Your warm-ups are particularly important to your workout's success because you are priming your body to tolerate resistance. It's all about creating an environment where your nervous system feels safe to be mobile and effectively contract muscles.
If you take the time to do this correctly, you can see results much faster and reduce your injury risk.
So what is the best way to warm-up? Stretching, jogging, jumping jacks?
I believe the best way to warm-up is to implement a series of mobility drills throughout most, if not all, of your joints.
These repetitive movement drills fluidly move the joint (usually in circular motions) throughout the entire range of motion that joint was designed to move. These mobility drills are important for this reason:
They provide feedback to your nervous system to activate muscles and generate strength via a phenomenon called the arthokinematic reflex (1).
Your bones are surrounding by muscles, tendons, and other connective tissues that have receptors called proprioceptive organs. These receptors are in constant communication with your spinal cord and brain about your body's "safety." When there is a lack of communication to these proprioceptive organs, your body will respond by tightening muscles, sending pain signals, decreasing strength, and decreasing efficiency movement. This is your body's way of keeping you safe when it has poor information from the muscles and tissues. We WANT good communication to those muscles and tendons so we can more effectively contract them during exercise.
This is like trying to have a conversation with someone in another room. Your communication and outcomes from that conversation will be hindered because of the barriers (the walls) between you and them. When you no longer have the walls in your way, the conversation can flow much easier.
So by moving fluidly, slowly, and calmly through your joints, you are sending your nervous system input that can activate your muscles, create space within your joints, and prime them for resistance.
Although I recommend moving through all of your joints before exercise, the foot is particularly important to move before (and after) exercise. The foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles and tendons. Because the foot is so complex, there is an abundance of proprioceptive organs that require a clear communication path to your spinal cord and brain. By stimulating your foot by doing simple ankle circles (even 4-6 repetitions), you can improve the connection to those structures and provide a strong foundation for yourself throughout your workout.
Not only is it important for the foot itself to be stable and connected to reduce the risk of injury at the foot, but it can affect your performance up the chain. Studies have shown that foot injuries are correlated to weakness in the hip muscles (1).
Take time to move your joints fluidly before your workouts to improve strength and safety. You can do this through circular motions of the hips, ankles, wrist, neck, and shoulders. Move within all directions of the spine, neck, and knee as well. We spend at least 7 minutes warming up in all of my classes, and it makes the biggest difference in results! Feel free to get creative, but remember, you aren't looking for a massive stretch. Think dynamic, easy, fluid movement.
PS - your cool-downs can look exactly the same but with some extra meditation. More science behind that soon!
If you want to see this in action, you can try Levo for five days for free! Click here to check it out.