The warmup topic has always been a bit of a tennis match. Constant debate about the big one? A small one? Stretching? No stretching? Stand on your head? Turn around 3x and spit? Well, everyone has their preference and their routine. But what is the purpose of a warmup? If you answer that, then you can find what works for you.
A warmup is exactly what it sounds like. Let’s not complicate things. Seriously….it’s a pretty friggin simple concept. You’re warming up your body, literally. Imagine cold baking dough. Or anything frozen vs thawed. The warmer something is, the more pliable it is. You need blood flow and oxygen to fuel your body’s movements. The more intense the movements, the more demand needed.
I want you to imagine how your body feels after sitting in a car for 4 hours. Or even just in the morning after a night’s sleep. Do you want to hop out and start running or jumping? Think of a baseball pitcher or a sprinter. Do they pitch 100% right away? Or run as fast as they can as soon as they lace up? Resounding “no’s.”
You should take your body through similar motions that you plan to use, beginning with light and easy motions progressing to higher intensity ones. You’re progressively ramping up your intensity to allow for an adaptation in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue. Think about kneading pizza dough. It happens over time. If you stretch it too soon or too aggressively it will tear or crack. See? Didn’t think I’d be able to weave in a pizza reference into warmups, did you?
It’s really that simple. Devote enough time to take your entire body through progressive variations of each move you will have to replicate during your desired activity. And do it long enough so that you break a sweat, which means your increasing core temperature and breathing hard enough to get more oxygen.
My preference? A dynamic warmup that incorporates everything from skipping to lunging, arm swings, trunk rotations, side shuffling, and jumping. My soccer players go through 15-20 minutes of strict dynamic warmups before they even touch a ball.
Other people like to incorporate foam rolling to loosen up. That’s a great idea! I usually educate people on the true benefits of foam rolling which is to get your nervous system to calm down in that area. It’s a great analgesic effect. But no more than 30-60 seconds per area is needed or even beneficial.
Similarly, “The Stick” is a handy portable tool that is similar to a foam roller, but smaller and you use your hands to work it.
For my runners, after a gradual dynamic warmup, you can build the rest of your warmup into your run as long as you’re not doing anything crazy like hills, sprints, jumping, etc. The faster the demands of your body, the more stout your warmup should be. Faster paces require faster foot turnover, more force, and more range of motion. So you better practice moving your feet faster, your joints farther, and your oxygen delivery up!
Seriously folks, let’s not overthink the warmup thing. It’s important, but it can be individualized, and unique. Just make sure you understand what your demands are going to be, and start small but build up. As long as you’ve got sweat and practiced what you’re going to do, that’s a great start!