Warming up before any physical activity is something we all know we “should” be doing but is often poorly done or neglected.
Personally, I have played in rugby teams where the warm up is considered a 60 second run up and down the field with a 5 minute stretch afterwards. I’ve played in oz tag teams where we warm up by throwing a ball in a circle before a game, or the actual first 5 minutes of the game itself! I’ve seen guys at the gym walk through the door straight to the squat rack and do their ‘bar only’ warm up set before stacking the plates on.
The excuses for not warming up are always the same; “no time for that”, “can’t be bothered” or it is often that they simply don’t know how to warm up properly. Not warming up can increase your risks of injury but can also negatively affect your performance.
Coaches, Personal Trainers, Physiotherapists, Exercise Physiologists, and a lot of Health Professionals have varying recommendations and opinions on what an ideal warm up should look like. Often you can end up thinking you need to set aside 30 minutes to get it right!
A warm up does not necessarily need to take this long. Around 10 – 20 minutes can often be adequate, but this obviously depends on what you are preparing your body to do. Best of all, your warm up does not need to be complicated. Use this four step process below to develop a simple warm up that is right for you and your sport.
Easy 4 Step Warm Up
1. BREAK A SWEAT
The first step of a good warm up is to get warm. Do something aerobic like jogging, cycling, rowing, or the cross-trainer. The purpose is to increase your heart rate and the blood flow to your extremities.
How long? Until you sweat! – This is usually a minimum of 5 minutes. Your body doesn’t sweat unless it’s warm. It is best to pick something related to the activity you’re warming up for. Don’t cycle if it’s arm day at the gym, try rowing or the cross-trainer. For most of your running sports however, it is probably a good idea to go for a jog!
2. GET MOBILE
Now that you’re warm, you want to loosen up, get your joints moving through their full range, and improve tissue quality. Break out the foam roller or spikey ball, and start rolling! Spend time on parts of your body that feel tight or sore.
Then, get moving. High knees, bum kicks, lunges, leg swings are all perfect for leg-dominant activities. Neck movements, arm circles, arm swings and trunk twists are great for upper body sports. Have a think about what you’re about to do, the body parts and joints that will be doing the work, and get them moving well. In times gone by, this section of the warm up would have included ‘static’ stretching – pick a stretch and hold. Current research suggests this sort of stretching before physical activity hinders performance and may increase your risk of injury, so we suggest leaving this out of your warm up.
3. FIRE UP YOUR MUSCLES
Pre-activate those muscles you’ll be relying on and get them firing. Two major lower limb muscle groups to get going are your glutes and hamstrings. So try some single leg bridges and side planks. Do you have a band? Do some banded squats and side steps. For your arms, wake up your rotator cuff with banded shoulder rows, pull downs, or some isometrics (try pushing one hand down on the other for 10-20 seconds at waist, shoulder and overhead height, then do the other hand).
4. SKILLS ‘N DRILLS
The last step is to get specific. Go through some common skills and drills specific to your activity to get your mind and body working together. Start light and slow and build heavier or faster over a couple of sets. In the gym, this is the time where you can claim the squat rack and do your bar-only squats or dead lifts. On the field, it’s where you’d run through tackling, kicking, your set plays, passes, throw-ins etc. Run through the specific skills you’re going to be use during your session or game.
Warming up well is not just about preventing injury. Do it right, and you can also improve your performance.
Preparing your body in this way will allow you to go stronger, faster and harder.