Warming up to Prevent Injury
An often-underappreciated element in improving one’s physical fitness is the art of a proper warm-up routine. Having an acceptable warm-up routine is as critical as using correct form during your lifts. No matter what your level of fitness expertise may be, all athletes would benefit from spending a few extra minutes in the gym getting their muscles primed for exhaustion. While it is very important to prepare yourself mentally on the way to the gym, it is even more important to prepare yourself physically. However, if you find yourself unable to get in the right mindset even with the help of pre-workout supplements like Rupture or TruStim, please check out our article, Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Fitness Plateaus for helpful tips to outperforming yourself in the gym. In this article, I will explain further what the benefits to a good warm-up routine are, as well as help you with specific exercises to target certain muscle groups and explain ways to minimize downtime and treat minor exercise injuries caused by improper form and lack of preparing your muscles for action.
Why warm up?
Warming up before you begin pushing your body through strength and hypertrophy movements is very important. When you warm up properly, you prepare both your mind and your nerves for intense exercise. This a byproduct of an increased heart rate that a good warm-up will provide. When your heart rate goes up, your body and especially your muscles, become prepared for exertion. Warming up does a lot more than simply allowing you to ease into a tough workout comfortably. By following a solid warm-up routine, you are increasing your bodies blood circulation, which will ultimately allow for a decreased risk of injury. One of the most common causes of injuries within the gym is lack of a proper warm up. You must ask yourself, is a 5 to 15-minute warm-up routine worth a potentially life-long injury, or a month of downtime while your muscular tissue repairs itself?
Common Pain Issues
Speaking of pain and injury, I’m sure most of you reading this article have experienced a discomfort of some sort while at the gym. Sometimes, your injuries are caused by accidents, such as dropping a weight on your foot and breaking a toe. While I can’t help you to prevent that type of injury, I will cover ways to prevent injuries due to poor technique. While many articles online and personal trainers spend time explaining how to execute certain exercises properly, I will be helping you to prepare for the exercise itself. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
In the section below, I will cover some of the more common areas that are likely to cause you pain due to improper preparation, and hopefully, help you to prevent a month of unexpected recovery time. Keep in mind, the list below is not all-inclusive, there may be other injuries that you encounter during your exercise that you may want to spend additional time researching. If your research proves unsuccessful, you may want to consider seeking a nearby physical therapist for treatment.
Common Pain Areas
Pain Area: Shoulders
Why It Is Caused: Shoulders are involved in many different exercises and thus can become sore due to overtraining. One general recommendation is to avoid having a shoulder day immediately before or after a chest workout. Make sure your technique on pressing movements is proper to avoid unnecessary injuries.
Movements to Warm-Up: LIGHT lateral raises, front raises, reverse front raises, and rear deltoid flyes are all excellent movements to start your warm-up. I also like to foam-roll my shoulders individually by lying on my side and driving my shoulder into the roller.
Accessories to Use: Resistance bands work excellent for shoulder warm-ups, but dumbbells can also be used.
Pain Area: Elbows
Why It Is Caused: Overtraining your triceps is a likely cause for “tennis elbow.” Heavy pressing movements like the barbell bench press, weighted dips, or skull crushers can often cause discomfort in the elbow area.
Movements to Warm-Up: Light warm-ups of the exercise in which you are planning to go heavy can help warm up the elbows. I recommend either bodyweight dips for a few reps or benching the bar alone before adding in weight. Foam rolling your triceps can help, which is done by driving your triceps into the foam roller and using your opposite hand to keep the pressure on the roller.
Accessories to Use: I highly recommend elbow sleeves for any athletes who experience tennis elbow during heavy lifts.
Pain Area: Wrists
Why It Is Caused: Sore forearm muscles, carpal tunnel, or applying pressure when your wrist is bent can cause pain in your wrists during exercise.
Movements to Warm-Up: Sometimes with sore wrists, the best treatment is rest. Try to avoid heavy curls, and be conscious of bending your wrists during pressing movements until the pain goes away.
Accessories to Use: Investing in a solid pair of wrist wraps can make a big difference if you experience wrist pain during your workouts. Look for wrist wraps that are 18 to 36 inches in length for optimal support. The wraps will help you to avoid overextending your wrist flexors.
Pain Area: Lower Back
Why It Is Caused: For mild to moderate lower back pain, it could be due to either improper warm up or muscle strain. Many enhanced athletes also experience painful lower back pumps. Be sure to strengthen your core muscles and perform careful compound movements to prevent future strain.
Movements to Warm-Up: Ab and oblique exercises will help to strengthen your core and prevent lower back pain. Other exercises that specially target your lower back such as back extension machines, good mornings, and stiff leg deadlifts may also help you to build a stronger foundation.
Accessories to Use: For your lower back, foam rolling is king. I also recommend investing in a decent weight belt to wear during deadlifts, squats, and other exercises that put a strain on your lower back.
Pain Area: Rotator Cuffs
Why It Is Caused: Poor posture and over-training your “push” muscles can cause rotator cuff injuries.
Movements to Warm-Up: To combat rotator cuff injuries, make sure to incorporate an even amount of pulling exercise to address muscle imbalances.
Accessories to Use: Resistance bands work wonders for rehabilitating your rotator cuff muscles. Rowing exercises and shoulder mobility exercises can all be done using resistance bands for maximum effectiveness. I also recommend purchasing a thick resistance band and holding the band in front of you with arms shoulder length apart and trying to pull apart the band to strengthen your scapula muscles.
Pain Area: Knees
Why It Is Caused: The biggest cause of knee pain during exercise is improper form during squats and leg presses. Be careful to make sure that your knees do not move forward much during squat exercises. Work on taking the weight off your knees and focus on pushing the weight using your hips.
Movements to Warm-Up: Body weight squats can be used to warm up before barbell squats. I also use a stair climber machine and skip every other step to warm my leg muscles. For people with no major knee issues, try holding a catcher’s position for a few second to stretch the leg muscles before lifting.
Accessories to Use: Knee wraps, or knee sleeves can help those who experience pain in the knees during leg workouts. Avoid going too heavy where you sacrifice proper form. If knee pain is ongoing, you may want to see a doctor.
For more information on excellent fitness accessories, check out Top 10 Fitness Accessories (And Why)
Techniques to Try
Aside from knowing your points of weakness and listening to your bodies response, it is a great idea to incorporate some general warm-up techniques that can benefit all stages of athletes. One such technique you may have seen before that competitive athlete’s seem to favor is wearing extra clothing to the gym and stripping off layers throughout your workout. This is not just because they don’t want you to catch them without a pump, but it also keeps their muscles warm and flexible. Foam rolling is another great technique that can be used to prepare practically every muscle in your body for exercise. Read up on foam rolling exercises that target the muscles you will be using during each workout. You may find that foam rolling before a workout can reduce your recovery time and the feeling of DOMs (Delayed onset muscle soreness) Once you hit the weight room, you are best to start off with a compound lift at a very lightweight. Depending on your strength, very light could be something as simple as benching just the bar for 8-10 reps or benching 135lbs for eight reps. The idea is to prepare yourself for the movement, and it works as a sort of pre-flight check. In case your shoulder is injured, you’re better off finding out that fact with an easily controllable weight versus having your one rep max above your neck.
Techniques to Try (Cont’d)
Finally, when you began your routine with weights in your working-sets, you can approach the lifts in different ways during the beginning of your workout. One popular way to work towards your max lifts is to follow the progressive overload principle. The idea behind progressive overload is to gradually increase the weight with each successful set until you reach your comfort zone. You can use progressive overload in any exercise, and the working sets can range from 3-6 sets for most athletes. Another more old-school, but still widely used technique is pyramiding your working sets. With this method, if you were to do barbell squats for five sets, your first set would be light, the second set would be medium, the third set would be heavy, the fourth set would be medium, and the fifth set would be light again. The idea with this method is that as you reach the top of the pyramid for the exercise, fatigue will start to kick in and the following lighter weights will become more difficult.
Foundational exercises are a great way to warm-up and stay healthy. Whether you are lifting for strength, hypertrophy, or fat loss, being able to complete body-weight exercises is a good indicator of overall health and can be used to warm up various muscle groups. Body weight exercises like squats, knee raises, and planks can be used to strengthen your core and endurance. Body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and dips can help to improve your strength and flexibility in many exercises involving weights. I like to include a couple of bodyweight exercises in my workout routines as warm-up exercises after stretching to get myself in the right mindset and to get my heart rate up before jumping into heavy compound lifts.
Supplements to Consider
Combined with a proper warm-up routine, these supplements can reduce the time it takes for your body to be ready for your next strenuous workout. While supplements like the ones below can make a difference, it is important to consume plenty of water throughout the day and ensure that you give yourself plenty of time each night to rest. If you are one of the many people like myself who have trouble falling asleep at night, you may want to check out our Sedation sleep aid formula.
Fish Oil – Useful for any performance athlete to reduce muscle damage and soreness following a training session. Fish oil also has evidence supporting its ability to strengthen bones, which may result in fewer injuries.
Multi-Vitamins – Great for all athletes, multivitamins contain vitamins and minerals that can strengthen the body and provide it with nutrients that can aid in recovery and help to prevent injuries while promoting overall health.
Joint Support (MSM, Chondroitin Sulfate, Glucosamine) – Often available together, these three ingredients have strong evidence of benefits which include: reduced muscle inflammation, improved joint health by countering osteoarthritis and supporting tendons and ligaments throughout the body.
L-Glutamine – Glutamine provides many benefits to a serious athlete such as increased protein synthesis and reduced muscle breakdown during exercise. Glutamine is well-known for its ability to reduce recovery time and speed up healing following an intense workout regimen.
Turmeric Curcumin – A well-documented ingredient that is extremely effective in reducing inflammation, as well as many other benefits that promote overall wellness in the body.
Note: While you can certainly include all these ingredients in your daily diet, you can still receive a great benefit by choosing one or two that will suit your needs. With proper supplementation, warming up before exercising will be more efficient in preventing injuries that affect your athletic ability.
In conclusion, remember that a proper warm-up routine is essential in reducing your recovery time and preventing injury during intense workout sessions. Be aware of the possibility of overtraining your muscles. For most athletes, twice a week per muscle group is enough, for advanced athletes with years of experience, three times a week is plenty per muscle group. Don’t forget to take the occasional de-load week or short break to give your body a chance to recover. Most importantly, if you are experiencing moderate to severe pain and stretching and warm-up exercises are not helping, please see a doctor as this could be a sign of a serious injury.
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