Why it’s important to warm up before working out
One of the most disputed topics in sports and fitness revolves around the need for warming up before exercising. People argue about whether it is necessary and, if it is necessary, which method is best. Traditionally, most warm-up routines were based on stretching, but dynamic, low-intensity movements prior to exercise have become more popular today.
Regardless of the way in which you warm up, the reason it is considered important is that it has the potential for enhancing performance while lowering the risk of injury. During a warm up, your body’s core temperature rises as your musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and nervous systems start to prepare to meet the greater demands about to placed upon them. In my opinion, a third reason may actually be just as important. Performing a few minutes of easy movements prepares a person mentally for what they are about to do. It sharpens focus and brings clarity to the task at hand. In today’s fast-paced, hectic world, the importance of being focused can’t be overstated.
Typically, a warm up will take between 5 and 10 minutes and be broken down into “general” or “specific” types of activities.
The goal is to raise the temperature of the body as a whole and the muscles, ligaments and tendons specifically. As the phrase “warm up” implies, you’ll know you’re doing it right if you’ve begun to sweat as a response to a higher body temperature. Traditional warm up activities include cycling, treadmill walking, jogging or doing a variety of calisthenics such as jumping jacks or skipping. These are all “multi-joint” movements that are rhythmic in nature and require an increase in blood flow along with an increased need for oxygen.
Specific warm up movements, on the other hand, are directed toward the parts of the body that will be used. If you ever get the chance to see a football team warming up, then you’ll see the kickers taking easy kicks at the air and the quarterbacks throwing short, lazy passes to receivers. Running backs will do slow motion running drills and defensive players will back pedal at half speed for a few yards at a time.
When I work with a client, I consider several things when it comes to planning their session.
The first is how they should be warming up. My primary concern is how much time they have. If they are on a very tight schedule and only working out 2 to 3 times per week, I will have them focus primarily on specific movements before training. This gives us the ability to immediately highlight areas that they’d like to work on as they warm up their bodies and prepare their minds for the session ahead.
Like the football players, these clients start by mimicking the exercises of the day in a slow, light manner … gradually building intensity as the “real” workout starts. I call this “getting a rolling start.”
For clients who have more time and might be working out more often, they’ll divide their warm up 50/50 between a general activity, like treadmill walking, and specific drills like light chest presses or lat pulldowns.
To plan the perfect warm up for yourself, decide how much time you’ve got for each day’s session. If you’ve got more than 30 minutes, take 5 minutes to elevate your heart rate and to get your mind focused by doing easy endurance exercise. Follow this with 5 minutes of specific movements that are part of your workout, but do them at a slower pace with lighter resistance levels.
If your entire workout time is less than 20 minutes I would take about 5 minutes doing a “rolling start” as you gradually increase resistance and intensity levels.
Following your warm up and your workout is the time to cool down and stretch, which is safer and more effective when your muscles are warm, loose and pliable.
Ernie Schramayr, CPT, is a Medical Exercise Specialist in Hamilton who helps his clients manage medical conditions with exercise. You can follow him at erniesfitnessworld.com. 905-741-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.