GOALS: Increased strength, endurance, flexibility

Building muscle is nice. Not one person who frequents this site would say that adding a few pounds of lean mass is unpleasant. But increasingly, gym lovers are becoming more concerned with the efficiency of their workouts. After all, time is a precious resource and you want every rep to count. One easy way to ensure that your sweat equity is paying off is to forget everything you know about warming up for weights. Time to leave behind the stale tradition of doing a few light stretches ahead of your first set. Greater gains await once you commit to the concept of the dynamic warm-up.

Once upon a time, your high school P.E. teacher had you spend the first 10 minutes of class stretching. Touch your toes, grab your ankle behind your back, pull your arm across your chest. Repeat. Now go run...or something. This now ancient ritual was pre-workout gospel in fitness circles for eons and bodybuilders weren't immune. Some still cling to this routine, occasionally adding a few light warm-up sets before getting into the heavy stuff. But newer research is showing that a dynamic warm-up that focuses on movement rather than static stretches, better prepares muscles and joints for the work ahead.

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that collegiate wrestlers that abandoned static stretching warm-ups and performed four weeks worth of dynamic warm-up had greater power, strength, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity and agility than the stretching group.

Moreover, research has shown that static stretching prior to lifting does nothing to reduce the risk of injury during workouts. In fact, many lifters - particularly those who are unconditioned or returning from a break - place themselves at heightened risk of injury by stretching cold muscles. Still not convinced? Studies show that static stretching can acutely compromise strength during your workout. Ready to come in with the new?

While the term dynamic warm-up is very broad and can include any number of pre-workout movements, you can boil it down to a single concept: move before you lift. By engaging in more active exercises, such as jumping jacks, long walking lunges, power skips, shadowboxing and walking knee hugs for 5-10 minutes, you raise your core temperature, increase blood flow and lubricate joints. Taken together, these benefits allow you to start your workout in peak condition for intense training.

Most of these activities can be performed in a small portion of real estate in your gym. Try piecing together your own routine, doing 5-6 of the activities listed for 30-60 seconds without rest.

  • High-knee run in place
  • Jumping jack
  • Dumbbell shadowbox
  • Lunge with elbow to instep
  • Power skip in place
  • Leg swing
  • Trunk rotation
  • Walking knee hug
  • Butt kickers

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A look at some of the more unfamiliar moves:

    From a standing position, lift the knee and foot of one leg while you lift your opposite arm. Drive your foot down to the ground, generate a double foot contact as your opposite foot and knee begin to lift. Alternate legs and arms, repeating for reps.

    From a standing position, raise your right leg to your chest while coming up on the ball of your left foot. Squeeze your knee into your chest for a count. Set your right leg down ahead of you, as you would while walking and repeat the motion for the opposite side. Alternate until you've taken 20-30 steps.

    Keeping your thighs perpendicular to the floor, simply run in place, kicking your glutes with your heels on every step.

    Step forward into a lunge with your left foot and lace ripght hand on the ground and left elbow to the inside of the left foot. Hold for 1-2 seconds and press through your front heel to walk into the next rep.       

    Supporting yourself against a power rack or other stationary object, swing one leg forward and backward under control, lifting forward to a point you feel a stretch on your hamstring and backward to a point you feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Switch legs.