Winter is officially here and the temperatures have dropped so time to stick on those woolly hats and gloves to stay warm! For those of us brave enough to exercise outdoors, warming up becomes even more important this time of year. In fact, even if you train indoors, chances are you still need to spend a bit extra time warming up and preparing for your workout this time of year.
Below we will explore why we warm up, what an ideal warm-up should consist of and I show you 3 essential movements you should include in every warm-up alongside your own, specific movements.
Warm Up Essentials
The aim of a warm-up is to prepare the body for exercise by:
Raising the core temperature,
Raising the heart rate,
Activating workout-specific muscle groups,
Mobilising the joints by stimulating synovial fluid production,
Potentiating the central nervous system for exercise,
(optional) Working to improve weak exercises.
If you are any good at word searches, you should see the word RAMP hidden vertically in those bullet points. In sport science circles, the RAMP protocol is used for athletes in preparation for training sessions or sporting events, and while the majority of gym-goers may not be training at that level, it is still wise to take on board some of their principles.
In addition to the above RAMP protocol, if we are using the warm-up as part of a more generalised workout routine, it may be a good idea to practice exercises you may be less proficient at like the pushup or pull up. Before you dive into the bulk of your workout, spending a few minutes practising difficult movements whilst you still have all of your energy will help you to make fast progress. I often spend some minutes doing a few sets of pullups - I figure once I get good enough at them, I don't have to do them anymore! Win-win!!
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How Long Should You Spend Warming Up?
The answer to this is, invariably, "well, that depends". How active have you been in the day? How much muscular and neural activation does your workout require? Do you have any specific mobility issues which need to be addressed? How much time do you have? How cold are you?! Put simply, there is no set answer to the question, though as a general rule I would recommend spending 10-20 minutes warming up and preparing for your workout.
Remember, raising your heart rate, preparing the muscles for exercise, mobilising your joints and practising tricky exercises will require quite a lot of energy. You may feel like your warm-up was harder than the workout itself! This is a good thing. You should move into your workout pumped and ready to train.
What About Stretching?
You will see this in every gym; people stretching their hamstrings before heading over to the treadmill. Studies have shown, in fact, that static stretching - holding a stretched position for a length of time - may decrease athletic performance when performed prior to activity. Static stretching essentially encourages muscles to relax which can be detrimental to sporting activity. Instead, dynamic stretches such as leg swings, core rotations or heel kicks
is recommended before exercise.
There are occasions where static stretches would be advisable before exercise, but these need to be paired with safely-performed, specific strengthening exercises. There is a risk of injury so it is advised to follow this method under the supervision of a qualified professional.
An Ideal Warm-Up (Plus 3 Essential Moves)
By following the structure above, we see that firstly, we will raise the core temperature and heart rate. Then we'll activate and mobilise the muscles and joints in preparation for our workout. Finally, we can potentiate the muscles and nervous system for our workout and tackle some tricky movements.
The first few points can all be amalgamated into a group of movements (a "complex") to save time and improve workout efficiency. Below are three complexes you should include in all your warm-ups. After these, spend a few minutes performing easier variations of movements you will be performing in the gym. If you are doing heavy squats then perform explosive bodyweight squats while focussing on your form. Deadlifting? Banded hip thrusts or kettlebell swings are a great way to prime the muscles needed for deadlifts.
1. Push Up to Cobra to Child Pose
Perform this sequence 6-8 times through. Take your time to move in a full range of motion.
How to perform:
Begin on your hands and feet with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. (1.) Pull your shoulder blades together and lower your chest (not your face) under control to the floor or as low as you can (2.)
Keeping your hands where they are, reverse the movement from the Cobra pose (3.) and sit your hips back onto your heels. Your knees might need to move apart to allow the movement to occur without discomfort. Breathe deeply and relax. (4.)
Return to the start position and repeat.
In Cobra pose (3.), try to roll your shoulders back and down whilst pushing the chest up. If you feel your lower back pinching too much then move down to your elbows.
2. Down Dog to Pigeon and Lizard
Perform this sequence 3-4 times through. Take your time to move in a full range of motion and relax in the stretched position.
How to perform:
Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Relax your arms and upper back and maintain a neutral spine. Exhale as you lift your knees off the floor and reach your pelvis up toward the ceiling. Begin straightening your knees but do not lock them.
As you lift your hips imagine pulling your torso towards the floor and your shoulder blades into your back. You should be forming an “A” shape with your body with your hips, knees and ankles in a straight line and your hips, shoulders, elbows and hands in another straight line. (1.)
Take a long step forward with your right leg and place your foot on the outside of your hand.
Stretch your back leg as far back as possible and get your hips close to the floor. You should feel a stretch on the front of your left hip and in your right hip. (2.) Gently move your forward knee from side to side to open up your hip joint.
Step back and reverse the movement into the start position (3.)
Bring your right knee off the floor and bring it up as if you were going to step into a lunge.
Instead of putting your foot down, place your right knee on the floor just outside your right hand. Your right shin may be angled towards your left hip or more horizontal, depending on flexibility. (4.)
Flatten your left leg and left foot to the floor. Try to square your hips to the front and keep your right hip off the floor. Do not lean on your right hip. Either lift your torso and extend your stomach or lean over your front leg, depending on your flexibility.
Continue to breathe deeply and relax into the stretch. This is painful for some, so bear with it and breathe through the pain.
Step your right foot back into the start position and repeat with the other leg.
Spend a few seconds in the stretched positions (2.) and (4.) to improve mobility in the working joints.
3. Muscle Snatch Complex
Perform this sequence 4-6 times through. Take your time to move in a full range of motion. Do not force any position.
How to perform:
Hold a light bar or broomstick at a grip width where the bar sits in the crease of your hips when standing upright. Expand and lift the chest and engage your core. Keeping your arms straight and elbows pointed out to the sides, bend the knees and hips and lower the bar to about mid-thigh level. (1.)
Drive your hips forward and upward by forcefully contracting your glutes. Stand tall and come on to your tiptoes. At the same time, pull the bar up your body leading with the elbows, keeping them high and shrug your shoulders. (2.)
At the top of the pull, keep the bar moving overhead by rotating your elbows and pressing the bar overhead until your arms are locked. (3.)
Maintain a raised chest position and keep the bar overhead as you squat as low as you can whilst keeping your feet flat on the floor. (4.)
Stand back up and lower the bar behind your neck and rest it on your upper back. (5.) Without moving your hips too much, rotate your torso from one side to the other. (6. 7.)
Return to standing square (5.) and press the bar back overhead. Reverse the movement in step (3.) and return to start position (1.)
Some people may find some of the positions required for this movement quite challenging. A fair amount of mobility is needed to perform this properly but the main point to remember is to keep your chest open and your shoulders pulled back and down.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 13 years of experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEO's, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.