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So, is the ‘warm up’ really that hot a topic?

They say there’s no substitute in life for experience, and in this case that sentiment rings truer than ever! 

The pre-exercise or pre-workout warm up: Worshiped by some, valued by others, avoided by a few and detested by many.

But as you discover experience, you will discover a warmth towards warming up in conjunction. The “warm up worshipers” are nearly always the ones with a mass of experience.

Perhaps not a coincidence?

As experience is almost always the greatest teaching modality.

Warming up, much like the topic of rest intervals, is another that can sometimes fall by the wayside with fitness and exercise. More than likely because those components aren’t seen to be ‘primary’. Most of us love to just think about and participate in the sexy stuff. The new PR in the bench press, shaving ten seconds off their mile time or putting a few inches on their vertical jump.

Progress like that makes anyone pumped!

However, the level of quality experienced in those actions depends on many factors. You guessed it, the warm up is certainly one!

“A movement or action is only as good as the place it precedes from”

So in order for a great workout to occur, we need a brilliant and fitting place of precedence (starting point).

It’s your time to shine, Mr. Warm up.

How to warm up and why:

As with all topics, how to warm up is going to have individual context and specificity. In other words, it should be relevant to what you plan on doing. Not just that, but your current settings need to be factored in too. If it’s a July afternoon in Miami and you’ve just taken a long walk to the gym, will you need a 25 minute full body dynamic warm up?

Probably not.

But let’s imagine it’s a late November afternoon in Iceland and you’ve spent the majority of the day slaving away at your work desk, and now it’s time to get to the gym for a considerable volume squat workout! (Or maybe hill sprints or all out track sprint intervals?) – would it be fitting to do a few shoulder rolls, leg swings and toe touches that barely take 5 minutes?

No, not going to cut it.

The lucky chap in Miami may be able to do a 5 minute basic warm up. Because his core temperature will already be high, he may already be sweating! Therefore his muscles are going to be very receptive to movement and more importantly, full of blood. 

But our Icelandic friend is likely to have anything but an elevated core temperature. So he will require quite a bit more “coaxing” into his workout; a thorough warm up.

So, 5 to 20 minutes of dynamic warming up depending on circumstances and conditions. 

Dynamic: Fast and repetitive concentric and eccentric contractions.

Static: A stationary hold of a muscles length (stretch position)

To differentiate between these is important because, dynamic stretching has been shown to increase muscle activation. Whereas static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle activation and “deaden” the central nervous system’s response to that muscle.

Pre-workout = dynamic stretching

Post-workout = static stretching

In closing, I know many people who hate the warm up and find it more boring than a visit to the dentist. They may skip it, or try to scale it down to insufficient proportions. I was that person too once. But as I’ve progressed, I’ve naturally began to appreciate the magic of sufficient warming up.

Naturally you will have tighter muscles and areas in some places rather than others. The warm up should allow you to promote blood flow and oxygen to these areas first, then with stretches, you should be able to open these areas up. You may even find you significantly increase your available range of motion in these areas, prior to the workout!

Be it the shoulders, hips or chest.

It’s a balancing act.

Just as you begin working hard and seeing progress, you grow to “like” rest days and recovery activities. As you progress, you grow to value warm ups and preparation.

One last point that really needs full consumption………………..

If your exercise routine is resistance training, you still want to do “rehearsal sets” after your general full body warm up. The amount will depend on the type of training you’re doing. But there’s one golden rule: Never create fatigue within your warm up sets! 

This isn’t the goal, the goal is to lubricate the joints and remind yourself of sublime technique for each movement.

Too much fatigue will detract from your “working set” performances. 

Keep the reps relatively low, especially as the weight gets closer to your intended working weight.

To summarize: 

  • 5 minute warm ups may be all that’s needed when the intensity of your exercise is relatively low and you’ve been active most of the day or you’re already “warm”.
  • 20 minutes (maybe more) is needed if you’re in a cold climate and haven’t been active for much of the day (or if you’re extra tight/stiff)
  • Keep it specific. If you’re doing a full body workout, then be sure to do a full body warm up. If you’re doing a bodybuilding split and its “arms day” – it’s probably not necessary to spend 10 minutes stretching the hips, hamstrings and glutes.

More respect for the foundation in exercise will translate into more of what is called “knowing and listening to your body”

Knowing when you’re in need of some serious coaxing into a workout, or knowing when you’re good to go! 

It’s all development of intuition. 

Be the smart one, respect the warm up and enjoy the reward……….

A great workout with great results!

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

7 thoughts on “So, is the ‘warm up’ really that hot a topic? Leave a comment

  1. Excellent points. Before my lifting routine, I do my cardio: usually HIIT on the treadmill. All joints are worked and muscles warmed. Each lifting set starts with light weight and easy tempo. Stretching is widely misunderstood. It is a tool for increasing range of motion. As a martial artist, range of motion has always been critical for me. Prior to that type of workout, stretching is part of warming up AFTER the body has been thoroughly loosened up with sufficient movement. When I’m lifting, stretching is the last part of my training.

    The Senior Health and Fitness Blog

    • That’s a great structure for your sessions. The key thing I find, is you want to promote a gradual rise in core temperature. Obviously environmental factors come in to play, along with the intensity you intend to reach. Above all, it should be specific to what you plan to do – exactly as you said. I was compelled to write that post as I see SO many trainees ignore the need for a warm-up, and if they do attempt warming up, it’s either inadequate or totally unspecific to their planned workout.

      Thanks very much for your input. I always enjoy reading your work!


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