Every day, I see someone walk into the gym, head straight for the squat rack or to bench press or hit the dumbbell rack, load up the weight, and start pushing and pulling as hard as they can. Yes, many times this is an innocent mistake made by a young person who hasn’t experienced any injuries yet. But sooner or later, if you don’t warm up and prepare your body for movement, you WILL get hurt, unfortunately.
When coaching young athletes, I often explain it like this: Imagine your muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments are like rubber bands. You put that rubber band in the freezer for 24 hours, or you leave it out in the sunshine to sit in the heat for 24 hours. Then, suddenly you pick it up and violently stretch it apart. What will happen?
Snap! Our fibers and tissues are not much different after 24 hours (or more) of sedentary lifestyle in between workouts. As we age — and we are all aging — our bodies need more care. Taking the time to “warm up” your machine before exercise is absolutely a smart investment. The good news- it doesn’t take long! Even five minutes can do wonders for preparing yourself physically and mentally, which adds up to a more efficient workout!
So, what should we do before a workout? Well, at a MINIMUM, we should do something to elevate our heart rate a bit and move the big muscle systems. That means the least we should do would be fast walking on a treadmill/track, five minutes on an elliptical, or some light rowing. Even better would be to systematically move your body in all the ways that you are about to ask it to move at higher speeds or under load/with resistance.
Think about the main “movers” of your body. Starting with upper body muscle groups, you can group them into five main muscle systems: chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps. Add in core/trunk/pillar as its own system if you want. Lower-body groups include the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. So if you really want to “activate” all of those muscles before you start to tax them intensely, then you should develop a routine that moves all of those muscles in ways that prepare them for what’s coming.
This sounds complicated, right? Well, I’m no genius, so if I can do it, you can too. I started a warm-up and movement preparation routine about 15 years ago, and I have done it every day since. It didn’t take long to memorize it, and now I don’t even have to think about what’s next, my body just transitions right into the next movement in the series. I find it’s great for me mentally as well: We all walk into the gym (or wherever you train) with a lot on our minds, and an effective warmup is like flipping a switch that gets our mindset focused on improving ourselves.
I recorded my warmup routine and labeled each movement in the series. You can watch it, copy it, share it, make up your own — but this gives you a good template of how to prepare your body and mind, how to set yourself up for a fantastic workout, and most importantly — how to stay injury-free so you can come back the next day!
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40 Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications.