Just as these professionals prepare for what they are doing, you need to do the same for your body before exercising. Before you exercise, no matter what type of exercise, your body is in a totally different state than what you are about to ask it to do. Let’s say that you have been sitting at the office all day in front of your computer and you hop in your car, drive through traffic to get to the gym, and because you are running late, you skip the warmup.
Tempting as it might be to skip the warm up before a workout, it is important not to.
Why is a warm up so important before exercising?
The three main reasons to warm up are:
- Blood flow/circulation to muscles and joints (lubrication)
A warm up will increase the circulation to your muscles. Increased circulation brings more oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles and improves suppleness and ability to contract more effectively.
Your heart is a muscle, and also requires warming up, especially before intense exercise such as aerobic workouts, HIIT interval training, or heavy strength training. By warming up your cardiovascular system gradually, you allow a rise in blood pressure as your blood vessels dilate, and better regulation of your breathing.
Much like a door hinge, your joints function better when they are well lubricated. This helps to increase the range of motion of your joints. Your connective tissue also works better when warmed up.
- Neurological warm up
When you boot up your computer, the noises that you hear are from the nerve–center of the computer warming up.
When you warm up your body before exercising, you are essentially doing the same thing. You are allowing your nervous system to be more efficient at firing those synapses from nerves to muscles.
Warming up improves responsiveness or the effectiveness of specific movement patterns that you are going to be doing. For example, if you are warming up for a run, doing a few high knee jogs, deep squats, and straight leg kicks are a lot more specific to running than hanging on to a tree and stretching your quads.
- Mental warm up
Consider how effective your workout is when you are distracted versus when your mind is attentive to what you are doing. This rings true whether you are out for a bike ride or in the gym for a strength-training session. Having your mind in the game is important, not only for the effectiveness of your exercise, but also for your safety when using weights and other exercise equipment, or even going outdoors for a run or walk.
From my own experience, when I used to race on inline skates, the mental warm-up prior to any race was critical to the outcome.
What is a good warm up?
We have discussed the purpose of a warm up, now let’s talk about what is a proper warm up.
A proper warm-up needs to be included at the beginning of each exercise session. Five to 10 minutes is all that is necessary for most people for most workouts. If you know that you take a little longer to warm-up, then allow more time, but don’t turn the warm-up into another workout. Certain populations need longer warm-ups, such as someone with arthritis or an older individual.
A warm-up needs to be specific towards the planned activities, dynamic, gradual, and a warm up, not a workout. Tons of people warm up at the gym on the bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine for 5-10 minutes and then get right into their weight lifting routines. While these activities do get your circulation going, they are often not specific enough to what they are going to ask their bodies to do.
Your warm up can start on the treadmill, etc, but then be sure and add dynamic and
limbering movements. Dynamic warm-ups involve limbering moves versus statically holding a stretch. Static stretches are best saved for post-workout. Think “limbering” before a workout and “stretching” after a workout.
When you see soccer players warming up at the field before a game, you will see them jogging, twisting, lunging, etc. In a yoga or Pilates class, the instructor leads the class through a series of movements that prepare the body for more complicated or demanding movements. Downward dog to child’s pose to plank, for example. These all are essentially dynamic stretches.
Alternatively, a warm up can even be a low-intensity version of the exercise that you are going to do.
When I go out for a run, for example, I always start out super slow. Some people start their runs with walking, but it works for me to start slow, and over the first mile, gradually increase my pace. Sometimes, when lifting weights, I will do a light set (or have my clients do a light set) first to prime the muscles and nervous system, especially if I don’t feel that I warmed those muscles and joints up enough.
Or, you can skip the treadmill altogether, and just do a warm up such as the one that we list below.
Here is a short warm up that you can try before your next workout at the gym:
- Try any or all of these as part of your next warm up.
- Marching with a light medicine ball (or light dumbbell) pushing out and in
- Downward dog to plank and go back and forth between the two
- Arm circles forwards and backwards
- Squat and reach one arm diagonally across your body when you stand up (5-10x each side)
- 25-20 jumping jacks (or jog in place)
- Rotating plank
If you want to learn more check this book out.
This video shows an awesome dynamic stretching routine
Why is a warm up important? You want to prepare your body for what you are about to ask it to do physically, neurologically, and mentally. These are the main reasons to warm up. If you skip the warm up because you are running late, or in too big of a hurry to get to the workout itself, you are only short-changing your body’s ability to maximize your workout, even if it is a walk versus something more intense.
Do you have a favorite way to warm up? If you do, please share it with us.
By Sue Bream yoursimplehealthylife.com