Most exercisers are willing to put in the time warming up before hard core exercise. Whether or not that warm up is the most effective is a mystery. A good, quality warm up can help you avoid injury, gets blood and oxygen to your muscles, and mentally prepares you for the work ahead. It can also help you squat lower, push harder, and lift more weight if you do it well.
1. Foam Roll
That 3 foot roll that gym-goers lay on could be your ticket to more effective workouts. Roll out your muscles first thing to stretch muscles and relieve knots or muscle soreness. Sit on the floor with your hands behind you, and the roller under your calves. Cross your ankles and lift off your backside using your hands to support you. Roll back and forth, pausing over any areas that are especially sore. You’ll feel minor pain, as though you were getting a massage. Switch calves, then move up your leg to your thigh. Roll front and back, then your glutes, lower back upper back.
After foam rolling, your muscles are primed for stretching to help you avoid injury during your workout. Gentle, slow stretches are best to steer clear of over stretching. Sit on a mat and stretch your legs out in front of you. Keep your back straight as you stretch over your legs, slowly pointing and flexing feet. Continue stretching different parts of your legs, twist to stretch your back, and stretch arms across your body to release the tension in your shoulders and back.
3. Blood-Pumping Cardio
Now is the time to do a scaled down version of your day’s exercise, or light cardio that gets your blood pumping and primes your heart to take on the major work ahead. Maintain this slower pace for 5-10 minutes. You should begin to feel your heart work harder; your breathing will become heavier and you may even start to sweat. This is the portion of your warm up that you definitely can’t miss — no matter how crunched for time you are!
4. Mimic Moves
Even if you spend 20 minutes or so doing your daily cardio after your cardio warm up, prep your muscles for weights before lifting. Do bodyweight or light weight exercises that mimic the work that you’ll be doing for your actual workout. Body weight squats or lunges will get muscles and joints ready to push heavier weight during your heavy sets. Press really light dumbells or just the unweighted bar to mimic the chest press that you’ll do for your workout. This is also a chance to check your form and adjust your body before lifting lots of weight.
Complete your workout and be sure to cool down with some more slow cardio and additional gentle stretches. This process does the same thing in reverse as your warm up, slowly cooling muscles (including your heart!) and mentally ending the workout. The stretching process helps lengthen and break down muscle fibers, so they can rebuild and become stronger and leaner.