Our bodies get stiffer as we age. There are obviously exceptions to this, but even 25 year olds can get back pain from sleeping in awkward positions. It’s annoying, but it’s a part of life. Thankfully, exercise can help to keep your body moving and feeling good, but working out can be more challenging the stiffer you get.
Warming up is the best way to reduce stiffness. While it’s usually the most disliked section of a workout, it could soon be one of your favourite parts. Warming up is important because it prepares your body for more intense movements, such as running or lifting heavy weights. It allows you to have a more efficient workout and see better results, as well as reducing your risk of injury.
How it works
Warming up is a matter of physiology. The blood in your body circulates to different areas based on your activity. The brain is the main receiver of blood, followed by the heart. More blood is sent to the digestive system right after a meal, and during exercise blood is sent to the working muscles and joints.
Blood is filled with nutrients and provides natural lubrication, which helps warm up and loosen your body — meaning less tightness and pain. The influx of blood to the muscles stimulates them and prepares them for work.
Another reason why warming is important is neurological stimulation. It may surprise you to hear that the majority of people don’t know how to activate certain muscles. This occurs from poor lifestyle habits and the all too common problem of sitting at a desk. Our bodies were not made to sit all day; humans used to be nomadic hunters and gatherers who moved constantly. Nowadays we’re always sitting, so our muscles have, in some respects, become disengaged. There’s a reason we use the phrase ‘Use it or lose it’. Warming up with intention to engage and activate specific muscles is an excellent way to begin stimulating the neural pathways in our bodies to prepare for more intense exercise.
So, a light, simple warm up will increase the blood flow to those stiff joints and muscles and help you feel better with movement. It also will help to simulate nerves in our muscles to wake them up before the actual workout.
Now that we understand why warming up is important, you’ll need to learn how to perform it properly. Remember, warming up can show you what state your body is in. Perhaps your legs will feel tight, or your shoulders may feel a bit stiff. Listen to your body as you move and choose warm ups that help you. It can be difficult to find warm up stretches and movements that work for you, but don’t worry. We’re here to help! Here is a range of example warm up movements. Try these at the beginning of your workout and see how it feels.
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Press into your heels, keeping your whole foot on the ground, and push as if you were trying to slide your body backwards. As you're pressing, your glutes will activate and your hips will lift off the ground.
Don’t overextend your back, and mentally focus on activating your glutes. You can hold this position for a few seconds, then lower down and repeat.
Seated or standing, bring your arms straight out in front of you with fingers pointing outward. Begin moving your arms in small circles for 20-30 reps, then repeat in the opposite direction. With no rest in between, widen your circles. Swing your arms around in larger circles for the same amount of reps, then switch directions and repeat.
Begin by standing and holding a stick or broom upright. Place the bottom in between your feet and hold the top end in front of you with arms fully extended. It should be at an angle from your body. Keep your arms straight and your shoulders rolled back and push the stick downward into the ground. This movement should activate your lats; repeat until you feel the muscle under your armpit and on your back engage.
Begin lying down on your stomach with your elbows under your shoulders. Bring your toes onto the ground and lift your body. Remember to keep your shoulders back and tuck your hips in to avoid your lower back from dropping and avoid lifting your hips. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute — or as long as you can manage!
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
Main Photo Credit & Fourth Photo Credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Bojan Milinkov/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Undrey/shutterstock.com