I’m just guessing, but I’d say 75% of gym-goers don’t do any kind of warm up before exercise. Of the 25% that do, I’d be willing to bet 90% of them just do some form of static stretching (picture touching your toes, sit and reach, etc) and call it quits. Unfortunately, static stretching alone does not a good warm-up make. So that leaves (some of) us wondering how we should warm up. But first, for those of us who aren’t even wondering how yet…
Why Warm Up?
A good warm up provides the following benefits:
- Increase temperature or muscles, connective tissue, and body as a whole
- Increase blood/oxygen flow to muscles
- “Activate” the nervous system (increases nerve conduction velocity)
- Improve muscle contraction speed & reaction time
- Increase lubrication of joints and muscles
- Increase joint range of motion
- Decrease injury risk
- Address specific mobility and activation issues
How To Warm Up
As with exercise programs in general, people’s warm-up needs vary widely. As I mentioned, a good warm-up should address your specific mobility and muscle activation shortcomings. Like many people, I have poor hip and ankle mobility as well as under-active glutes. My warm-up addresses all of these areas. That said, there are similar factors across most good warm-ups. Most coaches agree that a warm-up should consist of variations of these phases:
- Self Myofascial Release (SMR)
- Stretching / Mobility
- Muscle Activation
- Activity Specific Warm-Up
Phase 1: Self Myofascial Release (SMR)
Self myofascial release, often done by foam rolling, works something like a deep tissue massage to:
- Relax your muscles, reducing their passive tone (passive contraction)
- Increase transient muscle length
- Break down soft tissue adhesions (knots) and scar tissue
In addition to improving mobility during the ensuing exercise session, regular foam rolling often results in improved movement quality during day to day activities, as well as less pain.
To demonstrate an excellent routine for foam rolling that I recommend you do before every workout (if not every day), I defer to Eric Cressey (speaking) and Tony Gentilcore (modeling):
You can do the tennis ball parts with a foam roller as well, but the ball is the best.
Warning – this entire exercise will hurt like hell the first few times you do it. There are knots in your muscles you never knew you had. Feels great once it’s done hurting though…
Give foam rolling a try for a month. I guarantee your movement quality and mobility will improve, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your day to day aches and pains decreased as well. It really is that powerful.