QUESTION: “Hi Dr. Neal, I love your show! For the last 3 years, I have woken up to your podcast. And I was so excited when you added weekend episodes! My question is about warming up before exercising and stretching out muscles after. I don’t recall hearing this recommendation specifically for exercising the abs though. If I want to squeeze in a 5-minute ab routine in the middle of the day (like between Zoom calls), should I be including an ab warmup and post-stretch? Thank you!”
DR. NEAL: Thank you so much for your question and for your kind words. And, thank you for being a regular listener. I’m so glad you find the show helpful.
When it comes to warming up before a workout, you are correct that warm-ups are helpful for reducing our risk for injury and possibly improving our performance during the workout. But as you said, we never really hear about warm-up exercises for our abs specifically.
That’s because we use our abdominal muscles constantly.
In order to stand up, in order to twist our upper body, even the act of breathing requires the use of our abdominal muscles. Because the abs are nearly constantly engaged, we can think of them as basically being warmed up nearly all of the time.
Common Warm-Up Exercises
In fact, let’s imagine some of the most commonly recommended warm-up exercises. Walking, light jogging, bicycling, rowing, using the elliptical – these are all activities that will work large muscle groups and all will engage the use of the abdominal muscles to some extent.
When it comes to stretching, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that we stretch after our formal workout, instead of after our warm-up. It’s not that stretching after the warm-up is a terrible idea, it’s just that research has found that a cool-down with stretching after the workout is better because the muscles will be more flexible at that time.
There’s a reduced chance for injury when we stretch muscles that have been thoroughly worked. But if you find that you’re more likely to get your stretching in after your warm-up, that’s ok, it’s just not ideal.
Let’s just say that stretching after a warm-up is the second-best option whereas stretching after the workout is the best option.
Quick Abs Warm-Up Workout
So that leads me to your specific question, listener. You asked about getting in a quick 5-minute ab workout in the middle of the day between Zoom meetings and whether a warm-up and stretch are needed. I would say that anytime you can afford to perform a warm-up, do it. Again, it will help lower the chances for injury.
A warm-up should include the major muscle groups, the legs at a minimum, be performed at a low intensity and can last between 5 and 10 minutes. By using the major muscle groups, you will automatically engage your abs so they will be warmed up, too.
So, if you’re at home and between meetings, you could walk or jog in place for 5 minutes as your warm-up. Once the time is up, you can perform some gentle twisting motions, catch your breath, and perform your ab workout. Then, once your ab workout is done, stretch it out.
And here again, I would not only stretch your abs and your trunk, but your legs and other major muscle groups since you warmed those up at the beginning.