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Why You Should Never Skip The Warm-Up Before You Workout

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 06 April 2018
Hits: 8354

It still amazes me after 15 years of being a personal trainer just how many people skip the warm-up when they workout. It is seen as an inconvenience and a waste of time by many who think they can get straight out of the car and right working out at full capacity. If you watch any professional athlete prepare for their match or event, you will find they NEVER skip their warm-up for they know how important it is to their performance. Not only is the warm up pivotal to their sporting success, it is vital in preventing any unwanted injury that could derail their career. What does a good warm up consist of? Well, this can vary on many factors, such as if it is for a sport, gym, what age you are, and what injuries you may have. To help guide you on selecting the right warm-up routine for your body, we will explain the key things each warm-up must include and we provide several specific examples of what it would look like. Enjoy

Get Your Body Warm First

It is important to allow at least 10-15 minutes for you to do an effective warm up. This will ensure you have enough time to prepare the body for what you are about to do.

The very first thing to do is get the body warm, and get the blood moving to the muscles. This is important for the blood allows more the muscles, tendons and ligaments to become more flexible as they warm up, providing you with extra mobility in movements you need to use in your upcoming workout.  I would allow 5 minutes minimum and 10 minutes max to do this.

Your goal is not to be stuffed or improve any fitness, just to get yourself ready. You could simply go for a brisk walk or jog either outside or on a treadmill, indoor cycle or even use a rowing machine. Whatever you feel is something easy for you to do and will raise your core temperature. I myself prefer the rower for strength workouts as it really gets my upper body ready. Another purpose of this initial warm-up is to prepare the mind for the workout ahead.

It is a time to focus and concentrate, leaving all outside distractions and stress from your life out the door. 

Don't Stretch!

This is something that many of us have been told to do from the time we were in school that stretching is best to do before you workout as it prevents injury. Not only is this not true at preventing injuries, it can actually have an effect on creating one! We have covered this topic in great detail before which you can read in our article -  When Is The Best Time To Stretch?

There is several reasons for this but the two main reasons that stretching before a workout is detrimental to performance are.

  1. Firstly, stretching damages the contractile proteins in skeletal muscle.
  2. Secondly, stretching reduces one’s ability to recruit skeletal muscle.

In simple language it means stretching weakens the nervous system which weakens the muscles and everything from coordination, balance, speed, strength, and power is diminished for a period of time straight after ward. Exactly the thing you don't want to happen before you play sport or even workout in the gym. Stretching is still important but the best time to do this is AFTER your game or workout.

But how do you loosen areas that are stiff beforehand if you should not stretch? Do you just leave them?

You definitely want to loosen and mobilise these stiff areas as increased mobility will help you move more freely. There is two methods I use as part of the warm up to do this, and they are foam rolling and dynamic mobility drills.

Foam Rolling

Above is a simple video to watch with some great tips on how to use the foam roller.

Nearly every gym, personal training studio and sports facility has foam rollers and even small trigger point tools for self massage available to their members to use for a warm up. But what does this stuff actually do? And why is foam rolling and self massage different from stretching?

Firstly foam rolling concentrates on releasing what is known as "creep". This refers to soft tissue and fascia that becomes stiff from being stretched out for long periods of time under load. Fascia does not respond to stretching as this soft tissue differs from thick muscles that have a muscle belly. An example would be muscles around the hip or in the upper back are common areas that develop this creep from long periods of sitting.

Foam rolling is really self massage, and massage will work really fast in breaking up this stiffness that has formed whereas stretching will do very little to changing the muscle length. As most of us could not afford a massage or have the time to get one every time we workout, the foam roller becomes the next best thing and it does a great job at releasing the stiffness that will limit our ability to workout effectively if nothing is done to break it up.

The best areas to use the foam roller are:

  • The upper back 
  • The glutes 
  • The hips
  • The quads
  • Calves

Dynamic Mobility Drills

The next thing I like to do after the general warm up and foam rolling is apply some simple mobility drills to joints or areas I know that can become stiff. Again this is not stretching or even trying to improve flexibility, instead it is more of a dynamic way of going through a movement without any strength or stability required.

In simple terms flexibility is the capacity of a single joint or muscle to move through its full range of motion. Stretching is specific to a particular movement or joints and is often held for long periods of time or used as a PNF contract relax method.

Whereas mobility is freedom of movement. It is not limited to a single joint, but a combination of joints, and is more movement based as opposed to holding one particular muscle with increased length for a period of time. This is quite confusing to explain at times for this is not limited to just one area but how a combination of several work together.

You can read more about the difference between this in the article - Mobility & Flexibility Which Comes First And Why?

What areas do I focus on?

Well, this varies from person to person as each of us will have specific tight areas to address. But with most people and in particular with injury there is 3 areas that we commonly look at for improving mobility. They are

  1. Thoracic
  2. Hips
  3. Ankles

I have provided some videos below of some of my favourite drills for these areas. 

Thoracic Mobility

Hip Mobility

Ankle Mobility

Now to see how these fit into a full warm-up routine I have created four different workouts you can use that will feature the several drills shown here.

4 Different Warm Up Workouts To Try

And to help you out even more I have provided some specific warm up workouts for either fitness or specific injuries. I do modify these a lot depending on the client's needs but this gives you some great ideas on how to put this together. The big difference between them is the attention paid to providing stability at various joints as much as the mobility. Anyway check out the 4 workouts below.

1: Fitness Warm Up

This is suitable for someone with no injuries or any known painful areas. The old saying "TRAIN SMARTER, NOT HARDER" is so true when it comes to using a warm up routine. This is a very simple routine and one that any beginner could use. There are many much more complex and specific workouts you could use if you were playing sports, or even about to do Olympic Lifting for example. This video gives you some ideas on things you can explore to design your own warm-up routine. 

By adopting this very simple warm up, many of my clients perform so much better in their training as their body and mind is fully prepared to push to the limits without risk of injury from poor mobility. Again you can change this to what works for you, just make sure you warm your body up for a few minutes and attend to mobility of any areas that may be stiffened up. 

2: Back Pain Warm Up

Many back pain sufferers do in fact warm up, but I have seen some horrific warm-up routines used in the past that were actually the contributing factor in the person developing pain in the first place!

The worst routines I have seen used are ones that use Yoga poses or stretches with lots of spinal flexion. Repeatedly flexing or overextending the lumbar spine is the perfect recipe for a disc bulge or facet joint sprains and SIJ problems. You should avoid moving the spine too much, instead focus on stabilising the lumbar region and mobilising the hips and thoracic regions. Often it is stiffness at the hips and thoracic joints that are contributing to the lumbar spine moving too much in the first place.

Stretching is not a great idea for anyone to use before working out and especially with the back pain sufferer. Constantly loosening the lumbar spine especially with stretches that pull the knees to the chest or round out the lower back aggravate your discs. People tell me they feel good after they stretch. And while the stretch may give you some temporary relief via reducing the pain sensitivity in the nerves it is setting you up for long term problems.

Below is one of the warm-up routines I use with people suffering back pain.

3: Shoulder Pain Warm Up

The shoulder joint is far and away the most complex to work with as it a very unstable joint. There is so many muscles, trigger points, and areas of stiffness that can greatly inhibit the shoulder from working correctly that it is CRITICAL to have a good warm up before you train. This will not only loosen this stiffness, but also "wake up" the areas that are lazy and weak. See the article on shoulder stability for more on those muscles.

You will see in the video below that not only do we use mobility work, we also use several stability based drills to help encourage the body to "switch on" the muscles that are often not functioning correctly. Areas of stiffness we concentrate on with shoulder pain are the thoracic & the hips region. You will see with the thoracic region we use both extension and rotation mobility drills. The hips also cannot be ignored as this joint is often playing a key role in creating dysfunction into the body up above. You must release any stiffness here to have any chance of improving in your strength workouts.

4: Knee Pain Warm Up

Knee pain can be a real problem when working out and can take quite a while to loosen up if you do not use a good warm up to begin with.

Knowing where to begin can be a bit tricky and like all injuries it has little to do with the area in pain but the joints above and below, which in this case is the hips and the ankles. In addition to mobilising tight areas it is important to use the warm up to help engage weak muscles such as the glutes with simple drills to wake them up. Lastly you must not forget to use some simple stability movements with single leg stance to help the nervous system be prepared for the exercises to come. 

I prefer to use a stationary bike to get some blood into the area first and avoid things like running and the rower that requires great degree of knee flexion. The bike is great as it is impact free and requires only a slight amount of knee flexion. After 5-10 minutes of warming the muscles up on the bike I get into my mobility drills for the ankles and the feet as shown in the video below.

For even more ideas on how to structure warms up for specific sports and even specific strength training workouts, make sure you get a copy of our Little Black Book Of Training Secrets below that has 101 workouts all mapped out for you. Click here to see more or on the image to get your copy today.

Summary

All up a warm-up consisting of 5 minutes jogging, cycling, or use of the rowing machine, followed by foam rolling and a series of mobility drills would take a total of 10-15 minutes max. Personally, I find my body is perfectly primed to move and ready to take on the upcoming workout with all muscles warmed and ready to go. Any stiffness I had prior to working out is gone and I feel I train to my full potential. My mind is also in a space to focus on getting the most out of my training time and if anything did not feel not right in my body I would have detected it in the warm up, preventing any unwanted injury in my workout. You must treat the warm-up as important as the training or game itself to maximise your efforts.

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About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Core Stability - by Peak Performance
  • Athletic Body in Balance - by Gray Cook
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist