Like all things, whether or not you should do a warmup depends on quite a few different factors.
I was just reading through a book that recommended spending 15 minutes engaging in a warmup in order to maximize performance.
That may well be the case, but that fact is that many of my workouts are less than 15 minutes in their entirety, so this doesn’t seem like a good expenditure of time to me!
Most of my workouts involve next to zero warmups at all, even when the temperature is quite cold. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
In this article, I will lay out the benefits of warming up or not doing so. Let’s start with why warming up is a good idea.
Best to Warmup
The muscles are cold. The cardiovascular system is as well (relatively speaking of course). By warming up you are literally raising the core temperature of your body. Doing so, your body is better able to respond, which means two things.
First is that it will be easier to perform in whatever fashion that is. Whether weightlifting, running or anything else, a warmer body is better suited for the task of exerting itself.
Secondly, you’re less likely to injure yourself. A cold muscle is more likely to get strained when stressed. Joints are more likely to be in pain if the synovial fluid in them hasn’t already lubricated everything.
Understanding that warming up is literally about warming up to a large degree, we can then look at the environment and weather as factors too. You’re going to want to focus more on warming up in cold weather than in hot because of these reasons.
In addition, warming up can also serve as a great time to do movements that you wouldn’t otherwise be doing at all. Since much of health and fitness is about the quantity of movement, in addition to quality, this can be a useful side benefit. One example of this would be the class of what are known as mobility drills. (Want to learn more about mobility which can work not just as a warmup, but as a cool down, an in-between sets method, or non-workout training? Check out Intuitive Mobility.)
Psychologically, some people may use the warmup to help them enter in the training “zone.” In this way, a well-repeated routine can act as an anchor.
That’s a lot of benefits, right? Well, now we’ll dive into why not to warm up and see a similar-sized list but quite different.
Skip the Warmup
One of the best reasons to not warmup is that you don’t always have the luxury of doing such in life. Sure, you may go years or even decades without needing it, but your abilities are great to be there when you need them. I may be training for performance, but I am also training to be ready for life. What about you?
Will breaking out into a full sprint guarantee you pull something if you don’t warm up first? Even if you look great, are you really “fit” if that is the case?
It is said that people need more warming up as they get older. While I acknowledge there is some truth to this, it’s also something you can believe in too much. This idea is something that you can cater too by always making sure you’re warmed up.
In other words, skipping the warmup is training for antifragility, one of the key principles of health.
There is also evidence that some types of warming up is not only useless but may inhibit performance. Always the science is fairly limited, but this appears to be the case for static stretching which was long thought of as the “thing you had to do for warming up.”
Isn’t it funny how often we end up doing things we think benefit us, but actually do the exact opposite?
So with all this being said, the ideal warmup depends both on the activity and the purpose of the activity. And that means that sometimes no warmup is necessary or even warranted.
Not warming up or minimizing doing so will save time, of course. In our time-crunched society, this is a big benefit that shouldn’t be scoffed at. If warming up offers limited benefits, while the training offers much more, why not just get straight to the real training?
Inside My Training
As mentioned, I don’t really warm up at all. I train to be ready.
This is the case even in my garage in winter. Granted, I’m not up in Canada but it does sometimes reach freezing here. I just wear more clothes then.
Pretty much all I do to prepare for an exercise is simply doing a rep or a couple of an exercise first just to feel it out. (This is the Level 3 intuitive training covered inside Beyond Biofeedback.) After that, I go straight to working sets.
This hasn’t always been the case, nor will it likely remain so, but no warmup has been my default for some time now. I train six days a week in short workouts so the time-saving effect of neglecting the workout is important to me.
But some exercises do get a bit more of a warmup. Here’s an example. I’ve been training the bent press. I would “warmup” simply by working up with lighter weights. I’d do a 70 lb. kettlebell, then a 95 lb. barbell. Then 115 and so on.
However, lately, I’m working on a new track to see how it helps me perform. Every day, without any warming up I’m going straight for a 135 lb. bent press. This up in frequency, as well as doing it “cold”, should impact my top end strength to some degree. At least that’s my hypothesis.
Ultimately, the choice of warming up or not, not to mention how you do so, is up to you. There are benefits and drawbacks any way you do it. But that is how life works, so simply understand the facts and make your choice.