Prep your body for exercise to improve performance & decrease injury risk
Man, I cringe whenever I see someone hop on a treadmill next to me, crank it up to 8.0, and start immediately slogging away, huffing & puffing. Or the guy at the gym who walks out of the locker room, loads the bench to 225, and barely squeaks out 7 reps on his first set of the day.
If you aren’t properly preparing your body and mind for your workouts or races, you’re likely not reaching your peak performance and you’re increasing your risk of injury. Have you ever had those runs where you just feel like garbage and you’re not sure why? Or the days where the weights just feel super heavy at the gym? Well there’s a good chance that stepping up your warm-up game can help limit those random workouts where you feel like the Tinman from Wizard of Oz.
Not only will a good warmup improve performance and decrease injury risk, it also prepares your mind for your workout, increasing your focus and tolerance for pain.
More specifically, warming up before your workout:
- Directs blood to your muscles and raises your heart rate so you can get more oxygen to your muscles during your workout
- Increases muscular elasticity and expands your range of motion
- Promotes the flow of the synovial fluid that cushions joints and reduces friction
- Raises your core body temperature (pro-tip – warmup indoors before cold winter runs!)
- Makes it easier to control your heart rate and stick to your zones for heart rate-based training
- Can accelerate recovery after your workout
- Improves your mental focus and coordination and can increase your pain tolerance. Especially for those early morning workouts!
Warmup Tips & Ideas
A good warmup should specifically target the muscles that will be active in your workout. So a simple (but effective!) warmup is to just mimic the movements of your workout but at a reduced intensity.
For example, walk for 5 minutes then jog slowly for 5 minutes before a run workout. If you’re doing heart rate-based endurance training, make sure you slowly ramp up your heart rate until you reach your target zone, taking the first mile or so of your run to do so. For a strength training workout, go through your circuit for one round with 50% of your weights to go through the motions and get loose for the main workout. Do a few sets of knee pushups and arm circles before a heavy bench day. And so on. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.
I’ve included a few videos below that shown some specific dynamic stretches and drills for prior to running or lifting to give you more ideas.
How Long Should You Warmup?
It depends a lot on both the intensity of your workout and your age. A warmup probably isn’t very important if you’re a 20 year old setting off for a long, slow endurance run. But if you’re middle-aged and preparing for an interval session or an intense circuit-style workout, for example, you really should set aside extra time for a warmup. If you’re looking for a rough rule of thumb: 10 minutes should do the trick for most workouts.
For races – it may seem counterintuitive that the shorter the race, the longer your warmup should be. This goes back to the workout intensity and the simple fact that you will be running harder in your short races. So, very little warmup (10 minutes or less) is needed for a marathon where you’re looking to conserve your energy and glycogen levels. While for a 5K, especially if you’re a competitive runner, you should adopt a warmup that lasts 15-20 minutes and contains both jogging, strides, and dynamic stretches and drills (see below)
Pre-Run Warmup Drills & Dynamic Stretches
The following video shows some of my go-to warmup drills before a high intensity tempo or interval session. I like to repeat some of all of these for five minutes or so after a walk or slow jog.
Pre-Workout Warmup Flow
The following video has a sequence of some dynamic stretches & yoga-inspired movements that make a great warmup prior to running, lifting, etc., sped up for viewability. I originally put together this routine for a client of mine who was returning from a lower back injury to loosen up his back and hips, but it serves as a solid full body warmup.
Pre-Workout Dynamic Stretching Routine
The warmup flow above is an evolution of the older one below (you can see I love “wipers” as a first, gentle movement in a warmup). I use these dynamic stretches specifically for waking up my hips and hip flexors before a run.
A short and light yoga class or quick flow is a great way to warmup for running or lifting. Some people also like to foam roll before workouts to prime their muscles. What about static stretching? There’s some debate there, but I save static stretching for after workouts/runs and opt for light cardio and dynamic stretching before instead.
Whatever you do, just do something! Make it a routine. Your body will thank you for it.