When it comes to working out, there are a few fundamentals that are crucial to your success. Everyone knows about the sexy stuff like periodization, progressive overload, exercise technique, and so on. However, people tend to overlook the importance of a proper warm up. Obviously, most are aware that they can’t just walk in and squat 315 for reps without some sort of warm up, but they might also think that all warm ups are created equally. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Granted, the overall goal of a warm up is to get the muscles loose, limber, and prepared for movement. This helps you get into a position to perform well and reduce injury risk. However, the route you take in getting to this state can make all the difference. The question is, just what should your warm up look like? Is stretching a good enough warm up? Are there components of a warm up that actually improve performance? You’ll soon find out that a warm up is not something to be taken lightly, as it can have a serious impact on your athletic ability. The key to a successful warmup is putting together the components in an intelligent fashion so they bolster your success in the gym.

 

To Stretch or Not to Stretch?

You can split stretching into two categories: dynamic and static. Static stretching is the classic style where you elongate your muscle and hold that position for say, thirty seconds. Bending down and holding the back of your ankles to stretch your hamstrings is a good example. Dynamic stretching is a bit different in that you move through a range of motion that stretches your muscles, but you never really hold any one position for very long. Think deep lunges with a twist as a dynamic stretch for your quad and hip muscles.

Dynamic stretching fits nicely into a proper warm up. Not only does it get the muscles limber by way of the stretch, but it gets them moving and full of blood. That’s why most coaches will tell you to include dynamic stretching in your movement prep. Most studies agree that dynamic stretching is mostly beneficial for performance, making it a great choice for your warm up [1].

Static stretching, on the other hand, has been cast away as a dangerous practice. Studies have shown that static stretching seems to decrease force output, which certainly isn’t helpful for strength athletes [3]. However, the devil is in the details when it comes to static stretching. Holding a stretch for very long periods of time (60+ seconds) seems to be bad for performance. However, short duration holds (5-10 seconds) or very intense stretches may actually help you. Some people feel relief of stiffness or discomfort from a short static stretch, which would help you mentally as you prepare for your workout. If you do use some static stretching, just make sure to give yourself several minutes before attempting heavy resistance training.

In the end, it seems that dynamic stretching is the better choice, as it has a positive effect on performance. Static stretching can be included as long as you don’t overuse it and keep the hold to shorter time frames. It is worth noting though that the usefulness of dynamic stretching may not come from the stretch itself, but rather from the movement which activates the muscles that will be used during the exercise.

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