Is warming up important? Yes! A proper warm-up will prepare your body for exercise by increasing your heart rate, improving circulation and blood flow to the muscles, and loosening your joints through a range of motion. Not only will this help prevent injuries, but it will allow you initiate your body awareness and mental focus for your workout.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, doing a combination of stretching, foam rolling, activation, and/or cardio exercises prior to your workout will ensure that you continue to perform at a high level and remain injury-free.
Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is effective for improving overall flexibility. A static stretch is where you simply hold a stretched position for an extended period of time, about 20 to 30 seconds is ideal. Depending on an individual’s needs, static stretching may not fully alleviate a problem area and you may need to instead focus on foam rolling or dynamic stretching.
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release. The benefits are much more comparable to that of a massage than a stretch. If you have a knot in your tissue, simply stretching the muscle may not be enough to help it relax. Using a foam roller and compressing the tissue and fascia will help remove knots and improve blood flow.
Foam rolling prior to stretching can help ensure that the desired stretch is effective and thus the muscle is more likely to stay relaxed. Some of the most common areas that people need to address with a foam roller are the calves, glutes, hip flexors, and lats.
Dynamic stretching is a movement-based type of stretching that requires you to take a muscle and joint through a full range of motion. In some cases, dynamic stretching can yield a better result than static stretching but it’s important to be knowledgeable on how to perform these movements correctly. The goal is to provide a productive stretch, not to force yourself into a truly uncomfortable position. In a dynamic stretch, you are replicating a full movement pattern from start to finish serving as a great warm-up for athletic training and resistance training. An example of a dynamic stretch would be moving from downward dog position into a push-up and repeating this movement several times.
Muscle activation can be another important tool to implement before strength training. This can partially be done by using the techniques mentioned above but there are benefits to initiating a more focused contraction in the muscle using things like resistance bands, light free weights, or body weight. As an example, trainers and clients are often “activating” their glutes prior to performing movements like squats, deadlifts, or lunges. This is important as you are very dependent on each muscle firing properly when performing challenging movements, especially under heavier loads. A great warm-up/activation exercise for the glutes are:
- 15 Banded Glute Bridges
- 15 Lateral Band Walks in each direction
- 15 Clamshells on each side
- Light weight Romanian Deadlifts
Before your next strength training session, allow yourself 5-10 minutes of time to warm up on a mat or on the functional training turf. The longer your workout will be, the longer you should warm up. Not only will your muscles be more prepared to work, but your mind will be ready to focus on the workout ahead. Experiment with different types of movements to find what feels best for you.