Maximizing Your Warm-Up

By Darian Silk

Why just doing some cardio doesn’t cut it.

It’s now pretty much universally accepted that warming up is an important part of every exercise session. Some of the benefits of warming up include an increase in strength, blood flow, and your body’s ability to extract oxygen from the blood. It also lowers physical resistance to movement and improves physical and psychological readiness for exercise. But how you should warm-up to maximize all of these benefits is not always clear.

The old approach to warming-up was to do some simple aerobic exercise for 5-10minutes.  You would exercise just long enough and hard enough to feel like you had started sweating – literally until you began to “warm-up”.  For an activity like running or cycling you would run or cycle slowly, steadily building intensity over time. This is what is now known as a “general warm-up” and is not a bad way to start. However, it is a limited approach and only accomplishes some of what a warm-up can do, so don’t stop there.

Next, add a second layer to your warm-up, called the “specific component”. This part of the warm-up should prepare you for the workout in a more targeted way. Are you going to be working at higher intensities? If so, then your warm-up should include some short bursts of exposure to those higher intensities. Are you using specific skills, like low- or high-cadence cycling or quick accelerations on the track? Then your warm-up should include elements of that as well. Maybe you’re swimming and want to work on technique. This is the right place to include some drills. Are you going to do some hill runs that will demand more muscular strength? Incorporate some lunges or squats to stimulate your muscles more fully and appropriately.

What about if you’re just going for a steady run?  Seems like you can skip the specific component, right? Not so fast.  Another good use of the specific warm-up is to address any deficiencies that you may have or to do movements that will help you become more efficient. Perhaps you have problems with your IT band when you run because you aren’t using your glutes enough.  Include some movements that will stimulate the glutes in your specific warm-up. Maybe you rest too much of your weight on your handle-bars when riding out of the saddle. Practice riding with little to no weight on your hands during the warm-up. Drawing your conscious attention to these elements, as well as explicitly training these movement patterns at the beginning of your session will help you incorporate them more fully into the rest of the workout.

Don’t stick with the old ways; go beyond the general warm-up and include some elements that are specific to your workout. This will help you get more out of your training time, in the short and long term.

*This article first appeared in the March 2021 Team Atomica Newsletter.*