Exercise Specific Warm-up

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Tip Tuesday: Exercise Specific Warm-up

by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT
If you are working out, you should be doing some type of warm-up prior to beginning. Most people tend to do generic movements to warm up whether that's walking, rowing, stretching, foam rolling, or any number of basic things to elevate the core temperature and get yourself ready to workout. This is great and more than most people do before they workout. The question here is should you be doing more? The reason being is that you should be incorporating an activity specific warm-up.
An activity specific warm-up is when you do warm-up movements specific to what you will be doing in your activity or exercises you will be performing. Although you might feel warm after jogging a half-mile, you might not be warming up in the places. Unless your activity is just running, you need to make sure you're warming up the parts of your body you intend to workout. Let’s say you're planning on lifting weights with the primary focus being chest and back; by going for a half-mile jog for example, you would elevate your body temperature and may have loosened up some muscles but you did nothing to prepare your chest or back muscles fore the work that's about to ensue. You should be doing light-weight or body-weight exercises to get your chest and back muscles ready for the stimulus that they are about to receive. For example, some light rows, push ups, chest negatives, scapular retractions, or band pull-aparts to activate your chest and back muscles. The same applies for all sports. It is a MUST to prepare the movements you'l be doing in a game before trying to do them at game speed. The reason that this is different form your general warm-up is that you are warming up the muscles and movement patterns that you are actually going to be using, rather than just “warming up” your body.
Once you know exactly what you are going to be doing, then you can properly prepare yourself. If you are doing barbell squats as part of your workout, you should be warming up with body-weight squats and maybe event some empty barbell squats to help prepare your hips, glutes, core and every muscle involved with squats. Now talking sports, take basketball for example. If you are warming up for a basketball game, your warm-up should include shooting, dribbling, passing drills, preparing for jumps, running/sprinting, and agility drills to prepare for the constant change of direction. If you just jog a half-mile you are nowhere near prepared to compete in a basketball game.
Why is an exercise specific warm up so important and why are you ill-prepared if you do not do a specific warm-up? By not properly warming up the specific muscle groups, you are more susceptible to injury. Additionally, if your muscles are not properly prepared for the stimulus they are about to take on, they cannot be expected to perform at their best. You are likely not going to get a new personal best on your back squat if you haven’t done any sort of squatting to warm-up. However, when you do incorporate exercise specific warm up movements, then the muscles you are going to be using can contract at a greater intensity and you can verify that that your movement pattern and technique is on point.

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