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Structure and regimen are a huge part of building a proper fitness routine. And for those of us who played sports growing up, they're practically a shared memory. Although we may not have a coach guiding us through to the big game anymore, we can still incorporate that same game-day-like prep into our everyday HIIT or strength workouts — and it all starts with prep work.
Back in high school, prep work may have taken on a different look, but nowadays, there's no countdown to kickoff. However, the principle of building a healthy warmup routine is still important for anyone looking to achieve certain fitness goals. Prep work, aka those dynamic stretches and muscle-warming movements that come pre-workout, are crucial for prepping our bodies for a big workout — and keeping injuries at bay.
Why does prep work matter?
At the heart of it, prep work matters because it can help build intensity from a normal resting state to a performance state. What's more, it can help stave off injury. For most of us, long-term prep work can be achieved with a few basics that we're all familiar with.
"Peak performance requires an optimal environment that supports the recovery and results," said Joey Cifelli, assistant fitness manager, NASM-certified master trainer at Crunch. "This means working out consistently, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep."
Yep, getting to your top-performing self is truly as simple as what your coach would preach back in school. Of course, the exact food, fuel, and sleep formula will look different for all of us based on unique health needs and fitness goals.
But one thing stays consistent no matter who you are: so much of a workout is actually determined before you ever break a sweat.
Yes, you need to warm up
Although spending a whole week prepping for game day isn't realistic for many of us, maximizing that pre-workout warmup is. And it can start with simply being active throughout your day. According to Cifelli, just getting up once an hour and walking around a bit for those with a more stationary job can help kickstart your workout prep.
Plus, for HIIT workouts or intense cardio classes, these warmups are essential. In fact, pre-workout warmups are at the heart of the goals of prep work in general: avoiding injury and reaching peak performance.
"It's important to warm up to ensure you're using the proper muscles in the movement and keeping stress off your joints," explained Cifelli. "Intense by design, HIIT requires a high heart rate and body temperature. Transitioning from a lower intensity resting state to a higher intensity active state can improve your movement pattern [and] muscle activation, and lubricate your joints, which reduce risk for injury."
And, the best way to prep for an intense workout is to prep intensely with active, dynamic warmups.
Luckily, most workout classes offer sufficient warmup to help you loosen up before more strenuous activity, explained Cifelli. The key is not to skip them!
"Dynamic warmups can improve your joint mobility, muscle activation, and readiness while preventing injury," he added. What's more, warming up with active movements can actually help you build up to the intensity that your program or workout demands.
General fundamental movement patterns using multiple joints, such as the squat, lunge, and upper-body push and pull enhance athletic performance, explained Cifelli. But at the end of the day, he said, "An effective warmup routine takes you from a resting state to an active state in a way that ensures optimal performance and results every time you train."
4 dynamic moves to help you warm up
Luckily, mastering a dynamic warmup doesn't have to be hard. And many of the best and most powerful active warmups can be done at home, on the track, or wherever. Cifelli shared four of his favorite dynamic moves that are guaranteed to get your heart rate up and the sweat forming before your workout even begins.
- Kneel down on both knees and place both hands behind your head, so that your elbows are pointed outward
- Without rotating your hips, rotate the left shoulder as far back as possible so that your chest is opened up
- Bend your torso back, aiming your left elbow to your back left hip
- Repeat on the right side
- Repeat two sets of five on each side
- Assume a push-up position and place your left knee on the floor directly under your chest
- Shift your weight backward until your left knee touches your chest
- Simultaneously, bend your arms so that you're now supporting yourself on your forearms
- Keep your right leg extended and aligned behind you (be sure to keep your right toe flexed)
- Lift your right leg up as high you can off the floor and extend your left arm out for one movement
- Repeat with opposite leg and arm
- Complete two sets of ten on each side
- Stand with your heels shoulder-width apart and your toes turned out 30 degrees
- Look down at the floor, take in a breath, and hold your spine rigid
- Lower your body down, aiming your knees forward and out in line with your feet
- Squat down and rise to stand when your hip drops just below the level of your knee cap
- Exhale at the top after your stand up
- Repeat five times for three to five sets
- Note: the tempo should be one second down and one second up
- Stack your shoulders over your forearms, keeping straight legs and hips
- Hold the extended position still until you fatigue
- Repeat for two sets
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