Friday, November 1, 2019

The Importance of a Proper Warm-up - By Jim Duggan

"A pitcher warms up before he pitches a ballgame, I gotta warm up before I play the piano." - Ed Norton to Ralph Kramden.

The above quote is from The Honeymooners episode titled "The $99,000 Answer." And while it might seem odd to mention The Honeymooners on a website devoted to Strength Training, Ed Norton hit the nail on the head when he mentioned warming up. The importance of a proper warm-up cannot be overstated. This is true for all athletes, including - and especially- strength athletes. Whether you are just starting out in the world of strength training, or you are an experienced lifter, a thorough warm-up is essential if you plan on lifting heavy weights. In fact, the stronger you become, the more important it is to do a proper warm-up.

There are many reasons to warm-up before a workout, but the most important one is to prevent injuries. If a muscle isn't warmed up adequately, then there is a greater chance of sustaining a tear or a "pull." This is particularly true if you are attempting maximal or near-maximal poundages. Nobody playing with a full deck wants to sustain an injury, and pulled/torn muscles are frustrating, as well as painful. Nothing can derail your training worse than an injury. Strained muscles can set you back a week or more. Tendon and ligament injuries, on the other hand, can be very serious because their recovery times are usually much longer.

It is important to remember to warm-up on each exercise that you're doing. Begin each exercise in your workout by warming up for that particular movement. In other words, if your workout calls for you to do Squats and Bench Presses on the same day, then you should do a separate warm-up for each movement.

Every lifter should determine just what constitutes an adequate warm-up. This is something that you can learn from experience. I remember reading about some of the Soviet Weightlifting champions from the 1970s. They would begin each exercise by lifting an empty bar. I have always tried to use a similar approach in my own training. Regardless of what exercises I'm doing, I always begin with an empty bar to get the blood flowing, so to speak. By warming up, you actually are increasing blood flow to the muscles. Increased blood flow means more oxygen to the muscles. The trick is that you want the muscles to become warm, and not fatigued. You want to get your body ready for the heavier sets that will follow.

Naturally, as you get older, you may need to make allowances and give yourself extra time to properly warm up. You can't get away with doing things that you may have done when you were younger. At some point, youthful mistakes will catch up with all of us, unless we learn to train smarter as we get older. An example of an extra warm-up would be riding a stationary bicycle for five or ten minutes as a way of increasing your body temperature before you begin your warm-up sets.

Once you're properly warmed up, and have commenced your workout, you want to stay warm. This is usually not a problem during the Summer months. And if you train in a commercial gym, the temperature is usually set at a comfortable level. Even during the Winter, most commercial gyms are set at a comfortable temperature, so staying warm is usually not a problem. What if you train at home? A "cellar dweller," or "garage gorilla" may find it challenging to keep warm when the temperatures take a plunge. If you train in an unheated garage, then a proper warm-up is even more important. Obviously, a portable heater will make it easier to keep your body temperature elevated for the duration of your training session. I remember when i was fifteen years old, and had just started lifting weights. My training area was an unheated porch in the back of my parents' house. Naturally, when the temperatures plummeted, it was freezing in that porch. We had an old wood burning stove in that porch, but we were never allowed to use it ( my Dad, being a Fireman, was VERY cautious about that sort of thing.) Despite wearing layers of sweatshirts, it was hard to keep warm. But I never missed a workout, and I think it was that determination that caused my Dad to relent and allow me to light up the stove whenever I lifted weights. Problem solved! When I joined Bruno's Health Club at the age of nineteen, I thought the problem of keeping warm during the Winter was over. Boy, was I mistaken! Since Larry's heat rarely worked, his gym was almost as cold as my parents' porch ( except that there was no wood-burning stove to provide relief.)

A very important thing to remember when it comes to staying warm, is to avoid resting too much and cooling off. Don't take too long between sets. We've all seen people at the gym who seem to take forever between each set. But if you allow yourself to cool off, then you are defeating the purpose of warming up in the first place. If you are doing multiple sets of low reps ( heavy weights), then you should rest only as long as it takes to recover from your last set. You don't want to take time out for anything that might interrupt your workout for more than a few minutes. In today's climate, that means no phone calls, selfies, texting, or other distractions. Do yourself a favor and leave the phone in your locker, if you train in a commercial gym. Leave the constant texting to the pumpers and toners. They're in the gym for the wrong reason anyway, so let them waste their time. But don't waste yours!

The whole idea behind warming up is that you want to prepare your body and mind for lifting heavy weights. Don't underestimate the importance of getting your mind ready for the task at hand. A thorough warm-up will prepare you physically, as well as mentally. Your body will be prepared to lift progressively heavier weights. Your muscles will be able to function at a high level. Your blood circulation will be improved, providing more oxygen to your muscles. This will allow you to train hard, heavy, and injury-free.
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