Most of us understand that warming up before a workout will increase our heart rate, loosen up muscles, and that this process is important to preventing injuries.
But, there's more to it than that. A proper warm-up will include specific movements that not only to make sure your muscles and joints are primed for whatever your workout entails for the day, but also ensure that your nervous system is ready. This is why we don't simply row until we sweat and then jump into clean and jerks at 60% of your 1RM. Your brain needs to be prepared to not only prevent injury, but have the ability to perform well.
Getting the nervous system ready means your brain is properly communicating with your body and your body is properly sending signals back to the brain.
Here is an example on how to warm up your squat:
Step 1: Row for 5-10 minutes. This gets your blood flowing, creates warmth in the body and includes the flexion and extension of the hips, knees and ankles that will also be used during your squat. Step 2: Do 10 to 20 reps of an air squat. Note how it feels and if you need to mobilize any especially sticky spots. Step 3: Do some specific mobility, but don't hold anything longer than 10 to 20 seconds. Dynamic stretching is best. This might include foam rolling, alternating side lunges, spiderman lunges, leg swings or a calf stretch. The reason you don't want to hold it very long is because if you do, you are telling your brain you want to muscle or joint to relax and possibly go further than it's normal range of motion today which is the exact opposite of what you will be trying to do when you want it to fire and move a barbell. Step 4: Get your barbell prepped and do one set with just the barbell. NO WEIGHTS. I'm not sure why so many people skip this step. This is imperative for getting your brain and body ready for the work.
Step 5: Gradually increase the weight. GRADUALLY. This does not mean throwing on 45s. There are very few people who can consider 90 pounds a gradual increase. I would recommend 25s and 5 to 10s for the majority of us. Step 6: Once you get to your working weight, go get 'em! Optional Step 7: To make the most of your time, do some mobility and general, brief stretching between sets if you have time.
Will you get injured without going through a proper warm up? Maybe not today, but eventually you will. This will also impair your recovery rate and prevent any old injuries from properly healing. Take the time to prehab, so you don't have to spend all of your time rehabbing and dealing with nagging injuries. And if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask a gym staff member, or your sports coach. That's what they are there for!