What’s the first thing you do when you step in the gym? If you’re anything like most trainers, chances are you head straight to the bench press, squat cage, or dumbbell rack to begin your first exercise, maybe with a few light sets to warm up.
However, doing this is selling yourself short, and putting you at risk of injuries.
Many people don’t bother with a proper warm up, as they feel it’s a waste of time, and time that could be used lifting, and training intensively instead. That simply isn’t the case though. A thorough warm up should be an integral part of any workout, and furthermore, should be seen as part of the session, not just something extra tagged on the beginning.
There are three main aspects of warming up – cardiovascular, soft tissue work, and stretching/mobility.
While resistance training is certainly more of an anaerobic activity than an aerobic one, particularly if you’re training for strength and power, doing a bit of cardio at the start of your session can still be beneficial. A brisk incline walk, a few minutes on the bike, or a quick 500 meters on the rower not only helps increase your heart rate and body temperature, get your blood flowing, and loosen your muscles and joints, but it also gives you five minutes to mentally prepare for your session ahead, and visualize what you plan to do.
Soft Tissue Work
Soft tissue work is traditionally thought of as sports massage, and while you may not be in a position to get a massage right before your session, you can perform a type of self-massage – foam rolling.
A foam roller is a cylindrical tube of dense foam, and is designed to be used for improving tissue quality. The idea is that you apply pressure to your muscles by positioning certain parts of your body over the roller, while moving over it. It’s an excellent way to break down adhesions in the muscle fascia, get rid of knots and trigger points, and increase mobility.
Spend five minutes or so before every session on your foam roller, targeting any areas that are tight, or that you’re about to train. Foam rolling works particularly well on the IT Band, quads, hamstrings, adductors, and upper back. For the smaller body parts, like the calves and pectorals, a lacrosse ball or hockey ball does the same job.
Stretching before a workout is a controversial topic. Some people are staunch believers in stretching before a workout, while others won’t even consider it. The main thing to remember though, is that static stretching for a sustained period of time can weaken a muscle, as it reduce the tension in it.
Therefore, if you’re about to squat, it’s not a great idea to stretch your quads. The same goes for your chest with bench presses, hamstrings with deadlifts, back with chin ups and so on.
Also, you only really need to do static stretching on a muscle if it’s tight, otherwise, there’s little point – a muscle that’s too flexible is a weak muscle. For most people, the tight muscles are the hip flexors, glutes, calves, adductors, pectorals and shoulders.
Hopefully, you can now see the importance of a thorough warm up before a resistance training session. Spending just 10 to 15 minutes split between cardiovascular activity, soft tissue work, and stretching will improve your general health, and give you a better workout.