Warming up before an activity is the best thing any athlete can do to optimize performance.
Without a proper warm-up, athletes start an activity with a limited range of motion and risk underperforming or injury. The following steps will help any athlete prepare for their activity appropriately.
Simple to Complex
When starting your warm-up, you should identify what muscles or movements will be involved in your activity. The goal is to start simple, then build into more complex movements. As you make movements more complex, you also want to raise your heart rate. A simple movement is defined as moving one of your body’s joints (using one axis) at a time. A complex movement is when you move multiple joints of your body at the same time.
The duration of your warm-up should be relative to your training or event. For short events such as a sprint, you want a longer warm-up to ensure the muscles are ready for maximum power production. For longer events like a marathon, the warm-up can be shorter and not as aggressive. Again, you want to make the warm-up specific to your event, movement, and power production needed.
Example: 5k-10k Warm Up
Step 1: Start with single-leg swings. Stand up against a fence or wall. Work on range of motion both front to back and side to side.
Step 2: Proceed to a light 2-5 min walk. Get the legs moving in a simple fashion.
Step 3: Begin to add in dynamic movements. This includes high knees, butt kickers, shuffles, and skips.
Step 4: Enter into a light jog. This can be an easy 5-10 min jog with openers mixed in. Openers are a chance to open your stride length and increase speed/power production. Openers should mimic training or race effort for 10-20 seconds with a return to easy running after.
Total: 15-20 min warm up
While this is a simple warm up, it took the athlete through a full range of motion, built from simple to complex, built their heart rate, and has them ready for the power production and movement needed in their event.
Things to Avoid
Athletes want to stay away from static stretching before a workout. Think of your typical quadricep, hamstring, or groin stretch. Static stretching over extends your muscle fibers and makes you “too loose”. While this may sound like a good thing, we want some rebound and snap in our muscles. Without this rebound, our muscles lose the ability to create optimal power and also make you more prone to injury. Stretching in this manner actually hurts your performance and should only be done after your workout.
Another Item to avoid is over extending your warm up. The training or event is what matters most. The warm up should only function to prepare you for the activity. Once you have built your heart rate and gone through specific movements of your activity, the warm up should end. Save your energy for the activity!
Other Items to Consider
You should be aware of your environment and surroundings. If the weather is cold, you should wear extra layers to ensure your core temperature builds during your warm up. If it is 100 degrees and humid, you may be able to go through a slower workout to ensure you don’t overexert yourself. Lastly, take note of your surroundings. Do you have a track to warm up on? Is it icy and not conducive to openers? Be practical and do what is needed in a safe and effective manner.
Everyday, athletes wake up ready to train. Are you taking the time to warm up properly? If not, you may not be getting everything you could out of your training or events. For your next few workouts, focus on giving yourself enough time to prepare. Start with simple movements relative to your activity, then build complexity. Raise your heart rate along the way and watch as your results improve! Warm up properly, and go explore perfection!