Karrina Howe, Personal Trainer and Olympic Weight Lifting Coach November 01, 2016

Karrina Howe is a qualified personal trainer and Olympic lifting coach, who guides people on their path to a healthier lifestyle. As a nutrition coach, she emphasises the important role food has in performance and recovery.

Karrina offers fitness and food inspiration on The Body Blog, advocating the benefits of including weight training in your exercise program, and sharing her clients' successes.

Often, ‘pre-workout’ conjures thoughts of strong, black coffee, or a chemical packed supplement hastily consumed just before training. Sure, caffeine will stimulate but does this prepare the body for the exercise or type of training we are about to do?

It’s important to be mentally focused to get the most from a training session, but it is just as important to get the body ‘in the zone’ as well. Whether you sit behind a desk all day, or spending a lot of time standing (and therefore leaning on one hip) there’s a risk of weak knee and hip structures. Warming the body up, and preparing is more vital than ever.

Whether your weight training goal is to gain strength, improve endurance, or simply look leaner, your warm-up time should be considered as essential as your workout time. The pre-workout phase of any weight training programme should consist of two things: elevating the heart rate and activating the muscles you are about to use. Movements such as rowing, cycling or running will increase your core temperature, circulating blood and oxygen around the body. Stretching using dynamic movements, such as lunging combined with an upper body twist, will allow the body to stretch without limiting force production. Save static stretching, like touching your toes and holding for 30 seconds, for your post weight training cool down.

Why is the warm up important?

The most common injuries found in weightlifting are strains at the joints. By increasing body temperature, muscles become more elastic, lowering that risk of pulling or straining them. Properly warmed-up muscles are able to contract with more force, as well as recover more quickly during rest periods. With warmer muscles, comes strength and speed, allowing the joints to fully extend through a full range of motion.

Those who train with weights may experience stiffness and inflexibility. Tightness in the shoulders, ankles, hips, IT band (side of thigh), hamstrings and thoracic spine (between shoulder blades) are all common, and, if not addressed, can contribute towards impingements and tears. Tight shoulders can be attributed to being hunched over at a desk, a problem found in a massive 70% of the population at one point.

Choose your warm up

A dynamic warm-up, will improve system activation, power, and range of motion at your joints. Performed before weightlifting, dynamic exercises help increase blood flow, oxygen uptake, and muscle compliance, while decreasing resistance of connective tissues and reducing muscle tension. This type of warm up creates minimal (to no) muscle damage, so it’s safe to do on a regular basis. When muscle tissue is soft and mobile, there is more flexibility at the joints, meaning a better range of motion to perform exercises that challenge the body. This makes for a more productive workout and a healthier physique.

Static stretching can create a temporary strength deficit, diminish jump performance, and can decrease running economy for up to an hour, since the sensitivity of tension receptors in muscles is decreased. In fact, adding static exercises to a dynamic warm up could actually reduce effectiveness for these reasons. Instead, using a foam roller is said to aid mobility and break down scar tissue and adhesions, relaxing the fascia and making muscle more pliable.

Warming up also aids in keeping the body cool. It triggers processes in the body, like sweating and an increased breathing rate, that assist in cooling down muscles and joints when they begin to get too hot. With a proper warm up, the effect that heat has on muscles and joints is reduced at the beginning of a weight training routine.

Pre-workout nutrition

During a warm up, energy comes via additional carbohydrates and fatty acids. What you eat and when can make a big difference in performance and recovery. A high-protein meal with complex carbs around one or two hours before weight training will help sustain energy levels. It will also help keep the body hydrated, preserve muscle mass, and speed up recovery, which means less severe DOMS.

Protein helps maintain and increase muscle mass, flooding the bloodstream with amino acids when they’re needed most, boosting capability. Protein combined with carbs stimulates the release of insulin, again improving muscle synthesis and preventing protein breakdown.

More than a meal

A healthy meal of proteins and carbohydrates is ideal to keep you going throughout your free weight workout, however there are other key nutrients that can aid with muscle growth and recovery if taken prior to weight training.

Vitamin C plays an essential role in helping the body deal with stress. It is an antioxidant, which helps in dealing with metabolic stress caused by weight training, and can help reduce coughing and wheezing during an intense session.

Vitamin B is also known to help the body produce red blood cells and create energy from food. It can also help reduce inflammation and regulate mood and sleep patterns. In other words, this vitamin helps fine-tune the essential bodily processes needed to feel strong during a workout, or any other time of day.

Taking a quality multivitamin will ensure that your Vitamin C and B levels met, aiding performance both during, and after your weight training session.

During your workout you might also want to look at taking three further supplements: Creatine, BCAA, and glutamine.

Creatine has been shown to increase protein synthesis by pushing water into muscle cells. It increases phosphocreatine stores in muscle tissue, which means more energy, allowing for longer training sessions at a higher intensity.

Branched chain amino acid (BCAA) blends consist of a mixture of three important amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Among other functions, the body uses amino acids to help digest food, repair body tissue and promote growth. Meat, eggs and fish all contain these three amino acids and are essential in building muscle, and repairing damaged muscle tissue after intense workouts.

Glutamine reduces depletion of muscle, known as catabolism, and is the predominant amino acid found in skeletal muscle, making it highly important for protein synthesis.

Preparing the mind

We’ve all done it: walked into the gym with our favorite training gear, playlist ready, and programme in hand, but somehow the weights feel heavier than usual. You’re thinking about all the chores waiting at home and those unfinished tasks at work. Without focus, your mind begins to drift distracting you from getting the most from your workout.

Before even entering the gym, visualise your workout to set you up for your session. Imagining each rep as perfect and strong, and performed with control and ease. It encourages positive suggestion, promoting a relaxed but concentrated mind set, and prepares the body to respond.

Achieving your weight training goals

With a structured pre-workout routine, you will soon find yourself working towards your gains weight lifting goals. A good warm up and proper pre workout nutrition are key to improving body control, balance, agility, and movement mechanics.

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