It’s simple: Skimp on your warmup, and you’ve ruined your workout.
“As far as I am concerned, there’s no difference between the warm up and the workout,” says Spartan SGX coach John Hayley of Unbreakable Fitness in Forest Park, Illinois. “The workout won’t ‘work out’ unless the body has been thoroughly, methodically, and systematically prepared for the demands it’s about to encounter. A half-assed warmup is a recipe for ineffective training and injury.”
A warmup preps your body for the tasks ahead, increasing your heart rate, pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles, and loosening up ligaments and tendons. We ease in slowly so all parts of our bodies are singing in tune.
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“Most of my clients have been doing one of two things before they come to see me,” says Hayley. “Either they’ve been sleeping or sitting down for eight straight hours. So it’s vital to start easy and gradually progress in intensity and complexity as the body and joints wake up.”
Of course, it’s not just your muscles that benefit from the prep. “A warmup also prepares the mind and the nervous system,” says Jono Blodgett, Spartan SGX coach and owner of Mauka Makai Fitness in Kailua, Hawaii.
The mind, Bloggett says, can play tricks on the toughest of athletes. “If negative thoughts run through your head, your body will be sure to follow and not perform at its true potential,” he says. “A clear and focused mind will equal a higher physical and overall performance.”
This is especially significant for Spartans. “Spartan races require the mind and body to make split-second reactions, and a warmup is crucial to get those signals firing.”
Try these simple warmup strategies that prime the body and mind.
Warmup Strategy #1: Stay in the Present
Don’t just go through the motions with your mind fixed on the workout to come, says Hayley. Understand instead that every movement supports the others—whether you’re starting a stretch or toughening it out in the middle of your training.
“The most important part of the warmup is whatever you happen to be working on at the time,” he says. “If you’re doing heel walks, they should get the same focus and intensity as the jogging and agility work you do as part of your training plan.”
Bloggett suggests that those with monkey minds (all of us?) start every session with a short meditation or visualization exercise. “Listening to music can help, too,” he says. “A favorite tune or beat can stop the mind from wandering and keep you focused on the task at hand.”
Warmup Strategy #2: Know When to Be Dynamic
Though many coaches to now question the practicality of static stretching before exercise, Bloggett recommends both static and movement-specific (a.k.a. dynamic) warmups—but adds that timing is key.
“Two to three hours before the workout or the race, start with some foam rolling so that you can break up the tissue,” he says. “Then incorporate some light static stretching.” Whether covering the classics such as shoulder and lat stretches—or groin, calf, and hamstring—the emphasis is on “light.”
“Then 30 minutes before the start of the race or workout, do more of a dynamic stretch,” he advises, “as this will warm the muscles and also help with mental preparation.”
Opt for drills that prep the body for the particular activity to come, such as squats, lunges, jacks, core rotations, high knee runs, heel walks, and leg swings – especially if you’re going to run. Here’s a sampling:
Mobilizes the glutes and adductor muscles.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the right, then shift your weight toward the right foot, bending your right knee and pushing your hips back. Keep your left leg straight. Keep hands on hips or, to ramp it up, reach down for your right foot with your left hand. Push off with your right foot to return to starting position. Alternate 6 to 8 reps on each leg.
Reverse Lunge with Reach
Warms up the core while working glutes and hamstrings.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your side. Step back with your left leg until you are in a lunge position. As you move, reach your arms overhead as high as you can, fingers to the sky. Bring your hands back down as you step your left leg forward to meet your right leg. Repeat on the other side. Alternate 6 to 8 reps on each leg.
High Knee Runs
Preps the glutes and hamstrings while stretching the hip flexors and calves.
Start a light, lively run on the balls of your feet, keeping your steps small. With each step, raise your knee toward your chest. Gradually pick up the pace and increase the height of your knee. Run 10 to 20 yards.
Engages the feet and the muscles supporting the front of ankles.
In a standing position, lift your toes off the ground so you’re balancing on your heels. Keep your toes pointed forward and take 20 small steps. Turn around and repeat.
Finally, remember it’s a warmup, says Hayley. You should break a slight sweat but your warmup should not exhaust you. Ten minutes is enough to your body primed to perform.