Most of us workout to lose weight, build muscle, and to feel more confident. Most of us also ignore the warm-up.

Guess what? Getting that workout in can be tough to do when you have a shoulder impingement or a pulled hamstring.

I know because I’ve had both over the last few years, and it sucks. The truth is, the older you get, the more susceptible you are to injury. Once you get an injury or two, you understand the importance of warming up before every workout.

Everyday I see people walk into the gym, and go straight to the barbell rack or the bench press, load up the plates, and start cranking. I admit, that used to be me. That’s actually how I pulled my hamstring a few years ago. If this is you, I urge you to take a few minutes to hear me out.

When you warm-up, several changes take place in the body. Your heart rate and your blood flow increase. Oxygen and nutrient levels delivered to your cells also increase. When you forgo your warm-up, your body will function less efficiently and your workout will suffer, potentially producing less results, which is a waste of time. If you’re going to spend the time working out, why not maximize your time and do it the right way?

In addition, warming up preps the nervous system, heightens mental awareness and alertness, and loosens up your joints and muscles to make them less prone to injury. Warm-ups also increase fluid to your joints, minimizing the risk for wear and tear. Lastly, they give your heart an efficient amount of time to adjust and pump blood and nutrients into your muscles.

This is vital for older people, since they have tissues that are less supple; they have joints with less fluid, and weaker hearts.

So how does a person warm-up correctly? There is no single “right way” to warm-up. However, there are a few things that need to happen or should be included. Your warm-up needs to get your heart rate up. You can walk, jog, or if equipment is available, such as a rowing machine or a bicycle, you can do that too. Start at a moderate pace, and then gradually increase until your heart rate increases and your body temperature rises. Ideally, you’ll want to break a sweat but everybody’s threshold for sweating is different so don’t let that be your indicator of a good warm-up. It’s important to note that the pace should be in accordance to your current fitness level. The warm-up should get you energized, not leave you exhausted.

After getting your heart rate up and possibly working up a light sweat (suggested time is 3-5 minutes, longer if working out in a cold environment) it is a good idea to do some stretching. Stretching helps in developing overall flexibility, particularly in the spine, shoulder, and hip areas. The kind of stretching depends on the type of exercises you plan to be doing that day.

For example, if you’re about to play tennis, you would want to do some stretches that mimic those movements. These could include arm circles, knee grabs, opening of the chest using resistance bands, etc. If you’re about to do some barbell squats, you would want to do mainly lower body stretches involving the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Mobility work, opening of the hips, and foam rolling would also be recommended before doing squats.

Be sure to hold each stretch for a minimum of 12 seconds and do not bounce. This can result in pulling or tearing a muscle.

After warming up and working out, it is equally important to cool down. When a person suddenly stops exercising or lifting weights, blood gathers in the muscles and oxygen is blocked. When this happens, a person runs the risk of having a heart attack. You obviously don’t want that, so take 3-5 minutes and walk at a slow pace on a treadmill, then take a few more to do some foam rolling or stretching.

Committed To Your Health,

Brian DonovanBrian Donovan is a certified fitness and nutrition coach, and the founder of Online Fitness Coach, LLC – an online fitness program where clients get direct coaching and personally tailored training plans and customized meal plans. Coach Brian was voted Chicago’s “Best Personal Trainer” by Chicago Reader magazine, Best Of Chicago 2014 edition. He has been featured in magazines such as Muscle & Fitness, Chicago Reader, Voyage Chicago, and Ezine Articles as well various health and fitness blogs.

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