From the days of middle school gym class, you have been taught to start with a warm-up so as not to pull a muscle. That may have included a jog, a few jumping jacks, and of course static stretching. But jogging isn’t that important to benching that barbell, and static stretching only focus on muscles without warming up the joints. But what if there was a way of warming up with the dynamic force of jogging, and the muscle prepping abilities of stretches? Well there is, and it’s called dynamic stretching!
The method of dynamic stretching is being incorporated by more and more professional athletes, and studies are supporting its use. A 2013 study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research  tested a number of people aged 18-24 by asking them to perform their 1 rep max for squats. The study found that those who warmed up by static stretching had an average 1RM 8.36% lower than those who did dynamic stretching. It also discovered a 22.68% lower body stability in the people stretching statically. Basically, dynamic stretching trumps the warmup battle. So with this in mind here are 7 warm up exercises that you can do to get yourself ready for your activities.
1. Walking Lunges
A great exercise to get your thighs, hips, glutes and quads in action. Pick an area where you can do around 10 lunges (5 each leg) and go forward and back. Remember while you are trying to stretch the back quad, it is important to make sure you are controlling your core and not letting the front knee fall over your foot, and keeping your back straight without it leaning forward. For added core use, when standing up from a lunge, do not land on both feet. Lift the back foot, and immediately try to push it forward, without having to pause in the middle and using both feet for balance. This will require you to brace your abs a bit, which is good for utilizing more muscle.
2. Jump Squats
Of course bodyweight squats were going to be in this, but the jumping mechanic also adds a nice bit of explosive power to it. Go down into regular squat position, hold it for a second, and push up with all of the force you can. Maybe pretend like someone “accidentally” put 400Lbs of plates on that barbell and you need to get that thing back up. On landing, make it as smooth as possible, this again will require some core work. By this, I mean landing with both feet in relatively the same area where you started, not 2 feet to any side because you launched yourself forward or were not balanced.
3. Romanian Deadlift
This one can be done without a bar or with a barbell, but no (to very little) weight. The concept here is getting the hamstrings and lower back prepped. With your legs set at shoulder width apart, and keeping a slight bend in the knees, you are going to lower your upper body down until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Remember – no back arching, so keep it straight, and if it helps, a slight pinch in the shoulder blades. So just because it isn’t 200Lbs, doesn’t mean you can slack off. The reason I am choosing this one over the stiff-leg deadlift (SLDL) is really just because of less spinal stress. You can sub the SLDL in for this, but I prefer less aggravation in my back. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, pull back up and repeat the movement a number of times. Focus here is on getting the movement right, rather than speed.
4. Lateral Slides
This exercise is a nice compliment to the last 3 leg exercises. Standing in an athletic position (legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and a small bend in the knees, with your toes pointed forward), you are going to lower one knee forward while the other leg remains straight. Try to keep yourself balanced, and not fall forward (primarily caused by leaning too much with your back) and you should feel a stretch on the inside of your leg and down the hamstring. Hold this for 1-2 seconds and transfer to the other side as smoothly as possible. Repeat this a few times, and widen your stance if needed.
5. Push Up
Push up, what? Isn’t this an actual exercise and not a stretch? Well yes, it is. But the push up can also be a great exercise to do to help stimulate your upper body. No need to do any weird variations, like diamond, Spiderman, or the like. If you find doing regular push ups difficult, do them from your knees, half push ups. The main focus here is to get the blood flowing in chest, upper back and arms.
I personally always found this exercise good for my back, and it really gets it ready for gym work. Hypers (or hyperextensions) can be performed by lying down, with your stomach on the floor and with your arms stretched in front of you. The next step is to try pull up your legs and upper body off the floor, while your lower back and abdomen remain on the ground. This should make you feel a stretch down your back. Don’t over-do it though, as long as you feel a stretch you can go down and restart, it doesn’t need to be very painful of very high off the ground.
Below is a summary of the exercises discussed and a suggestion of how many repetitions to perform when doing each exercise.
|Walking Lunges||10 (5 each leg)|
|Lateral Slides||10 (5 each leg)|
Take Home Message
The main focus of your warm up should be to get rid of any rigid muscles and joints, and to elevate the heartrate to ease it into the exercise period. Along with stretching, there are many different other methods like resistance band exercises, and plyometrics for more quick bursts of exertion. Warming up doesn’t have to be boring, standing around, and stretching single muscles at a time, it can be fun and more dynamic if you choose it to be. So experiment with ideas and see what fits your needs and stretches those annoying stiff muscles.
This will not only help your lifting potential, but also, and perhaps more importantly, reduce your chances of injury.