Guideline To An Effective Warm Up
Warming up is an important piece of any exercise routine or sporting endeavor. The purpose is to "warm up" our bodies in preparation for the exercise, event, or activity that is about to come. When performed appropriately, a thorough warm up will help reduce risk of injury, as well as improve performance.
A cold rubber band is easier to break than one at room temperature. The same goes for our body. By increasing your heart rate with light exercise for a few minutes, your core temperature will rise, and so too will your peripheral tissues as warm blood is pumped throughout your body. As your tissue temperature increases, the muscles, tendons, and joints are now better prepared for more vigorous activity.
Example: A brisk walk, light jog/run, riding a stationary bike, or even low-intensity rower are all excellent ways to help increase tissue temperature. Aim for low-intensity activity for ~5-8 mins, perhaps even a slight sweat before moving onto the next phase.
It has been dogmatically ingrained in our fitness culture, that prior to athletic events you should stretch your muscles to prevent injury. However, research has shown again and again how static stretching (getting into a position of stretch and holding for a prolonged period) does not decrease the risk of injury, and that it reduces muscle force production by 5-7%. However, research has shown dynamic stretching (repeatedly moving through full, functional range of motion in order to achieve stretch) to be much more effective at reducing injury as well as priming muscles for performance.
Example: A runner may perform some leg swings to open the hips prior to beginning a tough run or track session. Begin lightly for a few reps and progress towards greater range of motion. Dynamic stretches should start with global movements and progress towards more sport/activity specific.
Just as you wouldn't want to hop off the couch and perform an all-out 100m sprint, your body needs to be eased into high-intensity efforts. By gradually increasing intensity and moving towards more sport specific movements, it helps engage the nervous system to prime the muscles for the heavy work about to come. For a more dynamic activity such as soccer, basketball, lacrosse, etc., a more dynamic movement protocol is warranted. Due to the quickness of movement, sudden changes in direction, and varying levels of intensity, replicating these things during the end of the warm-up is vital to preparing the body for game-like conditions and movements.
Example: A weightlifter looking to maximize their bench press will start with lighter weight and progressively increase weight until they feel ready to perform a maximal lift. A runner would perform a few 10-30 second strides with building intensity. A soccer player would want to perform cutting drills, stop-start drills, jumping/hopping drills, and short explosive sprints all with increasing intensity to simulate game conditions.
Remember, start general and become more activity specific as you move through the warm up. Intensity is also progressed throughout the warm up, from low to short bursts of high intensity. By the end of the warm up, any lingering stiffness from a previous workout should be pretty well gone, and you should feel warm with a good sweat going. By following these simple guidelines you can be sure that your body is primed and ready for the tough workout ahead.