The power of a warm up: are you slowing down your progress?

Published on 3 March 2021 at 20:22

You have almost definitely experienced an exercise warm up in your life; probably along the lines of running a lap and maybe a few stretches, or even an in gym cardiovascular warmup of 10-15 minutes on a cross trainer. But is this, on its own, an effective warm up? Moreover, could you even be slowing down your progress?

What does a warm up do?

If you aren’t performing a warm up prior to your workout, I am telling you right now to stop that. Dedicating at least the first 10 minutes of your workout to a warm up has multiple benefits, including:

  • An increased heart rate; blood is pumped around your body faster, resulting in a raised body temperature. You may also sweat and experience a brief shortness of breath.
  • By preparing your heart for exercise it minimises the stress put upon it during your main body of exercise. 
  • An increased volume of oxygenated blood is transported to the muscles, activating them and preparing them for exercise.
  • An increase in the mobility and flexibility of your muscles, joints and tendons resulting in a greater range of motion.
  • Reduces your risk of injury!

A cardiovascular warm up will get the blood pumping around your body faster but will not necessarily activate the muscles that you are about to use in your workout. No matter how hard or long you train, if your muscles are not appropriately activated, you will not be receiving the full benefit from your workout. This does mean slower progress and fewer results. 

What can we do to fix this?

  1. Dynamic Stretching 

Dynamic stretches are stretches through movement which provides an instant increase in the mobility of your joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles. Performing these stretches moves synovial fluid to your joints (synovial fluid is joint lubricant) which allows you to become less stiff. This means an increase in your range of motion and subsequently reduces your risk of injury. 

Examples of some dynamic stretches include: leg swings (forward and back/side to side), hip rotations (open and close the gate), arm rotations, torso twists, high kicks, hamstring stretch to squat, ankle rotations, wrist rotations and even wiggling your fingers. I would suggest performing dynamic stretches for 8-10 reps, starting with a smaller range of motion and slowly increasing it as you progress through the reps. 

Generally speaking, dynamic stretches are performed prior to the cardiovascular section of your warm up. However they can also be performed whenever you feel stiff; they are a great way to wake your body up even if you are not about to exercise. 


  1. Muscular specific activation exercises 

Muscular specific activation exercises are movements performed with body weight and/or with a light resistance to directly target the muscles. This promotes the flow of oxygenated blood to the muscles, activating and preparing them for exercise. These exercises also activate your peripheral and central nervous systems by firing up the motor neurons within the muscles, improving communication between your muscles and brain. This will also improve your coordination. 

Muscular specific activation exercises can be performed with both body weight or with resistance in the form of light resistance bands or light weights. Examples of these exercises include: bird dogs, dead bugs, donkey kick, plank, side plank, bear crawl, bodyweight calf raises, lunges (with twist), glute bridges, clam shells, side shuffle (or crab walk), bodyweight squats, face pulls, rotator cuff extensions, deltoid extensions, band pull apart, chest flys; and the list goes on. 

In performing these exercises prior to the main body of your workout, your muscles will be much more appropriately activated. This will put you at a significantly lower risk of injury and you will receive greater benefits from each workout.


In conclusion 

When you take extra time to prepare your body for exercise, your progress will benefit. Meaning you will see more results, making you that bit closer to reaching your fitness goals.

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