It’s a love and hate affair.
Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t.
And most times, we do it only because we think it’s good for us, and not because we know it’s good for us.
But how important is it to warm-up before working out? Does it really help us perform better during the workout? And do we know that somehow, it can be one of the contributors in helping us get to our goals faster — be it weight loss, muscle gain or simply just becoming more healthier?
Today, we’re talking all about warming-up, particularly touching more on the dynamic stretching part of a warm-up. I’ll first introduce to you what a warm-up is and WHY is it extremely important not to skip it and I’ll end the post with an awesome 1-minute video of me showing you 5 very simple dynamic stretches you can incorporate into your workout today.
The Ever Important Warm-Up
Typically, when you start a new fitness plan, there will always be that bit at the start of the workout that involves 5-10 minutes of warm-up. If it’s your first time working out, you may not even know why it’s there. It just is.
We grow up going through sports or PE class with a warm-up.
Heck, sometimes even sitting down to get that major essay going will involve some sort of a warm-up.
And we all know it, it’s a preparation for ourselves before doing something big, like getting legs day in, or of course, starting that major essay.
Warming-up serves as a good purpose to prepare yourself before that big event, workout or race and it’s important for several good reasons:
- It gradually increases your core body temperature to help you regulate your performance better during the workout. Think of it as a shock-proof way in helping you lift heavier and run faster. If you don’t like getting shocked, and I don’t know anyone in this world who does, then chances are your body doesn’t too. Play nice and ease into it.
- It prepares your joints by moving it in it’s full range of motion. I don’t know about you but when I am for example, working out my shoulders, for the day, I like to make sure I have full range of motion for it. Nothing in this world sucks more than not being able to fully extend my arms to what it’s capable of, all because I skipped the warm-up.
- It prevents injury. This, is a big winner for me. You cannot effectively get to your goals if you’re injured. An injury is the last thing anyone want, and you, my friend is the last person in this world I want to see injured. By warming up properly, your muscles will receive enough blood flow to do what it has to do in the workout. You won’t deadlift a 300lbs (if you can!) right out the box, right?
- It sets you in the mood for the workout. Picture this. Your alarm goes off at 6am. You’re groggy and you wished you had just 15 more minutes of sleep but you have to get to the gym or else. So you put on your gym clothes and go. Think you could pull of a 30-minute run without feeling like throwing up? Maybe not. But hurrah, at least Mr Warm-Up is there to cheer you up.
Most importantly, warming up properly has many mental and physical benefits and no it does not only involve doing one set of 20 air squats. You can do better than that.
What Goes Into A Warm-Up
While there are many different ways to get your warm-up in, like building your own workout routine, I like to approach the warm-up in the most systematic way. There are two parts to a warm-up:
- The cardiovascular warm-up: To get your heart and lungs up and running without sending it to a shock mode.
- The muscular motion warm-up: To get your nervous system, joints and muscles up and running to help you perform better during the workout.
If done properly, the total warm-up time should take about 5-7 minutes before you’re ready to work that body out. Do remember though that this may vary between individuals. If you need more time to wake-up before that major leg day, then take it. It does not hurt to prepare yourself more. More preparation = win. Enough preparation is the best, so work accordingly.
The cardiovascular warm-up as mentioned is there to help your body ease into the workout. As we will be breathing harder and increasing our oxygen input and carbon dioxide output during the workout, we need to make sure our lungs and heart is ready for it. This part right here can help us get there.
For me though, when I do the cardiovascular warm-up, I like to do the warm-up specific to my day’s training. It’s like killing two birds in one stone — you’re working your heart and lungs and at the same time working the muscles you need for the workout.
Here’s an example. If I’m going for a 10km run, I will do a slow jog before my run, instead of hopping on the elliptical trainer. This gives two advantages:
- You’re telling your body: ‘Hey, I’m going for a run, let’s prepare for it!”
- You’re not overworking the other body parts that you don’t really need, thus preventing fatigue.
Doing a warm-up specific to your main workout is also a very athletic habit to do. You don’t see sprinters going swimming before their workout. That’s silly, Aqilah. I know! But I’m just saying. I’ve drawn up a table below to show you what are the typical cardiovascular warm-ups I do before a specific workout — from a run to a full-body strength training. Of course though, if you’re an experienced body builder or experienced anything else, you probably would know what to do. But for the rest of us, use this table as a reference point. It also gives you some variety over what you can do during the warm-up.
|Type of Cardiovascular Warm-Up||Type of Activity|
|Treadmill (light jog or brisk walk)||Running
|Rowing Machine||Weight-lifting: Chest, Back, Legs
CrossFit type training
|Elliptical Trainer||Weight-lifting: Any upper body workouts|
How To Do A Cardiovascular Warm-Up
Now that we’ve picked an activity, take at least 5 minutes to do the cardio warm-up. While it’s not a be all end all figure, it gives you sometime for preparation. Two minutes may not be enough, and 15 minutes might be a little too long which defeats the purpose of warming-up. So find an amount of time and do it, 5 minutes at the minimum.
Gradually do the activity, starting slow and working at about 50% of your maximum heart rate. If you don’t know what your maximum heart rate is, a general rule of thumb is to take your age and minus 220 from it. So say you’re 30 years young, your MHR is 190. Working at 50% will be about 95 beats per min. Take note that at rest, our heart beats at about 60 per minute, so 95 does not take too much of a work to get. Yes, slow. I mean it.
Once you’ve reached the targeted heart rate, you may go faster, but still not too taxing till you’re dead and tired. Anything more than 70% of your MHR is a little too fast so slow down and enjoy that 5 minute before kill time begins!
More importantly, the warm-up should make you feel ready to go instead of ‘I’m done now, let’s go home!’.
Once you’ve done that, we’ll move on to preparing your nervous system, joints and muscles with the muscular motion warm-up.
Muscular Motion Warm-Up
Muscular motion. I want you to know that the term muscular motion is not real. I just wrote that because of it’s literal meaning — you’re warming up your muscles and your joint movement (i.e. motion). It is pretty awesome though!
Anyway, with all seriousness, our muscles and joints need to be properly lubricated and prepared before we workout. Why? Because we will be using them, even if we’re doing a cardio workout. Yes, you’re still using your muscles when you’re running.
How do we do it? By dynamic stretching.
You see, doing static stretching before a workout might not help you. In fact, a study conducted at Stephen F. Austin State University, showed significant strength impairment in individuals who practiced static stretching before lifting as opposed to those who performed dynamic warm-ups. Another study done in Croatia showed that static stretching before a workout impaired explosive movement and strength performance.
It’s definitely legit, and while it’s tempting to hold your hamstring before a run, keep it off for after your workout or on days you’re staring at the computer screen for hours.
Instead, let’s do some dynamic stretches baby!
A dynamic stretch utilises your muscles full range of motion which definitely helps in preparing your body for the workout. Again, you would want to do your dynamic stretches specific to your workout. If you’re running, you want to make sure you open up those leg joints. If you’re bench pressing, get those muscles surrounding your chest ready. But if you’re doing a full-body workout, or a high-intensity interval training, I highly recommend warming up your whole body dynamically. And this is what I’m about to show you.
5 Simple Dynamic Stretches You Can Do Today
I’ve put together a video on YouTube for 5 very simple dynamic stretches you can do before your workout, particularly if you’re working on all body parts. It’s easy and it’s effective and I’ve made it to make sure you’re using most, if not all of your major muscle groups.
The 5 dynamic stretches are:
- Huggers. Some call it self huggers. But what you simply have to do is open up your arms to the sides and all the way to the back as far as you can go (your full range of motion!) and then hugging yourself together. You may also alternate the right arms on top first followed by the left arms. Do about 20 of it.
- Arm swings. Arm swings focuses on the frontal plane of your body. You start off with your right arm swinging it forwards and backwards 360 degrees and then your left arms. Do 20 for each arm.
- Arm circles. Arm circles loosens up your shoulder muscles. Do both arms at the same time for about 20 swings forwards and 20 swings backwards.
- Body twists. Body twists works on your core to make sure your hip joints open. By bending your arms outwards slightly, you simply twist your body left to right. Do 20 of these.
- And finally, leg swings. If you’re doing a full body workout, chances are you will also be using your legs. Open them up, stimulate your lower body’s nervous system by swinging your legs forwards and backwards. You can even do them sideways if you like. Start with your right leg followed by your left leg.
Yes, there are many other types of dynamic stretches — even a simple push-up can prepare your body dynamically but these just so happen to be my favourite as it works on the major parts of the body.
As you get into the swing of things, you will notice that these dynamic stretches has one purpose — it helps make you a little more mobile and functional and that’s the goal. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do them, you’re doing a great job.
Start Small, Make It A Habit
If you’re so used to skipping warm-up because you’re always short on time, try to incorporate them into your workouts. Sometimes we wonder why we’re not ready to exercise or we wonder why we don’t perform as well as we hope to because of this. And like any other habit, it takes time to work into it.
Try warming up the next time you hit the gym and then feel the difference it makes to your performance. By giving your body a chance to prepare before the storm happens, you will reach your goals more effectively no matter what they are.
Even if you’re just starting out.
Start with just 5 minutes and then go from there. It’s worth it. And then let me know how you go.
If there’s anything else I can help you with, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. I might not know everything but two is better than one. We’ll figure it out together.
And if you can, leave me a comment below with an answer to this question: What is your favourite day of the week to exercise and why? Mine will be Monday. Because it sets the week right. :)
Speak soon and happy warming up!