If you played team sports as a kid, your coach probably required everyone to participate in a warm up before exercise. As adults participating in sports outside of a team environment or on self-organized teams, it seems that we just kinda skip the warm up and go straight into high intensity cardio exercise.
And that’s a mistake, especially as we age.
It’s easy to skip the warm up, especially if you’re pressed for time, it’s cold out, or any other number of reasons. However, understanding the importance of the warm up may clear that mental block that comes with doing the warm up.
How to Properly Warm Up before Exercise
A dynamic warm up is best to do prior to starting exercise, saving static stretching for the cool down, when the muscles are already warm.
Dynamic warm up simply means that you are performing exercises in a way that gradually increases range of motion, blood flow, and muscle length.
Allow yourself 5-10 additional minutes to properly warm up prior to exercising.
A few examples include:
- Air squats
- Leg swings, forward and back, as well as side-to-side
- Lunges with torso rotation
- Hip circles (aka stir the peanut butter)
- High knees
- Butt kickers
In addition to dynamic stretching, you’ll also want to include some motions that mimic the exercise you’re about to begin. Walking, if you’re a runner, using a kick board for swimming, or easy riding for a cyclist.
Benefits of Warming Up before Exercise
A proper warm up prepares your muscles, joints, and ligaments for the high intensity workout ahead, increasing performance and reducing injury, by slowly raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to the muscles.
Think of the warm up like your great need to have coffee before you talk to anybody in the morning. No coffee, no talking. They make mugs and shirts for that. Someone should make a warm up shirt with the same sentiments!
Increase Body and Muscle Temperature
As your body warms up, the blood temperature increases and the blood vessels dilate which enables more oxygen supply to the muscles and puts less stress on the heart to pump blood throughout the body.
Reduce Risk of Injury
In a sedentary state, whether that’s straight from bed, the couch, or the car, our muscles contract, meaning they’re in a short state. When we start to move, the muscles begin to elongate. When they stretch too quickly, injury is more likely to occur.
Warming up raises your muscle temperature, which allows for optimal flexibility and elasticity and prevents overstretching when we start an activity with cold muscles.
A good warmup also activates all of the muscles you will be using during your activity. This means that your body will be ready to use the proper muscles for a given exercise, rather than rely on the wrong muscles and result in injury.
Improved Workout Performance
Warming up lubricates your joints, enabling them to move more efficiently. Further, since your muscles are also activated, they will work together as a team, rather than rely on the heavy hitters (hey quads and glutes!) to do all of the work.
This allows you to move in proper form, providing more efficiency and power in each repetition.
The warm up is a good time to consider why you are working out in the first place. Maintaining a fitness routine is not easy, especially if you are an endurance athlete or exercise in inclement weather.
Visualizing your workout ahead can help you stay focused on your goals, whether that is an upcoming race, self-supported adventure, or creating a habit.
So while adding a warm up to your exercise routine might feel like another thing to add to your day, it will save you time in the long run, make you a better athlete, and could prevent injuries. And isn’t the goal to stay healthy for as long as possible?