Like most people you probably do not pay a lot of care or attention to your warm up before exercising? For most people their warm up for exercise is either a bit of walk to the front gate before your run or a few arm circles and swings then into the weights session. And we wonder why we get injured?
One of the areas I put a lot of work into in designing programs for my clients is the warm up. As much thinking goes into the first part of the exercise session as the main block of the training session. Every warm up is targeted and individual to both the clients and the session.
A well planned warm up will prepare you physically and mentally for the intense movements your body is about to undertake in training or competition. An active warm up will produce the following physical benefits:
Increases core temperature
Produces a higher oxygen uptake
Lowers lactate accumulation
Improves speed and force of muscle contractions
Release synovial (lubricating) fluid into the joints and spine
Increases the speed of nerve impulses
The necessity of a warm up is very clear but often ignored or done very poorly. So what is the best type of warm up to do before exercising? The research leans very much towards completing a dynamic warm up incorporating some flexibility.
Traditional static stretching may be useful in improving range of motion (gaining more flexibility at tight joints) but it is not an ideal warm up as it may reduce force production in the muscle. A better option is the inclusion of dynamic stretching into the warm up. This is stretching but not the typical static stretch – where you hold a position for 5 or more seconds.
Dynamic stretching is as the name describes - movement or active stretching. To warm up is to prepare the body, and dynamic movement at a joint encourages an increase of range over that joint. You should complete some movement at every major joint before training- shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. This can be any “rhythmic movement centred activity that lasts from 4 minutes to 15 minutes” (Swanson in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2006).
Why do we put so much emphasis on this part of the warm up?
Research conducted by the University of Wyoming and published in the Journal of strength and conditioning research in June 2008 strongly supports its use. They wanted to see whether introducing this into the 4 week training program of 24 high level college athletes would have a positive impact on:
A very comprehensive group of performance factors. Also take note of the short time frame, only 4 weeks, to get see if it worked. You could certainly make a small change to your training for one month too?
They divided the group into two. The groups used either static or dynamic stretching before daily practice sessions for 4 weeks and measures conducted before and after period over 4 weeks. So what did they find in both groups?
Static group found no improvements and some decreases in the performance factors above. Remember this is the traditional stretching method you may be doing currently.
The dynamic group showed some significant results to help performance. This group showed improvements in
Enhanced muscular strength: including increases of
leg strength by 11%
throws by 4%
push ups by 3%
sit ups by 11%
Endurance - time for 600m run down by 2.4%
Agility - jump increase by 4%
Anaerobic capacity – time for 300 shuttle test reduced by 2%
Some impressive results in a short time frame just by focusing on a more comprehensive warm up. So if you could incorporate dynamic warm ups into your current training before sessions, it could produce longer term performance enhancements in Power, Strength, Muscular Endurance, Anaerobic capacity and Agility.
Improve any of these factors you will be stronger, fitter and able to continue to increase the intensity of your training to get closer to your training goals - whether they are sport specific or health and fitness goals.
The warm up should be considered a necessary part of every session or competition day. It can have a positive impact on balance, strength, agility, body awareness and efficient movement.