I have the privilege of working at a very busy health and fitness club and I get to observe workout routines by many of its members. The one thing I noticed is how many people do not warm up properly or simply don’t warm up at all prior to their workout. Now, I know what most of these people think – “I have a busy schedule and not a lot of time to work out, so I am just going to hit it hard and get the most out of the time I have.”

That (skipping the warm up) may sound like a logical thing to do, but, it is actually not the best approach. To get the most out of your workout you have to warm up and warm up appropriately. Pulling on your foot and stretching your quad before you start running on the treadmill (or outside) does not count as a proper warm up. Squatting, or doing something that resembles squatting, 135lb for 10 reps, as soon as you get out the car, does not count as a proper warm (especially if your 1 Rep Max is a 185lb half squat).

A proper warm up should:

  1. Increase body temperature
  2. Increase muscle blood flow
  3. Decrease muscle viscosity
  4. Prime the nervous system for more strenuous activity ahead
  5. Lubricate joints
  6. Increase range of motion
  7. Decrease the chance of injury

There are three components of an ideal warm up:

  1. Passive warm up: a type of warm up where you increase body temperature by external means. If you are a member of a club that has a sauna you could spend 2-5 minutes in there prior to going out on the floor and doing anything more strenuous. You may want to check with your physician before you do this; just in case you have any type of condition where spending time in extreme hot temperatures would not be in your best interest. If there is no sauna, you could take a hot shower prior to exercising. It will increase your body temperature, wake you up and loosen your muscles, especially if you are working out early in the morning. 3-5 min should be long enough. No soap necessary. If you find showering before your workout a little odd you could choose to wear a heavy sweatshirt and sweatpants while you are performing a general warm up.
  2. General warm up: a type of warm up where you increase body temperature by non-specific movements. You could accomplish this by walking on a treadmill for 5-6 minutes prior to running or biking for 5 minutes prior to your strength training session. Foam rolling and static stretching fall in this category. There has been some controversy, as of late, whether static stretching prior to exercise is beneficial or not. Here is my take on it – If it makes you feel better, well, than do it. I don’t know anyone who got hurt running or strength training simply because they DID static stretching. Can you hurt yourself by static stretching? Sure, but, then I’ve heard of people hurting themselves getting out of the bed. And yet we are not debating about whether getting out of bed is good or not.
  3. Workout specific warm up: a type of warm up where you get the benefits of a warm up by doing an activity very similar to the workout. Easy running/jogging, doing running drills prior to a more strenuous running or doing sets with 50% of the weight being used for working sets and dynamic stretching drills would all qualify as a workout specific warm up. It is basically a rehearsal of the more strenuous exercise. This type of warm up may be the most important part and you should pay a close attention to it. During this time you can decide to either proceed with your planned (hopefully it is planned) workout or if you should make necessary/appropriate changes.

Apply these three (or at least one, if you are not doing any) components of an ideal warm up to your next workout and I am sure you will notice a positive difference in the quality of your workout.