1. IT SHOULD MIMIC THE ACTUAL PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
In order to properly prepare the body for the actual movements to take place during training, the warm up should be composed of the movements themselves, or movements very close to them. Jogging, for example, is a very good warm up for long distance runners or sprinters, but is a terrible warm up for Olympic weight lifters. These athletes would benefit better from a warm up composed of the actual lifts, but at a much lower intensity, such as being performed at a much lighter weight, and without the explosiveness required, such as in a hanging clean and press.
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In order to properly be warmed up, the body's temperature needs to rise 1-2 degrees. The best indicator of this is a light sweat.
3. IT SHOULD NOT CAUSE FATIGUE
Warm ups that cause the athletes to be fatigued, such as stair running or running a mile, are inefficient because they become tired even before the actual training sessions begin. They will therefore most probably not perform at their peak capacities, unless they rest for a long period of time (more than 3 minutes). After the rest, their body's would have already cooled down, thus removing the benefits of the warm up. The athletes should be sweating after the warm up but should not be breathing too heavy.
4. IT SHOULD LAST AT LEAST 5 - 15 MINUTES
This factor is much more situation-dependent than the rest. In weight lifting, for example, a good warm up would be composed of the actual lifts the person would perform, but at a much lower intensity.
For example, if one of the exercise for the day would be a back squat, performed at 80% of the persons 1-repetition maximum, at 5 reps for 5 sets, a warm up set should be performed beforehand. A good warm up for this would be the exact same exercise performed at a lower intensity, but at a higher volume. So, the first set would be a back squat performed at only 40% of the person's 1-repetition maximum (half of the actual weight to be lifted), performed for 1 set at 15 repetitions. The first set of the actual work out would take place immediately after.
Athletes who will be performing intense physical fitness training for extended periods, such as a basketball team going through a 3-hour workout, should follow the fourth rule very closely, however, and make the most of it. So, a good warm up for this situation would be composed of movements that the athletes will be using in the actual training session, but at a lower intensity, and for 15 minutes, in order to make them sweat.
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Also note that athletes at the elite level will most probably need longer warm ups because it takes more effort for their bodies to sweat.
5. SHOULD NOT INCLUDE STRETCHING UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
Unless the activity to be trained demands a high level of flexibility, such as gymnastics or ballet, then people should not stretch before, after, or during, the warm up. Stretching should not be performed before a warm up because the body responds better to flexibility exercises when warm. Stretching before the body has warmed up will not make the most out of the exercise since the joints would probably not reach their maximum flexibility levels and might even cause injury.
Stretching should also not be done immediately after the warm up exercises since they typically lower the body's temperature during the holding phases of the movements, thus cooling the body down and removing much of the benefits of the warm up. For activities such as gymnastics, which demand a tremendous amount of flexibility, and thus, strict flexibility exercises before the actual training program, a second warm up should be performed after stretching to warm the body up again.
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Prepping the body beforehand will also allow the muscles to perform more efficiently than if they were to train "cold", and will therefore make the most out of the training session.
Did this article help you craft a good warm up for yourself? What constitutes a good warm up for you? Please leave a comment below as I'd love to see what you think!