Has anyone told you to “warm up” before you exercise or play sports? It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? What’s easy to do is also easy not to do, and the biggest mistake people make is skipping this important component of exercise. Here’s what you need to know to warm up properly (and why it’s so important) so you can be more effective with your physical activities.
Most people sit for long periods of time or lie in bed before they exercise. Warming up helps you shift gears both mentally and physically. It’s preparation—kind of like chopping vegetables before cooking. The way you prepare your veggies changes the meal. And cooking them can be more challenging if you skip chopping or do it poorly. The same is true of your body when you warm up incorrectly or skip it all together.
When You Warm Up…
- The brain shifts its attention to physical activity mode.
- Joints move through their full ranges of motion.
- Your heart rate increases gradually instead of abruptly.
- Blood circulates through your system.
- The muscles practice movements to come.
- The likelihood of injury decreases.
When it comes to exercise, there are three main activities that all require different types of warm up:
- Resistance training
- Cardiovascular exercise
It’s not that there’s a right way and a wrong way to warm up, but there are better and more effective methods you can apply. Your time is valuable, so why not get the maximum benefit? To be most effective, warm-up movements should change based on the activity you’re about to do.
Warm up for one to three minutes before activity and perform each warm-up move five to 10 times. Choose from the ideas below and pay attention to the common mistakes mentioned.
Common mistake: static stretching. This means holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and sometimes forcing a limb into a position. Save static stretching for after your workout because it signals your muscles to relax instead of activate.
Instead: Use dynamic stretches. This means moving your joints with no resistance through their full ranges of motion rather than holding a position steady (static). You use your muscles to move. Arm circles and ankle rolls are examples of dynamic stretches.
Do shoulder rolls, arm circles and torso rotations. Or simply go through the motion you’re about to do without the resistance (weight). Reach forward before push-ups and pull back to open your chest before rows. Don’t force it. Make your muscles do the movement. Your body has a chance to sort out the kinks and signal problems or pain before you add resistance and challenge.
Middle Body (Abs)
Inhale and exhale deeply and completely three to four times to exercise your diaphragm and activate your transverse abdominis. Kegels, which are performed by squeezing the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine, are also a good preparation for abdominal exercise.
Do ankle rolls and hip circles to warm up the lower body. As with upper body, go through the motion you’re about to do before adding resistance. If it’s a lunge, swing your leg up, knee to chest and then extend back behind you a few times. Be slow and controlled.
Common mistake: ballistic stretching. This means using a bouncing movement such as hopping or jumping jacks to warm up. It can be a good secondary warm-up, but is abrupt to your body as the first move. Ballistic stretching is better done after dynamic stretches.
Instead: Mimic the movements of the sport. For rotational sports such as softball, tennis and golf, rotate the torso without weight to warm up. For basketball, you can do hopping after you warm up with movements such as ankle rolls, high knee marches and lunges.
Think about the movements and demands of the sport you play and mimic them before you begin. Once you start playing the sport, the mind gets focused on performance and puts movement on autopilot. Focusing on the movements and muscles before you play gives your joints a preview of what is to come and creates motor patterns or muscle memory that is useful for your brain.
Common Mistake: Not warming up and jumping right into the activity. Most people view cardio itself as a warm-up. Before you start throwing your body weight around, repeat the same process discussed above: Use dynamic stretching to signal the system of what is to come.
Before you bike ride, run, swim, use the elliptical, etc., it’s best to start slow and ease into the activity. Bring your heart rate up steadily instead of abruptly. Depending on the activity, warm up your ankles, shoulders, wrists and spine with simple movements.
Cycling: Ankle rolls, torso and neck rotations, shoulder rolls, wrist rolls
Running: Ankle rolls, torso rotations, high knee marches and walking
Swimming: Shoulder rolls, arm circles, torso rotations, hip circles
Hiking: Ankle rolls, squats, lunges and brisk walking