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Demystifying the Warm-up: Billy Polson's Tips For Getting Loose

By Billy Polson

Do you warm-up? A lot of guys skip warm-ups, thinking they can just jump into their workouts—or, even knowing they should warm-up, they just don't know what to do, or for how long. In fact, warm-ups are a seriously important part of a workout. Today I'm going to tell you a little bit about why and how to warm up.

Warm-ups are a great time for people to do the following things before they begin their workout:

  1. Lining it up: Most importantly, warm-ups are necessary for getting joints in the correct alignment, and for restoring the body's correct length-tension relationships. You should use your warm-up to find out where you are tight, and using stretches and basic resistance work to address those imbalances (more on this below!). With a proper warm-up, your workout will hit muscles properly without causing further imbalances or improper wear to the joints.
  2. Getting it flowing: Warm-ups also help to get some blood in your muscles and wake them up before starting heavier or more complex movements. Warm-ups are especially useful before doing power movements or speed work.
That said, recommended warm-ups are completely variable based on each body's issues. How can you tell what needs particular attention on your body? Start with some diagnostics— I recommend using my stretch check article to check your body for tight areas. Based on this info, I would recommend on stretching all areas that are tight before you head into doing a workout. It's really worth doing this, since failing to warm-up and stretch your tight muscles will cause those areas to be more negatively impacted with each successive workout.

Once you've identified and stretched your tight areas, you need to be aware of them as part of the larger dynamics of your body. Tight muscles tend to have an opposing muscle that is weak and long. These areas need to be turned on and flexed to warm them up, so that you can, over time, shorten and strengthen that opposing muscle, thus bringing both into balance. For example, if your chest and upper trapezius tend to be tight then it is most likely that your lower middle trapezius are weak (causing your shoulders to round forward). So, in addition to stretching your chest and traps before the workout, you should charge on your lower middle traps with some rows or pulldowns. Again, the key to this is starting with an analysis of where you are tight.

Once length-tension relationships are restored and weak muscles are turned on with some basic movements for them, the last recommendation I have is to do lighter, slower versions of your workout movements for perfect form and alignment checks. If you are going to be doing strength work, start out doing those movements with little or no resistance, so that you can focus on your form before you put the muscles under strain, or add a speed component. Once you move through full ranges of motion with your exercises, then you can do the same movements with heavier weights and/or with speed/power. This will function as both a fantastic warm-up, and a safety check, making sure that you have recent muscle memory to guide you through your most intense workouts with good form.

These same rules apply whether you are doing a cardio workout or a weight/strength training workout.

About Billy Polson: Billy Polson is co-founder of the award-winning Diakadi Body personal training gym and creators of RealJock's 12-week Workout Programs. Billy is a certified Exercise Coach through the Paul Chek Institute as well as a Certified Personal Trainer through The National Academy of Sports Medicine. Have burning questions about your fitness that you want Billy and Diakadi co-founder Mike Clausen to answer? Send an email to billyandmike@realjock.com.