Sep 27, 2019 / by Jon Bellis / No Comments

When you start your workout, are you really ready? The right warm up could really boost your workout performance. That’s going to help you fast-track your progress towards your goals. The wrong warm up could leave you lacklustre and stifle your progress. Which would you prefer?


Why do you need a warm up?

You need to warm up well to prepare you for the endeavours to come. Here’s a rundown of the key reasons. You need to warm up to….

Raise your body temperature.

Muscles exert a greater force when they are warm. They can move through a greater range. They are more pliable and less susceptible to injury.

Lubricate your joints.

When you move your joints they release synovial fluid which lubricates them and reduces the potential for wear and tear. If you work out in the mornings, chances are your joints, tendons and muscles are a little cold and stiff. You may need to warm up more thoroughly in the morning. Later in the day, your core body temperature tends to be a little higher and your joints have had a full day of lubrication and mobilisation. That does not negate the need for a warm up, of course, but it may mean it takes less time for you to be ready.

Wake your nervous system.

Have you ever gone to the gym feeling a bit sleepy and sluggish? You’re probably in parasympathetic mode! Your parasympathetic nervous system is associated with rest, recovery and storage. You won’t feel energetic. Your sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is associated with action and energy usage. If you don’t warm up properly you could still feel a bit sluggish by the time you hit the intense stuff. That’s a recipe for poor performance and injury.

Familiarise your body with the movements that will follow.

That means waking up the neural pathways for the relevant muscles and the movements you’re going to perform. It means mobilising the joints and taking them through their full range. When it’s time for full-on action, you’ll be primed and ready.

Lower your risk of injury or a cardiac event.

All sorts of physiological changes take place when you exercise. For example, the blood vessels dilate and blood is diverted to the heart, lungs and skeletal muscles. This helps blood flow around your body and oxygen and fuel to be delivered to your muscles. If you fail to warm up properly you could be hitting it hard before these changes take place. That will increase the risk of injury or, worse, an ‘event’.


What should a good warm up have in it?

Five minutes on the treadmill or elliptical is going to raise your body temperature. That’s ok for starters, but it doesn’t tick all the warm up boxes. You’d need to do some mobilisations and exercise specific movements too. Here are the elements of a good warm up. It should…

Raise your body temperature.

It should make you puff a little and produce a ‘glow’, maybe even a light sweat, depending on the workout to come and the air temperature.  You should feel warm.

Start gently and build the intensity.

Often a general warm up is followed by a sport-specific or workout specific warm up. Below we take you through a warm up for weight training. It should build gradually, taking you through

  • Joint mobilisations
  • Mobilising movements and pulse raisers
  • Exercise specific warm up of increasing intensity

Move every joint.

It should move the

  • Shoulder joint
  • Elbow
  • Spine in 3 different planes
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankles

Include session specific movements.

In weight training that’s easy. If you’re squatting then you warm up with lighter sets of squats. In other sports it’s not always possible to perform the exact movement, but you should aim to include movements that are similar and that prime you for the movements to come.


Should you stretch in the warm up?

Generally no, that’s a little bit old-school. The reasoning is this: static stretching encourages the nervous system to switch off. The point at which your muscle relaxes and allows the stretch is the point where the nervous system has relaxed its grip on your muscles. That’s not really what you want just before a workout. You want your nervous system primed and ready.

Mobilisation is the way to warm up. That means warming the muscles and tendons gradually, taking the joints through an increasing range of motion and lubricating the joints with movement.

There is no evidence that static stretching decreases the risk of injury, whereas warming the body with mobilising movements is a proven strategy.

There are one or two exceptions to this rule of thumb, however. For example, I have a twisty spine. I like to untwist it before I work out. That requires a sort-of stretch. I find mobilising movements just don’t achieve the same result. You may find that you also have postural deviations that can be temporarily eased by static stretching before a workout. That said, most, like stiff ankles for example, can be alleviated by mobilisation.


A weight training warm up

The video shows an example warm up that ticks all the warm up boxes listed above. It’s a good general warm up. You could use this for most sports or activities ahead of the sport specific warm up.

See if you can spot all the elements listed above.


You should have noticed

  • Mobilisations – shoulder circles, spine rotations and side bends, hip circumduction, knee and ankle circles
  • Pulse raisers – star jumps, walking the dog
  • Mobilising movements – squat and twist, side shuffle and touch, lunge and press

The mobilising movements can be followed by another round of the same movements with light dumbbells. That should get you puffing with a light sweat.

Following that general warm up you’d perform exercise specific warm ups. For example, if you were deadlifting, you might do 3 warm up sets of deadlifts with increasing weight. If your working weight was 180kg, you might do 10 reps at 60kg, 6 reps at 100kg and 3 reps at 140kg. You’d be fully ready for a good blast at 180kg. Each successive set primes the nervous system a little more for the next set until you reach your working weight.

This warm up is suitable if you already have reasonable levels of fitness and do not have any injuries or joint problems. But it may not be suitable for you – it may be too challenging or require more flexibility than you currently possess. If that’s the case, 5 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment followed by some mobilisations should be ok. If you’re not sure, then ask your coach to create a bespoke warm up for you that takes account of any limitations you have.


The wrap-up

The warm up shouldn’t be perfunctory. It serves an important purpose. It readies you for the exertion, ensures you give you best performance and reduces your risk of injury. With the right warm up you’ll be ready for a great workout. That’s going to fast-track your progress towards your goals. Turn up in good time, warm up properly and be ready to make great progress.


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