In fitness circles, there’s always discussion about the best way to warm-up before exercise and everyone has their preferred method.
To keep things simple, there are 3 types of warm-ups I use with my clients.
General – Characterised by low to moderate intensity activity. Generally requiring low skill. Often done as steady-state activity (treadmill, bike). Tends to be lower-body dominant as well as single plane dominant. It does get your heart rate up. It does redirect blood flow to the working muscles. It even raises your body temperature – which in turn causes your joints to produce more synovial fluid – the juice that keeps your joints lubricated. But even with all these benefits, I rarely use a general warm-up with my clients anymore.
A long time favorite of typical gym-based trainers (it’s just so darned easy to get paid to stand there posing in a mirror while a client rides a bike), a general warm-up can be a useful tool for geriatrics and the extremely deconditioned, but for most able-bodied individuals, there is a much better way to prepare for exercise (drum roll, please…)
Dynamic – Dynamic warm-ups not only provide the benefits of a general warm-up, they also utilize total body movements through all 3 planes of motion. PLUS you challenge the full muscle action spectrum (eccentric, isometric and concentric contractions) which prepares you for the type of exercise you’ll do during your workout. THIS is exactly what a warm-up is supposed to do. (see www.UltimateWarmup.com for details about an incredibly thorough DVD on dynamic warm-ups)
Specific – In addition to a dynamic warm up, specific warm-ups could (and should) be performed for just about any exercise that has high neuro-muscular demands and/or skill requirements.
Let’s take a page out of my training log… Say it’s squat day and I’m scheduled to do 465 for 5. Rather than jump headfirst into my work set (and watch my knees explode as my muscles peel away from the bone), I’d start with an easy set of 10 at 135.
Then I’d take 225 for 5 reps, followed by 315 for a few and 405 for one or 2.
By progressing through a series of lighter sets to prepare for my actual work set(s), once I get to 465, I’m ready to rock (both physiologically and psychologically).
One of the biggest mistakes I see in the gym when people try a specific warm-up is that they do too much. I’m not sure why, but it seems like it’s always sets of 10 at a progressively heavier weight.
But notice in my example, I don’t warm-up with so many reps that I’m fatigued by the time I get to 465 – the goal is to do just enough to prepare you for the next set, regardless if it’s another warm-up or your final set of the day.