Carlos Torres, a New York-based personal trainer certified by the National Council on Strength and Fitness, agrees that warm-ups are important. A warm-up should prepare your body for a workout to ensure your performance. It should also be short to ensure you don't overdo it. Here are some tips on how to effectively warm-up:
- Keep it short and light: "Functional warmups should be 10 to 15 minutes in duration and completed no more than 10 minutes before starting your activity or exercise," one trainer says. "Start with slower activities and progress to higher-level, faster-paced and explosive movements as appropriate." For example, if you're going running, start by walking and gradually increase the pace to warm up your legs and slowly elevate your heart rate. If you're playing basketball with some friends, run some light dribbling drills to get your blood moving before the game.
- Use dynamic stretching compared to static stretching: Dynamic stretches are movements performed at a slower pace than most workouts. People tend to do dynamic stretches to warm up their muscles and prepare for exercise. Dynamic stretching before the workout is the way to go, but static stretching should always be saved for after your workout. Static stretching is what many people think of as the primary way to stretch. Things like bending over to touch your toes and holding that position for 30 seconds or pulling your arm across the chest as far as you can and holding that position for 30 seconds to stretch the triceps are examples of static stretches. This form of stretching has its place and can increase flexibility when done correctly, but it's not the right choice for the beginning of the workout, experts say, because holding a static stretch on cold muscles can elevate injury risk.
- Make it exercise-specific: A pre-workout warmup should entail movements that closely resemble the actual workout. For example, one trainer says, "if the workout is leg-focused and will have plenty of squats, I wouldn't have my client stretching their hamstrings or quads. The warmup would be squats. We would do them at either a lesser intensity or range of motion than the actual workout calls for." The reasoning behind this approach to warming up is that "doing the actual movement gets your joints warmed up and blood into your muscles. When doing this, you're already making your muscle and tissue pliable with the specific movements you'll be doing in the main part of the workout.
- Train in three dimensions: In addition to doing workout-specific warmups that will prepare you for a specific activity, it's also important to include movement in multiple planes. Vary your workout movements, incorporating workouts that function laterally or backwards. Planks or other suitable core exercises are a great place to start your warmup, as these engage and wake up the entire body. One trainer recommends then moving into more dynamic stretching exercises such as lunges, side lunges, moving hamstring stretches, and shin grabs. You can then transition to quicker-paced movements such as high knees, butt-kickers, and side shuffles.
- Prepare your mind: If nothing else, warming up mentally is good for your future workout physically. Plenty of sport psychology research demonstrates that visualizing how you'll succeed on the court or field can dramatically improve performance. This way, you won’t be discouraged when actually doing the workouts themselves.