“I don’t have time for a warmup”, “It’s common knowledge that you do not need to warmup before your workout” or even “Duh bro, stretching only makes you weak!”.
All of the above can often be heard in one form or another in gyms all around. Warming up has – at least recently – been an interesting topic of discussion as more controversial information has emerged. Thus, this is a great area to do some deeper digging.
Would you like to cold start a car in Siberia in the middle of winter?
I have always been taught to warm-up properly before a training session – be it ice-hockey, running, crossfit or just a normal gym session. I have never really questioned it as it has become an integral part of my workout routine. However within the past couple of years, since starting crossfit back in 2014, I have noticed that as I have not been able to warm-up properly due to early morning workouts starting too quickly (i.e. me being at the box too late), I have seen a substantial increase in the number of injuries, such as sprains or muscle tears. The most severe being a torn quadriceps tendon which required a surgery in early 2016 leaving me sidelined for about 4 months.
From personal experience I tend to feel that my performance increases notably after my core temperature rises. Starting out cold feels like starting your car in -30c degrees on a cold winter morning – everything’s kinda slow and you tend to hear weird sounds from the engine.
Enough with the personal mumbo-jumbo. What does science say about the effects of warming up prior to exercise?
Warm up + lifting = gainzzzz
According to one particular meta-analysis, warm-up was shown to improve performance in 79% of the criterion examined and that there is little evidence suggesting that it would cause any negative impact on your workout performance.
Warmup can be split into two components:
- Generic warmup
- Exercise-specific warmup
Generic warmup is your 10 minute jog on a treadmill or around the track. It’s clear objective is to increase your core temperature and get that blood flowing in your muscles without reaching fatigue – which would indeed have some negative impacts in your workout performance. One study found that performing long duration & low intensity warmup 15 minutes prior to attempting 1 rep-max leg press lead to best result compared to other forms of warmup.
Exercise-specific warmup is geared towards making sure you reach the proper range of motion for your upcoming exercise, and that the main muscle groups and joints are properly oiled up for the exercise. This should include dynamic stretching movements such as walking lunges with a twist, leg swings and jump squats. The list of dynamic stretches you can use is endless. Here is a good list to start with. It has been shown that dynamic stretching enhances muscular performance compared to non-stretching and static stretching. So do make sure you build dynamic stretching routine into your warm-up routine for optimal performance and maximal gainz!
But hey! I do static stretching before my workouts – that should be good right?
Post-workout static stretching for the win
Science is a bit mixed on this but there seems to be substantial evidence supporting the fact that static stretching prior to your workout actually decreases your strength and power during your workout. My experiences on this are similar and I would tend to think that the decrease in strength and performance might be due to the decrease of muscle tension resulting from longer static stretches. Static stretching might also result in core temperature dropping after generic warmup (say 10 minutes on a treadmill) which would have a negative impact in your strength and explosiveness. Static stretching should be used as a tool to increase flexibility and not for warming up. Do this after your workout or for example in the middle of your working day!
Split it bro, split it!
Warming up has two main goals:
- Improve your performance during your workout
- Prevent injury
The optimal way to achieve these objectives is to split your warmup routine into two sections:
- Generic warmup consisting of 5-10 minutes of light cardiovascular activity such as running on a treadmill to elevate your heart rate and core temperature to the point of light sweat.
- Exercise specific warmup consisting of 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching movements to increase muscle activation and range of motion optimal for the specific workout you are about to do
The message therefore is: get yourself in the 20 minutes earlier and do your warmup routine meticulously for optimal performance increases!