Prevent injury and exercise more effectively by getting your body in gear the proper way.
Why should you warm-up?
The goal of a warm-up is to reduce the risk of injury by improving your range of motion in the joints and extending elasticity in the muscles, by increasing the circulation of blood around the body, and by firing up the nervous system to prepare your muscles for activity and make sure they’re capable of performing exercises with proper form. Convinced yet?
How long should you spend?
These adjustments to the body should happen gradually, working up a light sweat but with no real fatigue — five to 10 minutes is adequate. If you don’t have time for that at the start of your gym session, then you don’t have time to work out at all — heading straight from the front door to the bench press is a one-way ticket to an appointment with the physio. Allow more time in cold weather when it quite literally takes longer to warm up and loosen those joints and muscles.
What types of exercises should you do?
Let’s get something out of the road early: static stretching — extending the muscle to its furthest position and then holding it for as long as you can — only serves to over-extend your muscles and increase the risk of injury prior to a work-out, so save them for the cool-down instead, when they’re a good way of getting rid of lactic acid.
What you should be doing before training is some light cardio followed by dynamic stretching. The first step is to mobilise the joints — knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, wrists — by rotating them in both directions, then perhaps a light jog for skipping for a couple of minutes, then full-on dynamic stretching — we’re talking high knees, butt kicks, and full arm swings.
Your warm-up needs to focus on the same muscle groups you’re going to use during your training — if you’re planning a leg day, start with squats and lunges; if you’re playing a game of cricket or baseball, start by rotating your shoulder then slowly perform the motion of throwing a ball; if you’re going for a run, start with a jog. Jogging for two minutes then jumping straight into a deadlift? Not so much.
What’s the point of a cool-down?
As the name so subtly suggests, a cool-down is the opposite of a warm-up — so its purpose is to gradually return your heart rate to its normal level, process lactic acid, and prime the muscles for their next session (this is where static stretches help to offset muscle soreness). Like the warm-up, spend five to 10 minutes focusing on the major muscle groups that have just been given a flogging.