Monday, January 6, 2014

An Introduction to Working Out: Part 6 -- Warming Up

Having been running this blog for a year, I'm going to go right back to basics. This is going to be a brief series on general principles and methods of exercising, and as new year resolutions are right around the corner, this should be a helpful go-to guide. In it I'll cover:

Part 1 -- Goal Setting
Part 2 -- Resistance Training Focus
Part 3 -- Cardiovascular Training Focus
Part 4 -- Selecting Starting Loads
Part 5 -- Selecting Starting Exercises
Part 6 -- Warming Up
Part 7 -- Stretching

Warming Up

Warming up isn't something I normally write about, although if you follow my training logs, you can usually see it going on in my first exercise of the day, and occasionally on other exercises that need it. Warming up is honestly bad terminology to use, because physically being warm is only one element of a successful warm up. The primary goal of warming up is preparation for work.

Because everyone's different, you and the person next to you shouldn't necessarily warm up the same way for the same workout. And, because different workouts have different aims, you really shouldn't warm up the same way for two different workouts. Why? Because, once again, the goal of warming up is not to be warm, but to be ready for work. What it takes to get you ready won't be the same as what it takes for someone else, and as an individual, different tasks require different methods of preparation.

Light Cardiovascular Warm Up (General Warm Up)

This is right up there in the most common ways people warm up. And in some instances, they even should warm up this way. But it's not always necessary, and often people turn it into a cardiovascular workout in and of itself, which can have a negative impact on your workout if the aim of your workout was not low-to-moderate intensity cardio.

The general goal of a light cardiovascular warm up is simply to get the blood flowing, the body moving, and the temperature rising. When it's appropriate to do so, most people only need a 5min light cardiovascular warm up, unless the environment is cold, in which case longer may be necessary. People with conditions such as asthma, however, often need a longer, slower warm up, so that their breathing and body temperature increases steadily and doesn't cause their condition to play up.

Mobility Warm Up

You gotta stretch while warming up, right? Well, depends. If you need to stretch in order to safely get into the positions you'll be working in, then yes. If not, then it's not so important. If you are going to stretch during a warm up, it's normally preferred that you perform dynamic stretching, as holding a stretch relaxes the muscles, and most of the time relaxing your muscles is not conducive to work. Of course, this does depend on the work you're doing and how much range of motion you can get out of dynamic stretching.

Specific Warm Up

This is the part of the warm up that you'll typically see in my training journal. Whatever your activity, specific warm ups directly prepare you for work. A specific warm up might come after a general warm up and mobility warm up, but that isn't always the case. For example, while I generally do a little bit of stretching to prepare for squats, and would do general, mobility and specific warm ups for sprinting, my bench press warm up is simply to bench press, starting with an unloaded bar, and to increase the weight set after set until I'm ready for work.

In the specific warm up, you'll typically do one of two things:

1) Drills that work on specific parts of the exercise you'll be working with
2) The exact exercise you'll be working with, scaled down to a lower intensity

For the most part, if you have to do the first, it will be followed by the second.

When it comes to drills, they should work on specific skills or technique points that you'll be focusing on during the exercise. For example, a drill I'll tend to put myself through for sprint training is to walk, but drive my knee up high and at the same time drive my heel up to my butt with each step, preparing for the movement I'll be performing once the speed increases. Or, back when I was trying hard not to suck at the Olympic lifts, I did a lot of high pulls, high hang snatches, low hang snatches and snatch balances as drills in my warm up.

When it comes to scaled sets of the exercise you'll be performing, it's quite simple: you begin with a load that is very light, and, just like in the general warm up, you do enough volume (reps or distance) to get your limbs moving and some blood flowing. With each set, the intensity increases and the volume decreases.

The most common mistake made at this point int he warm up is to treat warm up sets as work sets. That would generally mean approaching failure with each set. Warming up is not work. It's just preparation for work. With that in mind, here's an example of how not to warm up for a 100kg squat (aiming for sets of 5 reps), and how to warm up for it.

How not to do it


Once you've done that, you'll be sufficiently stuffed. You may not even be able to do the work sets.

How to do it


If doing only 1 rep at 80% of your working weight looks too easy...good, you're getting it. Warming up isn't supposed to be any harder than it needs to be to get you ready for the real work. In fact, it should make you able to do the real work as best as you possibly can, which is going to be a lot better in this second scenario than in the first.

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