Here’s a familiar scene at the gym: Person enters the gym with earphones on with music blaring in an effort to drown out physical discomfort (but also, unfortunately, body awareness).  Person uses the elliptical, recumbent bike, or treadmill for five minutes to warm up. Person then walks around in an unstructured and unfocused manner, randomly moving from exercise to exercise, all with variable intensities and volumes (for example, five sets of 15 bicep curls followed by two sets of 10 back squats followed by 6 sets of abdominal crunches for 60 seconds each).  At the end of the workout, the person may sit down on a mat and hang out in a forward fold and a pigeon stretch for 30 seconds each. It’s awesome that our example-of-what-not-to-do person is taking time out of their day to move their body and get healthy. Incredible! Love the effort. BUT… there are better ways to go about planning and structuring a workout. After reading this article, my hope is that you learn from our hypothetical gym goer’s mistakes, and instead of unconsciously moving through random, unstructured workouts, you take the time to plan out a well thought out, organized training session so that you may achieve your fitness goals in the most efficient way possible.  In part one, I lay out the recipe for a perfect warm up (which by the way, is exactly how I structure warm ups for my personal training clients at Crux Fitness Richmond)…

WARMUP (5 steps):

  1. Inhibit overactive (i.e. “hypertonic”) muscles by doing static stretching or self-myofascial release.  For most people, this phase of the warm up should only take three to five minutes. We are not trying to hang out on the foam roller for half an hour – I understand you have places to go and people to see.  We are simply trying to take muscles that we know are tight and problematic, and put a little slack into the system so that we can move more efficiently during the training session.  As an example, hanging out in a “couch stretch” and foam rolling the hip flexors for 2 minutes each may help before a squat or deadlift workout so that the hips can extend further forward.
  2. Activate underactive, “sleepy” muscles that are known to cause injury when weak.  Examples of this include activating the hip external rotators before a squat-focused workout, or activating the lats before a deadlift-focused workout.  This type of muscle activation can be accomplished using any type of light resistance such as body weight or bands. Following the aforementioned examples, hip external rotation can be stimulated through monster walks, with a mini resistance band around the knees, and the lats can be stimulated through cable pull overs.  
  3. Increase heart rate and ventilation (i.e. breathing) rate through any means of full body movement.  This is the part that most gym goers get right – five minutes of treadmill running is absolutely a valid way to expand the lungs and pump the heart.  Remember though that this phase of the warm up can be accomplished through any form of full body movement.  Body weight movements like jumping jacks or rapidly-cycling sun salutations are great examples.  Equally effective, especially on the days that you may feel uncreative, are machines such as rowers or airdyne bikes.
  4. Use dynamic stretches that mimic the main movements of the workout.  This helps to prevent injury and improve performance by waking up muscle spindles (sensors in the muscle that contract the muscle after being stretched), moving joints through a full range of motion, and getting a mental picture of how the body’s mobility is like for the day and only moving within the confines of that active range for the rest of the training session.  In keeping with the squat or deadlift workout examples, dynamic stretches may include something as complex as dumbbell “death marches”, or something as simple as high knees and butt kicks.
  5. Fire up the nervous system with reactive drills or short duration (<10 seconds) explosive movements.  This phase of the warm up should last no more than five minutes, and if done properly, will allow you to have better body awareness and produce more force, both of which are factors that allow you to build muscle, burn fat, or increase athleticism more effectively.  Again, in keeping with the squat or deadlift workout examples, a reactive drill may look like two or three rounds of 20 seconds of “machine gun feet” with a partner, coach, or trainer calling out for you to jump or touch the floor. A short duration explosive movement may look like four or five sets of a basic 15 metre sprint.

If the warm up is performed well, there is absolutely no way that the workout can go poorly.  So please, please, please take the time to consciously plan out an effective warm up for your next workout!  And as always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.

Patrick Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond

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