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Stretch Armstrong & The Warm-up Warriors

Stretch Armstrong & The Warm-up Warriors

The warm-up and the cool-down. The Yin and the, well, yin again.

Intrinsically linked and etched into our exercise psyche from an early age, we know we should be doing them but occasionally – just once in a while, mind – we neglect them. Kick them to the curb like a girl who put out too early and didn’t make us work for our dinner.

Poor things. The WU and CD, not the girls. But them, too, I guess.

Anyhow, I do know this. As we creep into middle age, there’s increasingly no hiding place when it comes to this dynamic duo.

In our mid-twenties we could dive straight into the workout with nary a care and not feel a thing the next day, apart from hypertrophied biceps when washing our hair.

The cool-down consisted of driving to the pub after training and rehydrating with a couple of coldies, a spin on the pokies and maybe a lazy root if there were girls knocking about who liked the cut of your sports kit.

If I try that kind of carry-on now, I’m royally rogered for the next three days, limping around the office like I’ve been shot. In today’s cut-throat and hard-charging corporate world, pulling up lame like this marks you out as a weaker pack-member and you risk being cut adrift from the herd.

So, facing the dual threats of age and limited time, how should we be looking after our bodies to limit the collateral damage of keeping #superfit whilst ensuring we can devote maximum time to our primary fitness goals, whatever they may be?

Sure, a 15-20 minute warm-up would be delightful and comes highly recommended. If you are able to devote 60-90 minutes to your workout. But if you only have 25-30 minutes (or less) in total, then we need to get going.

Remember: the primary purpose of your warm-up (and cool-down) is to prevent injury. Firing up your central nervous system to let it know some work is coming around the corner is probably your next objective.

A good philosophy to emphasize this point: your warm-up is your workout. Treat it as such. That doesn’t mean go hell-for-leather from the get-go – we’re minimising the risk of injury, remember – but it means we should have worked up at decent sheen .

Actually, one final word of caution, something sticks in my mind whenever I’m tempted to skip this stuff.

A tennis coach told me as a 16 year old that muscles are like treacle: malleable and elastic when warm but brittle and rigid when cold. Warming up, therefore, makes them less likely to break.

He had my attention from then on in and I didn’t skip too many warm-ups after that.

Anyway, enough rambling. Here are some ideas based on what I’ve done in the past and now.

1. 5 Minutes Of Cardio

As rudimentary as it gets.

But, if you’ve been desk-bound or driving for a lot of the day (or just generally stationary), this can be a sound start to your session. Row for 5 minutes at a stroke rate of less than 20 per minute. You should be doing over 1,000m.

I read that Jason Statham’s, trainer has him doing this for 10 mins and 2,000m at the start of each workout. He’s not a Dad, though, and probably has a bit more time to spare.

Skipping is a great way to get the blood pumping and 5 minutes of it will wake everything up. Doing, say, 3 mins of boxing-style skipping variations and then 2 mins of double-unders is a great way to build skills practise into the warm-up and get the best warm-up ROI.

I would usually move into some dynamic stretching, bounding and shuttles from here which will account for another 5 minutes or so.

2. 4 Minutes Of 20 Second Intervals

This is a great way to go from ‘whoa to go’ in a flat 4 minutes. Perfect for prepping the body for a HiiT session from a standing start.

Set a timer where you can see it or pre-set intervals of 20 secs. Start with jogging on the spot, move into jumping jacks, then to air-squats, then deadlifts etc WITH NO REST in bewteen. Keep increasing the complexity and intensity of the exercises.

So your 4 minutes might look like:

Minute 1

  1. Jogging On Spot (20 secs)
  2. Jumping Jacks (20 secs)
  3. Air-squats  (20 secs)

Minute 2

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Mountain Climbers (traditional, not Crossfit)
  3. Push-ups

Minute 3

  1. Jumping Squats
  2. Burpees (strict form, not Crossfit)
  3. Prisoner Squats

Minute 4

  1. Bear Crawls (3m forwards then 3m back)
  2. Alternate shoulder Taps (from push-up position)
  3. Jumping Split Lunges

Vary the exercises to your heart’s content. The sequencing needs a bit more thought to ensure you ramp things up with each minute. But, rest assured, this will prep you for whatever is coming.

If you keep this going for 10 minutes, you will have had a decent little workout; 20 minuts will sort you right out.

3. 15/10/5 Barbell Complex

If I’m going to be doing any kind of Olympic lifting (clean, snatch, jerk) or powerlifting (deadlift, squat and bench press), I can jump straight into something like this:

  • Hang Power Clean
  • Shoulder Press
  • Bicep Curl

I do it as a complex in the rep scheme outlined above (or a 3 sets of 10) with an empty Olympic barbell (20kg).

Note: Ideally I’ll have done my 5 mins of cardio and some dynamic stretching before this. The shoulder presses are what I’d be most concerned about from a cold start.

This gets my heart rate up, my central nervous system engaged and gets me “under the bar”, which I’m fairly sure creates an immediate testosterone release which is a vital confidence-booster for skinny ectomorphs like me.

Ramping the weight up to 30 or 40kg will start moving things into actual workout territory, which is no bad thing.

If I’m doing specialised lifting, I’ll then move onto warm-up sets of those exercises but this is nearly always the gateway movement.

For example, if my first exercise is bench-press (because it’s Monday, right?), I’ll do this complex and then do two measured sets of 25 reps with an empty Olympic bar. I’ll then do two sets of 15-20 close-grip bench press, again just the bar.

Then I’ll start adding weight and bringing down the reps until I get to my working weight which might be 5 x 5 @ 70kg.

I find something like this feels optimal for me; I don’t get so fatigued that I can’t shift my working weight but I’m fully primed for what’s ahead.

Play around with what works best for you but always err on the side of caution.

4. 25 / 15 / 10 / Dan John Kettlebell Complex

Dan John has loads of good things to say about warm-ups, specifically in Never Let Go.

If you’re at home with nothing and no-one but a kettlebell and a sleeping baby for company, this is a great way to rev your engines.

3 or 5 rounds of:

  • Marches on the spot (count 25 left knee raises)
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Goblet squats

This riles up your hip-flexors, your posterior chain, opens up your gnarly corporate-job hip, knee and ankle joints. It also keeps your lower back and thoracic region honest.

My advice is to start with a light kettlebell and ramp up as necessary.

Final Thought

Warming up and cooling down shouldn’t be a chore. There are myriad options to ensure you avoid monotony and, more importantly, minimise the chances of getting injured.

Remember – you’re not that useful to anyone with an injury.

How do you warm up and cool down? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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