4 sleeps until Christmas!! When I was little my mom always used to count down the number of sleeps until Santa came and I would get so excited. Christmas Eve technically didn’t count as a sleep because I was awake and ready to open presents by 3am Christmas morning, but to a child on Christmas morning a little sleep deprivation ain’t no thang. The older I get, however, the less-manageable nights with less than 5 hours of sleep get. I decided to pull an “I don’t need sleep” night between Monday and Tuesday in an effort to get as much Christmas preparation done as possible. Everything was fine and dandy until about 7pm Tuesday night. By the time my shift at work ended at 11:30 I was ready to curl up and sleep in one of the linen closets at the hotel.
Thankfully I managed to get pretty much everything else finished last night, which gives me more time to write, workout, and enjoy the holidays over the next couple of days! I somehow still managed to fit my workouts in during this past busy week but they were much more rushed than usual. This was the final week of the 8-week program I was doing and I was determined to get it finished! Not a set was skipped nor rep rushed, however I did skimp out on my warm-ups and cool-downs.
Which totally did not go unnoticed.
I kind of skipped the cool-down part and went straight from balls-to-the-walls crazy to stretching the muscles I’d worked for no more than 30 seconds each, which left me feeling like I was going to throw up for a good hour after my workouts. Doing a quick jog with a few arm circles and leg swings prior to my workouts made the first 15-or so minutes feel like absolute hell.
Smarten the fuck up Ariana.
I always preach about how important a proper warm-up and cool-down is to prevent injury, but I know for a lot of people, myself included, we tend to get into the “injury-shimjury” mindset. “I’m indestructible. I’m not one of those mortals that actually needs to PREPARE for exercise. I am always prepared for exercise!” Um. No. We’re not.
Aside from actually raising the temperature of your body, something that is totally necessary when you’re working out at 5am during winter, a proper warm-up does a lot to prepare us for the tasks at hand. I see people day after day doing a quick 5 minute walk on the treadmill (no incline of course, this is just a warm-up!) before heading over to the mat area and doing the same static stretches: a quad stretch, a hamstring stretch, maybe a couple of side bends. And then off they go to the bench press and proceed to stack on the plates.
I often have to remind myself that peoples’ mistakes in the gym are usually due to a lack of knowledge as opposed to stupidity. But to be totally honest I’m a lot more forgiving of the people who appear to be relatively new to the world of fitness than I am to those macho-dudes who wear cut-off shirts with less material than my bras and push obviously more weight than they can safely handle. If you think you’re strong enough to bench press over 200lb you better know how to warm yourself up properly.
Okay, ranting aside here, when we go back to my previous example of a treadmill walk and a few stationary stretches, does that REALLY prepare your body for exercise? Not really. A walk on the treadmill followed by some lower body stretches when I plan on pounding my upper body with shoulder presses and seated rows seems a little counter-productive, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to not only warm-up our entire body, but ensure the muscles and joints we plan on hammering are all nice and mobile? If you guessed yes, you’re correct!
My warm-up usually begins with my walk to the gym, which is 15 minutes. This raises my heart rate, which in turn delivers oxygen, which our bodies need for exercise (in most cases), more quickly throughout my body. This increased energy production creates heat as a by-product which is where the actual “warming” of the “warm-up” comes from. We want our muscles to be warm before we stretch them or place a load on them to reduce our risk of injury. Injury means no workout so warm them muscles! On days where I don’t walk to the gym because I’m working out at home (or, ahem, take Car2Go to avoid the rain…) I’ll do a 7 minute power-walk on the treadmill at a 3 or 4 incline.
The next part of the warm-up is specific to the type of workout I’ll be doing. If I’m doing an upper body workout I like to spend a bit of time on the rowing machine, usually until I reach 500m. I want to really focus on protracting and retracting my scapulae (aka shoulder blades) and feeling the gentle pull on my lats. Rowing is also great to prepare for lower body workouts, as your hips go through flexion and extension, and if you’ve ever rowed you’ll know you feel it in the muscles of the leg as well! Dynamic stretches follow the aerobic warm-up, regardless of whether I’m working my upper body, lower body, or even going for a run. While a static stretch is one position held for a certain length of time, dynamic stretches often move a joint through their full or close-to-full range of motion; think big arm circles, fire hydrants, and controlled spinal rotations. These moves prepare our bodies for physical activity much more than holding a stretch for 30 seconds in my opinion.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of static stretching before a workout, and many have found that it can actually decrease the quality of a workout. It is suggested that static stretching relaxes our muscles, reducing their efficiency and power output. When we are training for general fitness this may not be the biggest issue, however ensuring the muscles and joints we are planning on working are performing at their peak level will benefit everybody, regardless of what level they’re training at.
A proper warm-up prepares us for exercise in a few other ways as well. Ever tried to start running out of nowhere, like if you’re chasing a bus, and you feel totally gassed after only a few seconds? When you were walking to the bus stop your heart was only pumping out enough oxygen to meet the demands that walking placed. Then all of a sudden you started running, which requires substantially more oxygen, and your heart wasn’t able to keep up right away. Now if you had gradually increased the pace, from a regular walk, to a power walk, to a jog, to a full-on run, your heart would have had the chance to gradually increase the amount of oxygen it produced to meet your body’s needs. In short, a proper warm-up will make the first portion of your workout feel a lot less shitty. This gradual increase in intensity is especially important for those who have heart problems or issues with blood pressure.
We can also expect our nerve pathways to be primed, making communication between the grey matter and the muscles more efficient; an increase in the production of joint fluid that helps so absorb impact (which is given the fun name “synovial fluid); and improved co-ordination and reaction time. Warming up just puts you IN THE FUCKIN’ ZONE, MAN! It lets your body know you’re about to put it through some shit so it better get ready. Take this time to prepare yourself mentally as well. Whether your goal is to run 5km without stopping, hit that new squat PR, or even just finish the workout without giving up, use your warm-up time to produce a strong mental image of your goal and keep your eye on the prize during the entire workout. You may not be an athlete getting ready for your next big event, but it’s time to put that imagination to work and pretend that for the next hour or so you’re getting ready for the moment of a lifetime.
How do you normally prepare for a workout? Do you prepare at all?