How To Construct The Perfect Warm Up

We all know that we’re supposed to warm up before exercising but why? And what does this actually entail?

The walk you take up the hill from your car to the gym; that’s not a warm up. The half-hearted stretches that you hold backstage before a show; that’s not a warm up. A warm up is designed to kick start energy systems used for exercise, make muscles more pliable, decrease injury risk, activate stabilising muscles, stimulate correct neural pathways and prepare your body for the demands of your training session or performance to come so that you can perform at your absolute best! That’s a whole lot of very important things to achieve and therefore the 5-10 minutes that you currently dedicate to your current warm probably isn’t enough!

So, what should you include in your warm up to make it effective?

This is the stage that most people consider their entire warm up! The aim of this stage is to warm the muscles by increasing blood flow and to activate the energy systems needed for your workout. This will increase your endurance throughout the session and allow you to feel less fatigued as the body is able to produce ATP (energy) at an effective rate to keep up with the demands of your session. The main indicators of a successful cardiovascular warm up are increases in body temperature, breathing rate and heart rate.

A cardiovascular warm up can be as high or low impact as you want it to be but, as a general rule, lower impact means a longer duration. This stage could involve anything from a quick round of tabata, a series of crawls, a tai chi sequence, sun salutations, a mini HIIT cycle or even jumping around and dancing to one or two of your favourite songs.

If you’re a performance artist, this is likely the dominant part of the warm up that you grew up with. This is where we prepare the body for the ranges of movement required for the session by making the muscles more pliable. The key thing here is that we do this DYNAMICALLY (meaning with movement). Static stretching SHOULD NOT be included in your warm up! Not only does static stretching cool you down and do absolutely nothing to prepare you for exercises but it also increases your risk of injury throughout the session! The main aim of this section is to ensure that we can comfortably and easily access the range of motion needed for the session or performance planned whether that be a full split, overhead shoulder positioning or a deep squat.

Dynamic stretching doesn’t need to be too different from static stretching; all you need to do is add a bit of controlled movement to the stretches you already know. Instead of sitting in your toe touch, simply ease in and out of it or gently rock side to side to add that dynamic component. If you’re doing more of a general session then you can just do a head-to-toe scan starting with head nods and working all the way down to some ankle circling. If you’re doing a leg day at the gym, it’s more important that you work from leg swings into some deeper hip mobilisations. The main focus should be on the activities you’re doing so if you’re going to be working on your splits then you can probably leave the arm swings alone for the day!

These are the MOST IMPORTANT and MOST NEGLECTED part of any warm up! These exercises prepare both your muscles and your nervous system for the session ahead! The aim of this section is to get the muscles you’ll be working activated and to replicate the movement patterns that you’re about to perform with decreased load. These are highly specific and depend on both the activities or tricks that you’re about to perform as well as what your struggle areas are. By the end of this section, you should be able to actively tense any stabiliser that you’re about to work and you should have the body awareness to understand the activity pathway you’re about to perform. For example, if you’re about to do an inversion then you should be able to activate your abdominals while hanging and you should know exactly where your tipping point is.

Because of the specific nature of this section, everyone will be different here however the easiest way to figure out what you should be doing is to ask yourself these two questions:

Which muscles do I struggle to activate?

Maybe it’s a common one like your abs or your rotator cuff. Add in some basic activations until you can turn it on at will and then add some progressions that get closer to mimicking your exercise such as knee tucks for inversions. Maybe it’s a joint instability from a previous injury. For example, if you’re a ground acrobat with a former hip injury then some single leg standing work would likely be beneficially before progressing into some jumping skills.

What are the key movements are involved in my tricks or workout today?

If you’re a gym junkie then using a bar without any weights or using a weight that is 50% of your working weight is the way to go (i.e. if you do a leg press at 120kg then start with 60kg and work your way up for a few reps). If you’re an aerialist then warming up with hollow hold rolls before drop sequences or candlestick roll ups before inversions would be beneficial. If you’re a handbalancer then overhead shrugs would be a must before your long holds and body manipulations.

Please note: the time of your warm up with depend on the length of your session planned but as a general rule should be equal to 1/4 to 1/3 of the time you spend training (e.g. 15-20mins warm up for a 60min session) and should be longer for a performance than it would usually be for a training session.

Still not sure what to put in your warm up? Comment your questions below so that we can include more detailed demonstrations in our future content or book in for free 30 minute consultation today to see how we can improve your warm up!

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