Butter is a tasty ingredient. Any experienced baker will tell you that butter works best in recipes when it’s room temperature. Trying to get cold butter to thoroughly mix with ingredients is a test of patience and strength.
Muscles perform in a similar way. They work best when they are warmed up just right. Sure, they can lift and move the body when they are cold just like a recipe will turn out OK with cold butter. But if you want tasty cookies and good muscular performance, warm is the way to go.
Why bother warming up? What happens when the body warms up? What are you warming up? Does your temperature actually increase?
Warming up primes the body for movement. The muscles become more elastic and the connective tissue and joints are progressed incrementally through their full ranges of motion. Even the cardiovascular system benefits from light movements before a workout. It is like letting the shower get to the right temperature instead of jumping into a cold downpour. It makes things easier all around.
When you are asleep, the body is a degree or two cooler than when you are awake. Cooler tissues are firmer than warmer ones. That is why you feel stiff in the morning and the stiffness fades as you start walking around. As you walk, the body pumps warm blood through the tissues, which helps them move.
Warming up the body before exercise or even a stretch session will move blood through the body’s muscle and other tissues, making them more elastic and priming them for movement.
The same principle works for yoga. The body is more flexible in a warm setting. That’s why you are likelier to see hot yoga studios than arctic ones.
Before workouts, I recommend a dynamic warm-up. Different from static stretches that just hold one particular muscle at an elongated position, a dynamic warm-up uses movement to prepare the body.
I target full range and body weight movements. Light jogging, air squats, side shuffling or even a few light reps of the specific lift you are doing are fine.
Pick a dynamic warm-up that targets the muscles you are going to use. If you are working legs, then do something to warm up the hips and major leg muscles such as progressively lower air squats. Try the arm bike or some light shoulder presses on an upper body day.
You may also discover a limited range of motion during your warm-up. For whatever reason, you have some muscle tightness. It is better to find a potential issue with little or no load than to have an injury occur under the full stimulus of your workout. This way you can give extra mobility attention to that area. At the very least, you become aware of it and can keep an eye on it during your workout.
Today’s drills are dynamic versions of static stretches. They help ease the body to a full range of motion. Inchworms are essentially a hamstring stretch. At the top, when the hips are at a peak, you should feel a stretch in the hamstrings. If your posterior chain is supertight, then you may feel the stretch in your butt and lower back.
Spider crawls are the dynamic version of the hip-openers featured a few weeks ago.
After 10 or 15 reps of each warm-up exercise, you should notice a few things; you’ll be breathing a bit heavier, for example. These exercises do take some effort and should do well to raise your core body temperature. With that temperature increase comes muscles that are more elastic with the increased blood flow to the limbs. Your hips will also have a pretty good range of motion. Or, if you are really tight, you have a good idea of how far you can push them without tempting an injury.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a Las Vegas trainer and want to share your love of fitness as a guest coach, please contact him. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.