There’s a debate in the fitness world over the importance of warming up prior to exercise.
Some experts believe it’s important and necessary to make sure your workout is as healthy and efficient as it can be. Others believe it’s not such a high priority.
But there are some key points that most will agree — at least to an extent — are very important.
Three local experts in the field gave their take on the warmup:
• Chris Dellasega, owner and performance director of the Athletic Strength Institute, 720 E. Ninth St., Unit 3
• Elisa Brooks, personal trainer at Body Boutique, 2300 Yale Road
• Trent Herda, a Docking Faculty Scholar and associate professor of health, sport and exercise science at Kansas University.
1. Hold off on stretching.
One of the key points these experts agreed about is stretching: It’s better to stretch after the body of your workout.
There are two main types of stretching, Brooks explained: static stretching, which is stretching a muscle and holding it, and dynamic stretching, which is stretching the muscles in constant motion. That’s what she prefers for her clients during the warmup because it starts to warm the muscles and prepare the joints for the workout ahead, she said.
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“When I work with clients we do a dynamic stretching warmup, then we do the body of the workout, and at the end we do some static stretching to release tension, to elongate the muscle again, and to kind of just let the body exhale, so to speak,” she said. “You feel good; you feel relaxed when you walk out the door.”
Dellasega said the pre-workout emphasis on static stretching was the “old school of thought.”
“Static stretching before exercise was kind of the norm, but as time has gone on we start to learn more about exercise physiology, how the body responds to exercise and that sort of thing, that conventional wisdom has kind of gone out the window,” Dellasega said.
Herda said he would caution against doing a lot of stretching prior to exercise. As an example, he said he wouldn’t want a 100-meter sprinter to stretch their calves or hamstrings for any duration prior to their start time because it will increase their sprint time and slow them down.
Rather, he said, he would think of stretching as a component of physical fitness to improve range of motion.
“In my mind, stretching shouldn’t really be performed before exercise — it should be an exercise,” Herda said.
2. Specific warmups will help better prepare muscles for weightlifting.
Dellasega and Herda both cited squats as an example of an exercise that could benefit more from some specific warmup activity.
“It makes sense to prepare the muscles to execute that movement in a way that’s gonna be in line with the actual workout itself, so performing lighter loads, more repetitions … better prepares the muscles for the workout itself,” Dellasega said.
Herda said he would recommend simply performing the motions using just your bodyweight prior to picking up the bar.
3. The older you get, the more the warmup matters.
“The warmup is kind of one of those things where it’s almost the older you get, the more you appreciate it, especially if you’ve been in the habit of exercising for quite a while,” Dellasega said.
Herda said not all older people are less flexible, but it is common to lose flexibility with age.
“I think probably the older you are, you may want to put a little bit more focus on the warmup as a means to get your joints ready for the range of motion that is going to be used,” Herda said.
Older exercisers also might want to put more emphasis on bodyweight squats before picking up the bar, he said.
4. The extent of the warmup changes with exercise intensity.
“The primary importance of the warmup, physiologically, is when you’re about ready to do something that’s very high-intensity,” Herda said.
Dellasega puts more emphasis on warmups for all exercise than Herda does, but he concurred.
“If it’s really, really, really demanding on the body, the warmup needs to be considerably longer than if it is a workout that’s gonna not be as demanding on the body,” Dellasega said. “... It really just comes down to the activity and the intensity level of that activity.”
So, what would Herda recommend before an exercise session such as a Zumba class?
“Honestly, probably, just jog a little bit; do some low-intensity jumping, some arm swings,” Herda said. “Then I think you’re more than good, and I don’t think you have to do that more than a couple of minutes.”
Brooks said she generally does the same dynamic warmup for each of her classes. It involves some dynamic stretching, some jogging from one side of the room to the other with variations — a “buttkick” jog and a high-knee jog, for example — but if she’s about to start a higher-intensity workout, she might also include some traveling squat jumps and walking lunges with rotation.
“We want to try to hit all planes of motion so that they get some twisting, they get some front-and-back movement, some side-to-side movement, so that their body is prepared to move in all directions,” she said.
She said this routine also helps with preparing psychologically.
“Mentally, you’re engaging, you’re thinking about your muscles, you’re thinking about your body, how you want to move, how it needs to move, and so that translates into being prepared to work hard in your workout,” she said.