If you are an athlete, chances are you have sustained an injury that you weren’t thrilled about. And even though the vast majority of fitness professionals agree that warming up is important for injury prevention, we often skip this part of our exercise. In Pilates, warm ups are practically built into the class, it can be difficult to remember to warm up before other exercise such as running, swimming, biking, playing soccer, dance, or martial arts. Often, we have allotted x amount of time for our favorite exercise activity and we skip the warm up in an effort to “get the most out of it.” Unfortunately, this pattern sets us back in the long run. A body not properly primed for movement struggles with athletic challenges, and ultimately has us rely on compensation patterns that are not healthy and may cause injuries.
So how should we warm up?
1) Know your body. There isn’t a “one size fits all” recipe for warming up. If you make a regular habit of tuning in, you will feel it when your body is straining, versus when it is moving with ease.
2) Drink water. Proper hydration will keep your connective tissue lubricated and able to make adjustments as you move.
3) Cardio is crucial. Get the heart rate up with some safe and easy range of motion activities, like walking with high knees, or gently skipping or jogging. Jumping jacks are OK if they feel OK for you – but avoid them if they strain your shoulders or knees. Here’s the bottom line – our connective tissue has to be warm before it can move safely. Cold connective tissue rips, warm connective tissue glides.
4) Focus on your breath. You can start with belly breathes, but as you perform more strenuous motions, make sure you are breathing laterally. This means that your ribcage expands on the inhale and softens on the exhales. Let your head, neck, and shoulders be easy and soft while you warm up.
5) Add some stability exercises. Any movement where you have to keep your balance, return to center, and activate your core cylinder is AWESOME.
6) Change levels. Any movement where you go from touching the ground the standing is bound to get your heart rate up. Only do what’s appropriate for your joints and personal activity level – but a level change done with clean mechanics is a great, time effective warm up. I included a video below in case this is new for you!
7) If you feel tight, hit the tennis ball or the foam roller. Many of us think of this as a post workout activity (great!), but let’s be clear on the benefits of doing this BEFORE you work out. If we exercise with tension keeping us hostage in poor posture, then our workout will be less efficient and less safe. If we take 5-10 minutes to address our worst tension spots, then we will not only exercise in a way that feels better, but we can actually retrain our nervous system to move with less tension.
Special note: For folks with hypermobility, please consult your most trusted PT or doctor about your warm up routine. What’s safe for others may be dangerous for you. But in general, simply stretching won’t cut it.