While “Never skip leg day” is a popular saying these days, there are other, more important things you should never skip:
- Brushing your teeth.
- New episodes of your favorite TV show.
- Warming up before you lift.
I love a good cup of coffee and some Netflix, but I’m here to talk about warming up before training and how important it is.
It is always a good idea to warm up before any physical activity to get loose and feel better before you start moving around.
It is especially important before intense activities that require lots of force production (like resistance training or sprinting), fast movements, or changes of direction.
A good warm up should:
- Prepare you for the activity you’re about to take part in.
- Get you working and moving, but not tired.
- Start easy, gradually increasing in intensity or difficulty.
For a real world example of what a warm up should look like, let’s talk basketball!
If you’ve watched an NBA game before, you’ve most likely seen the pre-game warm ups. Commentators are usually court-side talking about the match ups and what to watch for, but the real show is watching the players!
They take layups, shots, and practice other skills, and work on special situations or match ups for that game.
Pre-game warm ups are always fun to watch, but Steph Curry’s routine is a great example to see in action.
Everything he does in this warm up has a purpose, and that is to prepare him for the game and put him in the best position to help his team win.
Your warm up serves the exact same purpose!
Warming up puts you in the best position to “win” in the weight room. Reduce risk of injury, improve performance in the gym, and get better overall results.
While foam rolling, mobility, and muscle activation exercises have become popular in recent years, you don’t need to roll, stretch, and “mobilize” every muscle and joint before you lift. Focus on the joints and muscles involved in the main exercises for the day, or the areas that might cause you problems while training.
For example, a general warm up for a squat workout might include:
- A few minutes of foam rolling for calves and quads.
- Stretches for hip flexors, glutes, and ankles.
- Stretches for the upper body to make getting under the bar easier.
- An exercise to warm up your glutes and hamstrings.
- Lighter sets of squats, gradually working up to your target weight.
“Who is broken today?”
Another benefit of warming up is it lets you see how you’re feeling mentally and physically. This is helpful to know where and when to push yourself, but it also becomes more important as we get older, and when dealing with lingering aches, pains, and injuries. This allows you to adjust your program as needed.
One of the first questions I ask every client at the beginning of each session is “how are you feeling today?”. I do this for 2 reasons:
1. I like talking to them and genuinely want to know how their day went and what fun or interesting things they’ve done recently.
2. To see if anyone is sick, injured, or dealing with any aches and pains. Instead of waiting for them to tell me, I just ask right away.
In these situations, the goal of the warm up is to prepare for the workout and see if the aches & pains go away. If they go away, we continue as planned. If they linger or get worse I adjust their program for the day or longer, if needed.
Tips for warming up:
1. Go by feel, not time.
Are you getting good muscle contractions? How does your technique feel? Do your limitations feel better or worse than usual? These are things you want to pay attention to while you’re warming up. Get an idea of how you’re feeling and what condition your body is in before you start training, not during or after.
You’ll get far more from taking this approach instead of rushing through exercises for a set amount of time without paying attention. That being said, your warm up shouldn’t take all day either.
2. Don’t exhaust yourself.
Save your energy for the workout! Your warm up is meant to get your body ready, not be another workout. You should feel hot, loose, and ready to work but not tired.
3. Make it specific.
Include exercises and movements to target the muscles and movements for that workout, or address any limitations you have. That’s it. Save the full body foam rolling and mobilization exercises for off days.
If you absolutely have to hit every area of the body with a foam roller because you’re really sore from training or in pain all the time, you probably need to change something about the way you train. A proper training program shouldn’t beat you up like that.
But wait, there’s more!
I mentioned above that warming up is necessary for activities that require changes of direction, force production, and fast movements. Lifting weights falls into this category, but so does recreational sports.
Whether you’re having fun at a picnic or playing in an intramural league after work, save yourself a lot of soreness and pain by warming up first.
Take a few minutes before playing soccer or throwing the football around to get your body ready to play! Do some light shuttle runs, gradually increasing speed, and adding changes of direction before going all out in that game of soccer.
Start with short, easy throws with the football before you try to make the highlight reel during the game of touch football. You’ll most likely have less soreness and pain afterwards, and your passes might be more accurate too!