What Makes a Good Warm-up?

Written by Concept2 NZ on June 26th, 2018.

We all know that it is best to include a warm up (and warm down) before every training session, but without knowing the reasons why this particular aspect of training is important, it can be tempting to rush through it impatiently, or just skip it altogether! We look at the reasons why taking to the time to warm-up is considered ‘best practice’ when it comes to exercise, how your warm-up can add variety to your training session, and the type of warm-up you could use to prepare for an indoor rowing race.

Why Warm-up?

The main purpose of warming up is of course to prepare the body for exercise. If you have ever got out of bed in the morning and tried straightaway to row on the Indoor Rower at a high intensity, you will know how difficult and uncomfortable exercising without warming up can be! Generally, warming up involves light cardiovascular exercise, lifting the heart rate progressively and allowing the cardiovascular system to adapt to the increase in demand for oxygen to the muscles. In doing so, circulation increases, warming and enriching the muscles, preparing them to perform under increased load. Staying on the cardio side of warming-up, gently easing into cardio exercise also gradually opens the lungs, helping to prevent hyperventilation and shortness of breath. This can be a helpful process for those who suffer from conditions such as sports-induced asthma, effectively regulating breathing as the heart rate increases and encouraging relaxation which can help to mitigate symptoms.

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In addition to preparing the cardiovascular system for exercise, warming up is also important for coordination, balance, and technique- all of which can help to prevent injuries from occurring. Exercise such as stretching, core work, and technical drills are all great ways to begin to mobilize the body in a functional warm up, helping to prepare muscles, joints and ligaments for the range of motion and exertion involved in your workout. Taking the time to pay attention to each major muscle group involved in your workout during the warm up, can help to isolate sore, stiff muscle groups that need extra time and care in order to be ready for a full-on workout.

Because Indoor Rowing is an all-body, strength and endurance sport, every major muscle group requires attention in the warm up to ensure proper technical coordination and application can be carried out. In addition to a cardio warm up, completing a short round of body-weight exercises, stretching and core can help keep the body balanced, enabling you to perform to your technical best. For inspiration for exercises you can use in your indoor rowing warm up, check out our blog on strength and conditioning exercises to improve your performance on the indoor rower. Keep in mind that warm-up exercises should be done gently and gradually, so its best to leave the 'pushing your limits' approach to the main portion of your workout.  

Mixing it Up in Training

While exercises and technical drills included in the warm-up tend to be best kept specific to the workout you are preparing for, the cardio element of a warm-up provides an opportunity to mix things up and have some fun. Seeing as the goal of a cardio warm-up is to gently increase your heart rate and blood flow, any activity that has a cardio element is good to get you started. If you like to workout at the gym, this is an opportunity to mix up your cardio machines (perhaps even try out the Concept2 SkiErg or BikeErg). Alternatively, if you like to get some fresh air before getting into your indoor workout, a short jog or brisk walk outside is another option. If you like to work out with friends, the warm up is a good time to catch up and get the chat out of the way before getting into your focused zone.

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Row, Bike or Ski? All three machines are great cardio and functional strength warm-up options!

Cross-Training in the Race Warm-up

If you are preparing for a specific race but still want to vary your warm up, it can be helpful to pick an exercise that is still relevant to the movements and physiological demands of the discipline you are preparing for. For rowers, cycling is not only a great form of cross-training, but also a useful warm up option- especially for rowers who want to start the session by mobilizing their bodies without placing pressure on vulnerable muscle groups (commonly lower-back muscles). Pedaling on a spin bike at light resistance allows rowers to put their legs through virtually the same range of motion as the compression in the boat with very little stress, gently warming key muscle groups and mobilizing stiff joints. For this reason, since the launch of the BikeErg in the USA in August last year, the machine has become a popular feature in warm up tents at the major regattas. The adjustable flywheel resistance allows rowers to begin their warm up with very light resistance, which can be steadily increased to encourage a more significant cardio element. Many rowers opt to begin their warm up on the BikeErg, before switching to the Indoor Rower to complete their off-water warm up, with the final preparations completed in the boat on the way to the start line. In doing so, they are able to maintain some variety in the warm-up, while ensuring each phase of the preparation is planned around getting their bodies ready to race by the time they line up at the start.

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The pedal action of the BikeErg with adjustable resistance is perfect for rowing warm-up's and cross-training

Sample Race Warm-up

If you are warming up ahead of competition, it is important to specifically prepare your body for the race ahead. In a rowing context, this will include warming up the cardiovascular system, and including (towards the end of the warm up) high intensity bursts that prepare the lungs and muscles for the intensity of the start of the race. The warm up will also need to mobilize key muscle groups for technical coordination, to ensure relaxation and cohesion during high intensity (and at high stroke rate!) during the race. Finding the right pre-race warm up for you can take some trial and error, but the sample below is a good place to start…

Pre-2km Indoor Rowing Warm-up

Note- Try to complete approximately 5-10mins before race start

5 mins easy rowing- include any exercises that you find helpful for technique

8 mins U2 rowing- 20-22spm

1min @26spm, 1 min easy

1min @28spm, 1 min easy

1min @target mid-race stroke rate, 1 min easy

30 secs @above target mid-race stoke rate, 2 mins easy

1-2 x 20 stroke practice race start