Warming Up Before Exercise
This week on the podcast we had a fantastic conversation on warming up, the different types of warmups and the physical and mental impacts of warming up. We had plenty of studies but some very interesting personal points as well. I implore you to listen to the full episode below as it's truly a great listen.
Before We Get Into It Let's Explain Certain Terminology
PNF - "Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching relies on reflexes to produce deeper stretches that increase flexibility."
Static Stretching -"A sustained, low-intensity lengthening of soft tissue (e.g., muscle, tendon, or joint capsule), performed to increase range of motion. The stretch force may be applied continuously for as short as 15 to 30 sec or as long as several hours."
Dynamic Stretching - "Dynamic stretches are active movements where joints and muscles go through a full range of motion. They can be used to help warm up your body before exercising. Dynamic stretches can be functional and mimic the movement of the activity or sport you’re about to perform. For example, a swimmer may circle their arms before getting into the water."
Ramp Up Sets - "Preparatory sets of an exercise or movement that are completed with submaximal weight to activate specific musculature and prepare active joints for increased loads and intensities."
Cardiovascular Warm-up - Something to raise the heart rate. This could be a light shakeout/pulse raiser or perhaps something more heavy leading to moderate breathing rate and sweating
Do We Need To?
I want to be careful here as in I don't want you to think you can't exercise unless you spend 20 minutes doing all sorts of mobilisation. If short on time sometimes just going into your exercise at a lesser load and intensity and "ramping up" will do the job. As many have said "just do the movement" Warming up in general however has proven benefits on physical performance. If you want to PERFORM then it's important you warm up and do the right things.
Abstract The value of warming-up is a worthy research problem because it is not known whether warming-up benefits, harms, or has no effect on individuals. The purpose of this study was to review the evidence relating to performance improvement using a warm-up. A systematic review and meta-analysis were undertaken. Relevant studies were identified by searching Medline, SPORTDiscus, and PubMed (1966-April 2008). Studies investigating the effects of warming-up on performance improvement in physical activities were included. Studies were included only if the subjects were human and only if the warm-up included activities other than stretching. The quality of included studies was assessed independently by 2 assessors using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale. Thirty-two studies, all of high quality (6.5-9 [mean = 7.6] of 10) reported sufficient data (quality score >6) on the effects of warming-up on performance improvement. Warm-up was shown to improve performance in 79% of the criterions examined. This analysis has shown that performance improvements can be demonstrated after completion of adequate warm-up activities, and there is little evidence to suggest that warming-up is detrimental to sports participants. Because there were few well-conducted, randomized, controlled trials undertaken, more of these are needed to further determine the role of warming-up in relation to performance improvement.
Fradkin AJ, Zazryn TR, Smoliga JM. Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(1):140-148. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c643a0
So in this good quality study, we are seeing a 79% improved performance from warming up. There are many ways to warm up however
Static & Dynamic Stretching
This is one that comes up time and time again. Should you bother spending 20 minutes stretching before your workout? As we always say on our podcast "it depends". Warming up is very individual. There is evidence to show that static stretching for a certain time will reduce things like power output and some will say it's a waste of your time and you'd be better off doing "ramp up" or dynamic (Tom argues that a ramp-up is essentially a form of dynamic) but then again if you feel that a few static stretches help you "loosen" and puts you in a better place mentally to train then go for it!
Here is an excerpt of a study that looked at current literature in regards to all forms of stretching
The benefits of stretching seem to be individual to the population studied. Several factors must be considered when making clinical recommendations from the literature. To increase ROM, all types of stretching are effective, although PNF-type stretching may be more effective for immediate gains. To avoid a decrease in strength and performance that may occur in athletes due to static stretching before competition or activity, dynamic stretching is recommended for warm-up.
Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7(1):109-119.
The key takeaway from that? "Individual to the population studied". If you decide to stretch before exercise then it is very individual. An example we gave was as soldiers ourselves we are in boots for a long period of time. Boots look after the ankle and keep it stable so when we require that flexion it's lacking so it may be more beneficial that soldiers spend time on static/dynamic stretching to improve flexion in the ankle for something like a squat.
What if you're a weightlifter? Movements such as the snatch require acute mobility so it may be beneficial to spend more time on mobilisation. It could be detrimental to go straight into "ramp up sets"
Ramp Up Sets
This is simple. You start at a set weight and rep scheme and "ramping up" to your working weight you increase the weight and lower the reps performed.
Will actually aid activation and mobilisation as your body adapts to the movement
Prepares the nervous system for the heavier lifts. Example if you went in at 75% of your 1RM straight off the bat I can bet that it won't be comfortable and certainly be a shock to the system however if you build up to it then the opposite occurs.
Can help you focus on form as you start at the lower weights.
So as you can see this is an efficient way of warming up especially for traditional resistance based training. If you want to spend some time stretching and mobilising before something such as the squat then, by all means, go ahead especially if they make YOU feel better. If someone tells you YOU HAVE TO do all this before then I'd say they are potentially creating a barrier to exercise. If you're limited on time simply perform ramp up sets and you'll be good to go.
Cardiovasular Warm Up
Once again it's individual. You do not need to spend 5/10 minutes on a treadmill/watt bike/ski erg etc before you go into things such as resistance training. A good point Andy made on the podcast was that there are those who prefer to feel hot and sweaty before going into lifting and that is absolutely fine! If you want to do something because it gets you in the right mindset to train then go for it but once again you DO NOT have to do these things.
Another reason you may want to do a bit of CV to warm up is because you've driven to the gym at 6 AM and feel stiff and tired. A quick 5 minutes on the treadmill could wake you up and get you in "zone" ready to exercise.
Or if you're going to perform some sort of sprint event it would be wise to prepare the muscle sand joints with some light CV so that when you hit the gas you've already been moving and it's not a total shock to the system.
This was a lot more difficult to explore that we first thought and that is because of how individual it really is. So many factors will come into play into what you do to warm up and even the data suggests this. There are gym-goers all over the world who do certain things before exercise in sort of a "ritualistic" way and the science would argue it's not needed however if you want to do something because it makes you feel good and puts you in a good place to exercise then great.
Final point. I hope this article/podcast has given you some food for thought for your next warm ups however we are all about NOT creating barriers to exercise. Do what gets you into your individual best physical and mental state for exercise. If you need any more help or advice please get in touch or perhaps become a part of our fitness community over at trainprimal.co where we can help you on your health and fitness journey.