When I am writing this, it the end of June in Canberra. This means Canberra is cold. What better time to talk about warming-up?
Warm-ups's: General Or Specific?
What is a warm-up? Let's start by defining what a warm-up is. It is accepted that a warm-up is something that you do to prepare your body, physically, for the workout ahead. Some people see this as raising their core temperature and getting a sweat up, i.e., doing a few minutes on a stationary bike or treadmill, that kind of thing.
Warming yourself up by raising your core temperature isn't a bad idea, but if you want the best performance out of your workout, there is some evidence to suggest that your warm-up should be focused on the muscles that you are specifically training. For example, if you are about to do a chest and arms workout, then you should concentrate on warming up and preparing your chest and arms for the workout; as opposed to using a stationary bike. On the other hand, if you are about to do squats or work your legs, then the stationary bike would be better suited.
The key takeaway here is: it's probably best to focus your warm-up on activities that are going to warm up the specific muscles you are are training that workout; not warming yourself up by doing a ''general'' activity with the goal of getting your core temperature up.
Mobility And Stretching: Do You Need It?
This is an incredibly complex and controversial topic. I am just going to graze the surface. The question of whether incorporating mobility work or static stretching into your warm-up depends a lot on you as an individual and what kind of exercises you are about to perform.
For example, if you are about to perform a regular upper-body workout with some bench press, or rows and you have a decent range of motion for these exercises and no mobility issues, then you wouldn't need to spend a long time stretching or mobilising, if at all. As long as you get some heat into your muscles and reduce stiffness, you are good to go.
On the other hand, if you have mobility issues that restrict you in movements such as the squat, then it would be a good idea to incorporate some extra mobility work and even static stretching into your warm-up to address these issues. This is done so you can create the short-term improvements in your range of motion to perform the exercises healthily and get into the positions you need to.
Another important consideration that determines whether you would benefit from incorporating mobility work and stretching into your warm-up is the type of exercise you are doing. If you are about to do some chest press and a few curls, the mobility demands are pretty low, and the average Joe off the street would possess the mobility to perform these exercises with a good range of motion. Conversely, if you are about to do some Olympic lifting, the mobility demands required from you are much higher.
To perform something like the Olympic lifts safely, you have to have high levels of mobility in all your joints. The need for and benefit of having mobility work in your warm-up goes up a lot too. It would be logical then that if you are about to do some Olympic lifting, then you dedicate some more time to mobility in your warm-up.
Static Stretching: Does It Impact Performance?
One of the main criticisms of doing static stretching in your warm-up ( for example, holding a stretch position, for upwards of thirty seconds - two minutes) is there is research showing it can decrease performance if done too close to training. While true, it is important to note that many of the protocols used in these studies do not replicate the real world. Furthermore, other research suggests that simply doing some form of dynamic work following stretching will offset most, of not all the small decreases in performance that static stretching may cause.
In the gym, this might look like doing some static stretching, followed by some legs swings, etc. and some empty bar work before you start training.
Putting It All Together
While this post does not give any specific recommendations, the goal of it is more to help someone better navigate the world of the warm-ups. It needs to be said, there is a lot more research needed when it comes to the benefits of mobility and stretching, but anecdotally the world's best coaches and athletes all incorporate some mobility work into their pre-lifting warm-up. In summary, here are the key things you need to know.
- Focus the warm-up on the specific muscles you are about to train that workout.
- If you possess good mobility and are just performing a basic hypertrophy workout, there is no need focus large amounts of time to static stretching or mobility work in your warm-up. As long as you are warming the muscle up and reducing their stiffness prior to training them.
- Incorporate more mobility work and stretching into your warm-up, before you train muscle groups where you have specific mobility issues that impact your range of motion performing these movements.
- If you are doing exercises that require greater mobility demands, such as Olympic lifting, the importance and benefit of incorporating mobility work and static stretching goes up drastically.
- If you are static stretching in your warm-up, any potential decreases in performance will be largely, or completely offset by some dynamic or empty bar work following it. So make sure you take that into consideration if you are static stretching.