By David Chesworth, Fitness Specialist, Hilton Head Health
It is not uncommon for a person to skip a warm up and jump right into a workout. That may not be the best way to go. Warming up is essential to making any workout a quality workout. The purpose of a warm up is exactly what it sounds like: to warm up your body. Warm muscles are less likely to get injured than cold muscles. This concept does not just apply to your muscles. If you were to freeze a rubber band, it would lose some of its flexibility and would take much less effort to snap in half. It’s the same with your muscles. Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury at the same level of intensity as a warm muscle.
Your body warms itself up by redirecting its fluids to the working joints and muscles, which allows for more mobility and energy efficiency during your workout. You could think of your body like it’s a machine, in that the joints need lubrication to perform their job most effectively. Warming up does not have to last very long. A quality warm up can be done in five minutes.
So what are some elements of a good warm up?
Dynamic Exercises: Dynamic exercises are exaggerated movements that take a joint through its full range of motion (ROM). This is a great way to “apply oil” to your rusty joints in preparation for a workout. These movements should be done at a comfortable pace. Moving through these too fast is called ballistic stretching, and is counterproductive. Below are some examples of different dynamic exercises.
● Jumping Jacks: Loosen up your inner/outer thighs and your shoulders in the lateral direction. This is also a good exercise to increase your heart rate and blood flow.
● Knee Hugs: A great way to loosen up your glutes by hugging your knees into your chest.
● Forward Lunges: A great way to loosen up your hip flexors before a workout.
● Tin Soldiers: A great way to loosen up the hamstrings before going for a run.
● Bear Hugs: Loosen up your chest by opening your arms up nice and wide and giving yourself a hug. Try to spread your arms a little wider with each hug.
● Lateral Lunges: Loosen up your inner thighs as you take an exaggerated step to the side.
(Note: These positions should not be held for very long. Performing 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions of each will get the job done.)
MyoFascial Release (MR): More commonly known as massage, MR is a great way to increase blood flow to your working muscles. MR also loosens up a connective tissue called fascia, which allows for increased ROM. If you were to think of fascia as a wrinkly shirt, MR irons it out and makes it more “presentable” for the workout setting. Below are a few examples of ways to perform MR on you.
Quads/Thighs: Using a rolling pin you can loosen up those knots in your quads and increase blood flow to the area.
Plantar Fascia: Using a lacrosse ball or a tennis ball you can loosen up the tissue in your feet before going for a run.
IT Band: Using a foam roller you can loosen up your tight hips by getting those knots out of your thighs.
Upper Back: Massage your upper back before a workout to improve your upper-body flexibility.
Upper Back: Apply more pressure to those extra tight spots by pinpointing your knots with a lacrosse ball. The same can be done with your chest.
Shoulder: Release tension from your shoulders by massaging your deltoid muscles to improve the quality of your upper-body workout.
(Note: These exercises will feel uncomfortable. That’s okay…the pressure you apply now results in tension released later.)
How do I know what “the best” moves are?
Muscle Groups: Make sure your warm up relates to your workout. For example, if your workout is focused around running/walking, you will want to focus on loosening up the muscle groups around your hips, knees, and ankles.
Activity: It is also a good idea to include a low-intensity version of the exercises you will be doing in the workout. For example, if you are doing a strength workout that includes bench pressing, it would be a good idea to do a couple of sets with just the bar first. Likewise, if you are doing a cardio workout that involves sprints on a bike, it would be a good idea to start off biking at a casual pace.
How do I know when I’m warm and ready to go?
BREAK A SWEAT
A good rule of thumb to know when your body has transitioned into workout mode is when you have broken a sweat. This does not mean that you have to be dripping fluids off of your body. It could simply mean that you feel some moisture on your forehead.
If you don’t already, plan your warm up as a part of your workout. Not only does it make your workouts safer, but it also gives your body more potential for a better workout.
Bottom six images courtesy of Hilton Head Health; Alex Santa, program guide, pictured.