The Perfect Warm-up

by Neil Anderson

At conferences, many exercise experts can found arguing about what the perfect warm-up for a workout would consist of. Most go to great lengths to argue the functionality of this movement, or that. Often, the warm-up for a workout is complex and deeply rooted in science, tradition and lore.

We don't care about any of that.

The warm-up, while steeped in historical convention, is questionable in terms of function and/or efficiency.

Most believe warming up will magically help them to prevent injuries. Most of these same people believe a proper warm up helps them achieve higher levels of fitness.

But we have questions about these assertions.

First question is: 

How is then that folks who are warmed up still become injured? 

Indeed scientific studies on the subject show that incidence of injury is NO less prevalent among the well warmed-up participant. Neither are the injuries they experience (if they do) less severe. Some studies show warming up INCREASES injury to a small degree.

Curious.

Of course WE have observed folks who were well warmed up suffer injuries. Small and large. We have also seen folks who weren't warmed up at all suffer NO injuries after gargantuan physical efforts. 

Weird.

Another question we have is:

Why would we evolve to need a warm-up

For those of us who believe in God: Why would He have designed us to need a warm-up? Wouldn't a warm-up be entirely impractical in an emergency situation? Wouldn't God know this? I mean, is it reasonable to think that the edge in an emergency situation (earthquake, predation, etc.), would go to the properly warmed-up? That the only people who should expect to survive uninjured would be those of us walking around in a perpetual state of warmed-up? So what, office workers should be running 1/2 speed wind sprints and doing situps and stretches every couple of minutes perpetually - just in case REALLY bad stuff goes down and we need to GTFO? 

Don't mean to sound sacrilegious, but "needing a warm-up" seems like a design flaw.

Wouldn't you think an all knowing/loving God would favor a design that could quickly (almost immediately) increase HR & BP while triggering improved brain, nervous system and muscular function through chemical means?

Not comfortable with the God speak? Let me ask it this way: Wouldn't you think that evolution would favor the survival of those who could quickly (almost immediately) increase HR & BP while triggering improved brain, nervous system and muscular function through chemical means?

Wait it (He) did, didn't it?

I mean, we have those functions built in already. If I were attacked by an axe wielding murderer while sitting here typing this, I am certain my body would instantaneously snap to vigorous activity with a most decidedly violent and substantial physical retort. 

Fight or flight, anyone?

Or do you think our bodies react differently to physical situations contingent upon the size of the axe? If you do, you should know, science disagrees. It is well documented that those who are about to participate in physical exercise experience the same physiologic changes as those who are attacked by axe wielding maniacs.

Another question we have:

If warming up is so very important - which one should we do?

You'd think that if warming-up were proven to help in any specific way, exercise scientists would all agree upon THE proper warm-up to complete for improved health and injury prevention.

The thing is, every scientific study I've read on the subject has vastly different views on what a warm-up should look like. Many are contradictory. Some even indicate that warming-up as the scientist before said to do - is inefficient, even DANGEROUS.  

Of course, this is how it should be. After all, your warm-up would be specific to the activity you are about to participate in. It wouldn't make any sense for a sprinter to warm-up by throwing pitches, right?

Despite our questions on the feasibility of the warm up, we still like the idea of it. Well, we like a minimalist's idea of it. We believe that slowly ramping up to speed prior to, or during a workout will likely yield positive workout results.

However, the elaborate warm-ups of other methodologies make entirely NO sense to us.

Is a 20 minute warm up, really a warm-up? Sounds like a workout to us. I mean, if it walks like a duck ...

Our minimalist answer to the warm-up question is:

Simply ramp up to speed by performing several lighter sets/rounds/reps of whatever activity you have ahead of you for the day.

You may do this prior to, or during your workout. For example, if you have moderately heavy sets of biceps curls on the DW you'd be well-served by doing a few sets of the same number of reps suggested at a much lighter weight. You might also try pulling off a few lighter sets DURING the workout while you are coming up to full speed. If you are worried about losing those reps and NOT receiving the entire benefit of the workout, simply ADD back the full speed/weight reps you missed while warming-up. Pretty simple stuff.  

There may very well be some physiologic benefits to warming-up. No, we don't think these benefits are dramatic for purposes of GPP, nor do we believe that warming-up entirely prevents injury. If nothing else, warming-up may only serve to help you become focused on the task at hand. Focusing on becoming healthier, in most cases, is no small feat. It is not something to be trivialized. Therefore we do it, or at least, our minimalist version of it.