As the title elicits, we should not just warm up before working out, but specifically warm up based on what we'll be doing during our workout. What do I mean by this? Well, if I plan to come into the gym and squat 300lbs, simply walking on the treadmill for 20 minutes before hand isn't going to prepare me for that lift! This may seem like common sense but it happens all the time!
So how and why should we warm up before we workout?
Let us first consider the anatomy of a training session and what should be included from start to finish. First, if applicable, breathing exercises are important! Many people tend to be chest breathers meaning they are expanding their chest first instead of their belly. We want to shift out of this and become belly breathers, by using our diaphragm, otherwise known as, "diaphragmatic breathing" or "crocodile breathing". This would benefit those with high stress jobs who come to the gym straight after work and are still stressed out from their day. When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system, or our fight or flight response kicks in. When this kicks in, our para-sympathetic nervous system or rest and digest will be inhibited, so absorption of nutrients will be negatively impacted. Our breathing will be short as we are stressed and our beats per minute will most likely be elevated. If we don't shift out of this and go straight into a high intensity workout, we will remain in this "fight or flight" for a prolonged period of time which is not good! Starting off our workout by lying on our back and going through some diaphragmatic breathing for 5 minutes or so will help bring our beats per minute down, shift out of fight or flight, and will help us breathe more efficiently for the duration of our workout!
Moving on from breathing, next would be soft tissue work or self myofascial release! Theraguns, foam rollers, and lacrosse balls can all be used to apply pressure to our muscle/tissue. I'm sure most of us at one point or another have had a muscle knot or an adhesion that is tender. If you apply light pressure to it, it makes you jump. Think about this like a dry sponge. When the sponge is dry without any moisture whatsoever, it is extremely hard and lacks pliability. The same is true for our tissue when there is an adhesion. A muscle knot or adhesion is when the tissue clumps together as a result of stress whether this be physical, mental, or emotional stress. When the tissue clumps together, it restricts blood flow and hardens making it tender to the touch. This is where self myofascial release or trigger point therapy comes in to play! When we use a theragun, foam roller, or lacrosse ball and apply consistent pressure to the tissue, this stimulates blood to that specific area. As the tissue receives blood, it softens up just the same as the hard sponge softens when you hold it under running water! Tissue should not hurt, so if you apply pressure to any area of your body and it does, you could benefit from self myofascial release or trigger point therapy. In stimulating blood to the tender tissue, this will increase pliability which will increase movement which will increase performance during your workout! Sometimes, when our movement is restricted, its not because we are not flexible but because we lack pliability in our muscle tissue!
Once we have completed soft tissue work, we would then move on to mobility work! If there are any specific areas of the body that are tight, we would want to spend some time performing either corrective exercise to improve range of motion or dynamic movements to allow our joints to move through their ranges of motion. This part of our movement prep/warm up is where we really start to move our body and mimick what we will be doing during our workout that day. For example, if I'm going to be training my lower body during my workout, maybe I incorporate some different lunge and bridge variations. These exercises will get both my knees and hips moving as well as activate the muscles surrounding these joints such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. In performing these dynamic movements, just the same as walking on the treadmill, I will increase my overall body temperature. Where these have a greater benefit though then just walking on the treadmill, I will incorporate muscle activation. Muscles I will be using during my workout will contract during these dynamic movements which will stimulate blood to the tissue and increase pliability. Going through a dynamic warmup compared to a general warmup will help me to improve training performance and reduce the risk of injury.
After we have finished our movement prep/warm up we would then get into our workout for the day. Depending on training goals, the first thing we would train would be any power movements. Power training recruits our fast twitch muscle fibers, therefore we want to perform these movements early in the workout. This could include box jumps, olympic lifts, or any variations thereof. Then we would move on to any compound strength movements planned for that day such as squats, deadlifts, or bench press to name a few. These would then be followed by any isolation strength exercises such as bicep curls, leg extensions, or shoulder raises. Core training could be blended in during the workout by supersetting with strength movements or you can train core by itself either at the end of your workout or on its own separate day.
Lastly, once everything is completed, to compliment an effective warm up, we would want to have an effective cool down. This is an area a lot of people completely neglect. The workout is done and they walk directly out of the gym. Just the same as warming up to prepare for the workout, an effective cool down will also improve future performance and reduce the risk of injury. During most workouts, our muscles will go through a lot of concentric contractions which is when the muscle fibers are shortening. For example, when I perform a squat and I go to stand up, my quads are going through a concentric contraction and are shortening in length. If when I finish a leg workout, I just walk out of the gym, overtime my quads will keep shortening and shortening getting tighter and tighter. When this happens, the elasticity of the quad decreases and I now increase the chance of pulling or tearing the quad in future workouts.
What does an effective cool down include?
Static stretching where we hold specific stretches for extended periods of time, approximately two minutes or longer helps to elongate the muscle and bring it back to normal length so it doesn't tighten up over time. This will also help alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (D.O.M.S) in the days following a workout. Additionally, after I finish stretching, I can include another round of diaphragmatic breathing to bring my beats per minute back down as my heart rate is most likely elevated from the workout. It is always best to perform static stretching at the end of a workout as this is when we are warmest and our muscles are most elastic!
An effective warm up and cool down are an essential part of any workout program and should not be neglected. It is never to late to implement this into your routine if you are currently not warming up or cooling down. As we age, naturally our muscles get tighter and the need for an effective warm up and cool down becomes more important. If you have any questions on how to structure an effective warm up and cool down for yourself, please do not hesitate to contact me!
I would love to hear what you thought about this post or if you are currently including a warm up and cool down as part of your workout routine.