you assume a stretch position and simply hold the muscle in that position for a certain number of seconds) have been shown to actually reduce the power available through the muscles for the ensuing workout and so are not an effective use of your time at the beginning of your warm up.
If you have taken time to plan your workout, a little extra time planning an effective warm up is time well spent. If someone else plans your exercise programmes for you, ensure they are clear about how they want you to warm up – ask questions if you are not sure.
To sum up, my recommendations are:
– take time to mentally & physically prepare for your exercise
– use dynamic movements
– ensure you mobilise the joints and muscles to be used in the workout
An easy way to address all of these is to include the exercises from your programme with lighter weights or no weights at all within your warm up. You can gradually increase the weight to the required level as your body responds and warms up.
Lisa is our Female Health & Exercise Coach, Low Back Pain Exercise Specialist & Pilates Instructor.