You have probably heard someone tell you that you need to warm-up before exercising to keep from tearing a hamstring and to make your lifts stronger. What do you normally do to warm-up? Do you hit the treadmill for a few minutes? or take 5 on the floor stretching? Well, what I’m about to reveal about stretching might be something a little new to you, because sadly plain old stretching or some cardio won’t do the trick…
How could stretching or cardio be bad warmups?
Stretching cold muscles can actually be dangerous and can actually increase your chances of pulling a muscle. But what about cardio? Well, it’s great way to increase blood flow, but it only gets your legs moving. The right warm-up should prepare more than your heart, in fact it will get your muscles, your respiratory system, and even your Central Nervous System ready for action! A proper warm-up routine is crucial to minimize risk of injury.
So what warm-up should I be doing?
Choosing the right total body warm-up routine depends on the type of workout you're going to do. People focusing on cardio exercises like HIIT, running, cycling, etc. will need to warm-up differently then someone about to do a strength training session. Although there is one type of warm-up everyone should be doing... But I'll go more into that later 😏
First, let me break down the three main types of warm-ups for you....
This is considered the traditional form of stretching where you hold your body in a certain stretch and maintain that position for 20-45 seconds. This is one of the most commonly taught warm-ups in the United States. A great example of this would be touching your toes to get your legs ready for a jog.
This type of stretching has caused some controversy... In the past, many people used this form of stretching as their warm-up before a training session. But things have changed. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Condition Research showed that static stretching before lifting weights might actually impair performance and leave you feeling weaker and wobbly.  Many other studies also concluded that it had adverse effects on muscle contraction speed. BUT recent studies show that static stretching is not as bad as we think. Research suggests incorporating a full warm-up routine, starting with static and ending with dynamic stretching. Combining the two won't impair one's performance and actually can help reduce muscle strain. 
To get a proper warm-up and minimize the risk of injury, combine dynamic and static stretches. You can also perform static stretches after your workout as a cool down, but never do it as your only warm-up method before working out!
Ballistic stretches involves fluid bouncing movements done repetitively to prep your muscles for action. This type of stretching helps with body flexibility by stretching the muscles beyond their regular range of motion. A good way to think of them is a moving version of static stretching, except it's more demanding on the muscles. A common example is swimmers doing “hugger’s” just before their big race. Other popular ballistic stretches are the standing lunge, side arm swings, and leg swings.
Ballistic is the best type of stretching for athletes, dancers, or martial artists because it can be beneficial for their performance. This form of stretching is not advised for beginners. Beginners should become well versed in static stretching first before attempting ballistic.
You probably guessed it by now, but this is the best form of warming up! This warm-up is a slower, lighter version of whatever exercise you are warming up for. So it takes your body through the range of motion that will prepare and warm your muscles up for whatever training you choose to do. An example would be doing some slow push-ups before pumping it out on the bench press or doing bodyweight squats before adding weights. These types of warm-ups are more rare to see or to be taught. But it's the most effective one!
Benefits of dynamic warm-ups:
- Reduces injury risk
- Reduces soreness after a workout
- Gets your muscles ready to handle heavy weight lifting
- Helps activate your central nervous system
- Improves blood circulation
Best Warm-up Exercises
The best warm-up will help you prepare your body and muscles for the workout you're about to perform. Personally, I do dynamic stretches before lifting so it usually varies on what I'm training that day. I'll list some of my favorite warm-up exercises (a mix of all three types), but before I do I want to add a small tip that will help you before performing any routine. Do soft tissue work on a foam roller! It isn't necessarily required, but it's a good starting point to loosen up your muscles. Foam rolling increases blood flow to the tissues which improves mobility, and aids in recovery. So if you have a foam roller definitely dedicate a few minutes to rolling out your muscles!
Ok now here are a few of my favorite warm up exercises:
This exercises helps loosen up your triceps. Extend your arms out to the side, palms facing down. Keep arms straight and start to rotate them in backward circles. After 30 seconds, rotate your arms in forward circles.
This is a great finisher if you're about to train legs. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, keep chest up high, bend at the knees and drop your hips to lower your body, while keeping your heels flat on the floor. Pause for a moment, then push back up to the starting position.
Simply lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your hips up, pushing through the heels, squeeze your butt, and hold for a few seconds.
This one is great for warming up the hamstrings. If you're starting with your left leg, have your right arm straight out in front of you. Kick your left leg up towards the palm of your right hand. Return the leg to the ground and repeat on the opposite side.
This is a great full body exercise that will get your heart rate pumping. Just make sure to really focus on the movement and pull your shoulder blades back before extending your arms.
Doing planks before your workout helps engage the muscles and stabilize the lumbar spine and shoulders. Hold the plank position for at least 20-45 seconds.
Performing slow and steady push-ups is great for warming up your upper body. Position yourself in a high plank position, keep your hands flat and shoulder-width apart. Your back should be flat and feet together behind you, and remember to keep your abs pulled in. Slowly lower your body down to the floor, once your chest almost hits the ground, press up and straighten your arms.
Perform any exercise with very light weights
Before you hit the heavy weights on any strength training exercise, start with very light weights to warm your body up for the movement. For example, do a few reps of biceps curls with 5-10lb (depending on your strength) before increasing it to your normal weight. This applies to any weightlifting exercise.
With all of this said, your warm-up depends on your exercises for the day, but it has been found that dynamic warm-ups are the most effective for lifting weights. So remember low and slow, when it comes to warming up for any lift. Low weight and slow reps will keep you safe from injury and will help you to lift more.
But before you go hit the gym to get Fit With Iulia, here’s a little reminder of the rules to keep warming-up simple and effective.
- Don’t go longer than 10 or 15 minutes
- You shouldn’t be working hard
- 3-5 Warm-up exercises should be sufficient
Like I said they’re SUPER simple, so that you can get your body ready to lift and exercise without making your workout twice as long. So go get a good warm-up and then I’ll see you in the gym for the worst best burn of your life 😈