“Absolutely nothing.” Not! Unfortunately, some group fitness studios would have you believe otherwise. In short, when it comes to safety in fitness, that’s a horrible mindset. Not warming up can cause injuries — both immediately as well as over time — and is often a symptom of weak (and yeah, I mean that as a pun) programming and therefore diminished efficacy.
What do every single CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) course of study, Crossfit, and obvious logic have in common? They all point to a warm-up as a necessary and helpful component to any workout. Any. Workout. That’s right: everyone from a novice trainer at 24 Hour Fitness to a seasoned (or not) Crossfit coach to a veteran weight-lifting coach is taught that the human body cannot perform at its best without being sufficiently warmed up. To own/manage/coach at a group fitness studio, though, you don’t need to have any certifications whatsoever, and unfortunately, many such studios exist.
Elevated heart rate. Even what’s known as a general warm-up (e.g., simply hopping on a treadmill for 5+ minutes) can sufficiently increase one’s heart rate, and therefore the oxygenated blood supply to the extremities — thus the etymology of the term, “warm-up.” This is the absolute bare minimum. At least if you’re, say, going to perform deadlifts, you’ll already less likely to pull a hamstring, hip flexor, back muscle, or calf.
Enhanced flexibility. Performing dynamic — not static! — stretches can lengthen muscles in the body, thereby allowing full range of motion for the movements the athlete is about to execute. For example, initiating, but not holding, hamstring stretches can improve one’s deadlift. It’s never a bad idea to increase hip and shoulder mobility, either, as those joints tend to be the tightest.
Activated muscles and/or groups. Most Americans — even those who don’t work at a desk—spend much time in a seated position. This is a great way to deactivate one’s glutes (yes, all of 3 of them: minimums, medius, and maximus). If your glutes aren’t active, there’s no way you’re getting the most out of your deadlift—and definitely no way you’re working on your #dreambutt. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No one ever got the butt of their dreams by sitting on it. Performing glute bridges and mini-band walks can activate the glutes and therefore increase one’s “results.”
Rehearsed movement pattern. In order of operations, this tactic is ideally performed last, in the form of a very light “warm-up set,” because doing so gives the athlete the opportunity to ensure her or his movement pattern contains as few faults as possible (or none, if you’re Type A like me) before the load is increased. This warm-up component is non-optional, even for “functional” movements like the deadlift, unless, of course, you have it out for your spine. If your one-rep max for your deadlift is 300 pounds, first, that’s awesome — keep it up! — and second, you would never in a million years let 300 pounds be your first contact with your barbell; you’d load it up with less weight.
If a general warm-up isn’t performed, this is what happens, in order of worst-to-best-case-scenarios:
Worst: You injure yourself irreversibly.
Slightly less worse: You injure yourself temporarily.
Best: You don’t get the most out of your workout and therefore waste time, money, and what I can only assume is a very well thought-out workout outfit (there’s a strong chance I’m projecting here).
I won’t beat a dead horse here. I’m presently only warmed up enough to Google pictures of one, but I urge you, as athletes in the form of fitness consumers, to do your research and accept nothing less than the best. If your current routine/trainer/instructor/fitness shaman (hey, we do live in L.A.) isn’t warming you up, act like the late ’90s and move on, because you’re either wasting your time, or taking — possibly literal — steps in the wrong direction.