The Truth About Warming Up, Part 2

In my last post, I briefly discussed warming up before exercise and why, ideally, you shouldn’t need to do it. Again, let me stress: I am not saying that you don’t need to warm up. I’m saying that it’s a good idea to bring your body to a state in which it is always ready for movement. Your body will spend more time feeling active, fluid, and alert, which will increase your wellbeing and often your productivity, too.

How to prime your body for movement

Start off by simply moving more. Often we are tempted to do the bare minimum of movement: bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to car to office could be less than 100 steps. Learn to embrace movement. Go up and down the stairs more often than you really need to. Switch positions often while sitting or standing. And when you feel like moving, don’t settle for a small fidget.

Instead, break out into some spontaneous squats, lunges, arm circles, dance, or my favorite: random whole-body movement. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as it matters that you do it. Your body will tell you how it wants to move; just learn to relax and follow its lead.

If you sit all day, try to take a stand-up-and-move break every five or ten minutes. Yes, that often! Will all these breaks interrupt your laser focus on that super-important report you’re working on? It’s possible, but I doubt it. It’ll take you only ten seconds to stand up and shake out your whole body. Since you’re letting your body lead and keeping your mind out of it, you should be able to maintain your focus and sit back down to working with even more gusto.

Have you heard the recommendation to stretch for 5 minutes out of every hour throughout the day? Do you know anybody who actually does this? Every hour, not just once or twice a day? Me neither. Also, it just doesn’t seem like the most effective pattern to take the time to really stretch out, just to let your body spend 55 minutes going back to its tight, immobile position.

If you engage instead in whole-body movement or stretching for 10-30 seconds every 5-10 minutes, you’ll be using between one and six minutes per hour. But because you’re moving regularly, your body can avoid a lot of the stiffness it would otherwise accumulate.

This is just the beginning of getting your body primed for movement at any time, but for those of you with sedentary or repetitive jobs, it will start to lay the foundation.

Getting ready to exercise

Before a workout, take stock of your condition at that time and in that moment. Do a quick whole-body shake with good arm and leg movement and see how it feels:

  • Do you feel like a hungry mountain lion ready for anything? Cool, hop to it.
  • Do you feel a little tightness, a little lethargy? Spend a few minutes moving the affected areas and getting your energy level up until you feel ready.
  • Significant tightness or tiredness? This is the time to be a little more cautious. Take the time to gently ramp your body up to the mobility and energy demands of your workout.
  • Extreme resistance? Sometimes it happens; your body just says “Uh-uh, not today.” Let yourself adapt to the situation. Instead of the intense workout you were planning, try a combination of stretching, mobilization, and light movement.

Bottom line

Move a lot, every day. Move as many of your joints through as much of their range of motion as you can as often as you think of it. Your body will thank you, and you’ll be ready to jump into action with less preparation. Most importantly, you’ll get used to listening to your body and following its lead!