How to warm up correctly, Part 1

If you’re a weight trainer and are still using the old-school, 1970s-type warm-up – meaning starting with ten or more reps of a light weight and pyramiding up – this will help you to do things in a better way.

Warming up is very important, especially for the older crowd. But endless sets of light weights, while effective for getting the joints and muscles “warm”, also are a prime suspect when it comes to tendon pain. Almost any kind of tendon pain can be classified as a repetitive stress injury, so excessive numbers of reps during a warm-up aren’t really recommended – even if they’re done with light weights.

Below I’m going to give you a better way to warm up. Not only will this save you time and energy, but it will be just as effective (if not more so) as a traditional warm-up. As an added benefit, it will cut down drastically on the wear-and-tear that you’re imposing on your connective tissues before you even get to your real workout.

Here are the steps, in order:

1. Foam rolling

There are two types of people in the world: those who have tried foam rolling and love it, and those who haven’t tried it at all.

Now, by “tried” I mean that this person has incorporated foam rolling into his or her routine for at least two weeks. In other words, it’s been given a fair shot. I know lots of people who tried foam rolling once or twice and gave up because, well, it hurts the first few times. A lot.

But people who have gritted their teeth and stayed with it for a couple of weeks suddenly realize that they’re starting to move and feel better. (This is especially true for older folks.) Their range of motion increases, their joints don’t have as much pain…and then often the pain goes away completely. Bad movement patterns start to improve, and their bodies go back to moving in ways that they did ten or even twenty years earlier. The list goes on.

Foam rolling, either using one of those blue cylinders that most gyms provide nowadays or else just by putting a tennis ball under a pressure point, is nothing short of miraculous when done right. There are lots of free videos out now showing how to foam roll, so I won’t go into a long explanation about how to do it here. But I’ll give you some tips on how to get the most out of it.

* The point that hurts the most is the one you want to spend the most time on.
* If you’re really tight and simply can’t take the pain the first few sessions, don’t put all of your bodyweight on that particular pressure point. Use your arms and legs to take some of the weight off (so that the pain is merely agonizing, not unbearable).
* Expect consistent but gradual improvement.
* Make a commitment to foam roll a minimum of three times a week for at least a month.

I encourage you to spend “enough” time on foam rolling, especially when you’re first starting out. Depending on how stiff your body is to begin with, it can take up to half an hour to adequately address all the areas that need help. So take your time. The long-term benefits are definitely worth it.

2. Joint rotations

Probably the best book I’ve ever read on flexibility is Tomas Kurz’ Stretching Scientifically. Not only can Kurz do Van Damme splits with just his ankles supported, he can do them with a woman sitting on each thigh – and he has taught dozens of other people to do them as well. If you’re interested in increasing your flexibility, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

As the title suggests, his main focus is on developing stretching, but Kurz also includes a section on warming up before a workout. One of the key components is joint rotations.

The way to do this is simply to take the various joints in your body and rotate them about ten times in one direction and then another ten in the other. The idea is to start at the extremities and move toward the core. So with the legs you start from the toes and move to the ankles, then the knees, then the hips and finally the waist/lower back. With the upper body you start with the fingers and move “inward” to the wrists, elbows, shoulders and neck before ending up at the waist again.

You can do more than one joint at the same time if you like. I usually begin this part of the warm-up by rotating both wrists and one ankle simultaneously, then rotating the wrists in the other direction while doing the other ankle.

Joint rotations for the entire body shouldn’t take more than about five minutes total.

Stay tuned for How To Warm Up Correctly – Part Two.