So I’ve had a few questions recently about warming up, whether it’s necessary and how to structure a warm up. In this blog I’m going to look at what a warm up is, whether you need one and how to structure one.
The purpose of a warm up is to prepare your body for the exercise session. Rather than jumping in at full intensity, you are easing your body and mind into the session and getting yourself ready for what is to come. As such, the focus of your warm up will depend on what the content of your main session is going to be.
A good warm up helps to prevent injury by loosening up the joints that you are going to use, raising your pulse and body temperature, and getting more blood to the muscles. I always think that a good warm up helps you to mentally prepare for the main session as it can be overwhelming skip straight to the main session.
So Who needs to Warm Up?
The short answer to this is everybody. Everybody needs to do some form of warm up although the type and duration of the warm up is going to vary from person to person.
One of the factors that will affect your warm up is your fitness level. The fitter you are, the quicker you can probably warm up and the reverse is true, so if you are unfit or new to exercise, then you should spend longer preparing your body for the session ahead.
Unfortunately, age is also a factor that affects the length of your warm up. Generally, the older you are, the longer that you should spend on your warm up. Older adults could take up to 20 minutes to warm up. Personally, I have noticed that now that I am in my mid 30’s a 1 minute warm up just isn’t going to cut it. In my teens I often used to get away with this (I used to take ages to get dressed so I always missed the warm up for hockey), but now I would suffer for it.
Other factors to consider are the temperature, if it is colder then it will take longer to warm up than if it is warmer, the intensity of the main session so the higher the intensity the longer the warm up needs to be (so minute HIIT sessions require a long warm up) and the content of your main session. If you are planning a leg day, then you should concentrate on warming up your lower body and it always takes me longer to warm up my lower body.
Despite what you may be thinking, you shouldn’t just launch straight into stretching. First of all, you should do some mobility work and any spinal mobility work should be performed first. Personally, I start any warm up with head rotations and then the pilates roll down. Other mobility exercises such as arm rotations maybe carried out while you are on the second part of the warm up: the pulse raiser.
The CV machines in the gym are ideal for the pulse raiser although you don’t have to use them. You should do some form of cardiovascular exercise that uses big muscle groups but that doesn’t need too much from you in terms of range of movement (i.e. you aren’t having to go into deep knee bends). You should start off slowly and then build up so that out of a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being you are a hot sweaty mess to can’t to anymore and 1 being that you are practically asleep, you are a 3-4. This section is going to take between 5-10 minutes depending on the factors above. Personally, I like to go on the cross-trainer for about 7 minutes as it uses your whole body and I increase the resistance every two minutes.
Only after you have raised your pulse should you stretch. Now there are different types of stretching but if you are reading this then I’m going to assume that you are not a high-level athlete where your ability to perform to your maximum in the training session is important. As such, you don’t have to worry about whether you should do dynamic stretches or static stretches (I might write a post on this another day), just stretch and hold those stretches for between 6-10 seconds. Bear in mind what you are going to be working that day, if you are doing a lower body session then concentrate on the lower body, if you are doing an upper body session then obviously concentrate on upper body.
Finally, and this is something that I did not realise until I did my gym instructor qualification, is that after your stretching you should get back on the CV equipment and raise your pulse again. Again, you should be gradually increasing your pulse again to get it back up to where it was at the end of your pulse raiser (this should only take between 3-5 minutes).
So there it is! At this point you will be ready to hit your session hard! I know that this seems like a lot and initially you would think that it would take you a lot of time but some of the steps can be combined, i.e. you could do the mobility work on the treadmill or bike, you could also do some of the stretches on there. As you get used to this it will get quicker and it is a component of your fitness regime that does require a bit of time.
How do you like to warm up? Do you find that this has changed over time?