Most people do only a general warm-up before starting their workout, which consist of activities that are not only a waste of time but also impair the workout. The correct warm-up sets the right tone for the workout session. Before we delve into what the correct warm-up comprises of, we must know why a warm is essential.
We need to do a warm-up to:
- Increase the body temperature
- Augment the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and muscles
- Activate the central nervous system
- Decrease muscle and joint viscosity
- Lubricate joints by producing synovial fluid and increase the joint range of motion
- Increase metabolism
- Prevent injury
- Improve work capacity and muscular coordination
- Increase enzyme and hormonal activity.
Research has shown that muscles contract more forcefully at higher temperatures, so a gradual warm-up reduces the stress on the tissues, which can otherwise lead to injury.
But are warm-ups always necessary?
Let’s say that you are walking down a road and a huge dog suddenly barks and runs at you. Will you tell him to stop so that you can warm up? One important aspect of a warm-up is its psychological benefit. Strength and conditioning coach Anthony Ditillo advises his athletes to just lie on a plain bench for 15 minutes and visualise the entire workout that they would be going to perform. A warm-up brings greater attention and focus on the upcoming event and thus makes you mentally and emotionally prepared.
Coming back to the original question; how will a walk or run on a treadmill get you ready for a weight training or plyometric workout session? For any type of activity, you need to do the activity-specific or sport-specific warm-up which gets your body ready for the imminent workout.
A general warm-up consists of activities that are not necessarily linked to the workout—they warm-up most of the muscle groups of the body. John Paul Catanzaro says that, “Gross motor patterns are emphasised first in a warm-up before moving to fine motor patterns that enhance performance.”
Another common perception about warm-ups is that you should be sweating during one. This is correct to an extent, as the presence of sweat indicates that your tissues are warmed up. But sweating should be mild, not profuse. Besides, in a hot and humid environment, you will sweat just by sitting in one place. So, the focus should be on warming up all the muscles, and not on sweating.
Most people make the mistake of starting with a full-body static-stretching routine. But research has shown that static stretching before a workout is counterproductive as it reduces the power output of the muscles. For example, a yoga session is a pure static stretching routine, which leaves you exhausted. The best time to do static stretching is after a workout, to relax the muscles and get rid of the build-up of lactic acid.
The right way to warm-up
Like I mentioned earlier, the right way to warm-up is through activity-specific warm-up and dynamic warm-up. This warm-up takes not more than four to five minutes, and gets you ready for almost any activity. For a dynamic warm-up, do the following exercises continuously without rest:-
- 20 standing heel raises [slow tempo with full stretch at the top]
- 20 jumping jacks
- 15 normal squats
- 10 jump squats
- 10 lunges each side
- 10 inch worms [slow]
- 5 inch worms [fast]
- 5 inch worms [fast with push-ups]
- 5 push ups.
For a plyometric or functional training routine, this is all you need. For weight training, you need to do around two sets with weights for the particular muscle you are working out. But in this case, as the initial weight is light, don’t waste much time between sets—move on to the main activity as fast as possible. Your goal is to spend maximum time on the actual workout.
Also, do not waste time with light weights for every exercise; unfortunately this is a very common practice. For instance, if you are working out the chest and have already started using heavy weights in the first exercise of the dumbbell or barbell bench press, then for the next exercise for the chest, don’t regress to using a lighter weight.
Before you start any kind of workout or sporting activity, take the time to understand which warm-up exercises work best for you. Remember to exercise smart!
This was first published in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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