Benefits of Warming Up: Jumpstart Yout Exercise Session
Warming up may reduce the risk of injury, improve performance and accelerate recovery.
Sean Lee, NASM, ACE – CPT, NSCA – CSCS
- A warm-up is an essential tool for preparing the mind and body for the physical demands of exercise.
- A warm-up may reduce the risk of injury, improve performance and accelerate recovery.
- A properly designed warm-up should last 5-10 minutes or longer and provide a systematic and consistent approach to preparing for exercise.
- A warm-up should focus on the muscle groups that will be involved in the upcoming activity, mimicking the joint actions, muscle contractions, and motions of that activity.
Research indicates that a proper warm-up is one of the most overlooked aspects of an exercise session. Most people rush into their workouts and neglect to include a comprehensive warm-up into their fitness routines. Understanding the rationale for and the importance of including a warm-up in fitness routines is critical to its implementation. Warming up is a progressive process that should last 5-10 minutes; for those who are new to exercise, have a medical condition, or a history of musculoskeletal injury, the warm-up should be longer. Most people would be surprised to learn that a proper warm-up can make the exercise experience more efficient, productive and enjoyable. Warming-up is an essential tool for preparing the mind and body for physical activity and provides a seamless transition between rest and exercise.
Whether you are a seasoned athlete, weekend warrior, or recreational exerciser, a properly designed warm-up will ensure you get the most out of your workout. When performed correctly, a warm-up will reduce your risk for injury, enhance exercise performance, and accelerate recovery. Below are the benefits of incorporating a warm-up into your exercise routine:
- Increases circulation and blood flow to the muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons
- Improves pliability, elasticity, and suppleness of these structures
- Increases core body temperature
- Stimulates the cardio respiratory, neuromuscular, and metabolic pathways
- Increases the rate and force development of muscle contractions
- Increases metabolic rate for improved oxygen efficiency and transport
- Allows you to exercise for a longer period of time
- Prepares you psychologically through increased arousal and focus on exercise
WHAT IS GOING ON INSIDE YOUR BODY?
When you begin to warm-up, your cardio respiratory, neuromuscular, and metabolic pathways are stimulated by the increase in activity. Muscles contract requiring an increase in oxygen delivery. To meet these increased demands, your body increases heart rate, blood flow, cardiac output, and respiratory rate. This increase results in more efficient delivery of blood through the arteries and veins and to the working muscles. As blood temperature rises so does the delivery of oxygen, allowing muscles to utilize glucose and fatty acids for energy and calorie burning. All of these bodily processes prepare us for higher intensity activity.
AGE AND LIFESTYLE FACTORS
Age and lifestyle factors also play a role in the warm-up process. With the advent of “labor saving devices” and information technology (IT), physical activity is no longer a habitual part of an individual’s daily routine. Instead, most people must now make the conscious decision to be physically active. A recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that sedentary behaviors, such as using the computer and watching TV, consumed 7 to 10 wakeful hours a day. Sedentary behavior, poor nutritional choices, and the effects of aging result in a loss of lean muscle mass, dehydration of soft tissue structures, and a decrease in the heart’s ability to pump and circulate blood throughout the body. Entering an exercise session in this stagnated physiological state is unsafe and requires a carefully planned warm up for proper transition. Without a proper warm-up, you are likely to encounter setbacks, such as injury, a decrease in exercise performance, or fatigue.
A SYSTEMATIC AND CONSISTENT APPROACH
A warm-up will consist of three phases: 1) General 2) Active 3) Specific
3 to 5 minutes consisting of light cardiovascular activity gradually increasing heart rate, respiration rate, circulation, and blood flow to the working muscles.
3 to 5 minutes of more active movement stimulating the central nervous system (CNS), enhancing proprioception, and neuromuscular coordination.
3 to 5 minutes of movement designed specifically to mimic the joint actions, muscle contractions, and motions of the upcoming activity.
Complete the three warm-up phases and your body and mind will be alert, focused, and prepared to take on the exercise task at hand.
The warm-up is performed at the beginning of the exercise session and should last 5 to 10 minutes or longer. The duration of your warm-up activity may vary depending upon the intensity of your workout and your current level of fitness. If you are new to exercise, have a medical condition, or a history of musculoskeletal injury, it is recommended that you get medical clearance prior to participating in an exercise program. Once cleared, choose a warm-up that is clearly organized, systematic, and provides a consistent approach to prepare for exercise.
An ideal warm-up intensity has not yet been established. However, a basic guideline is to work at a level that generates a small amount of perspiration, but does not leave you feeling fatigued. Following the three phases of warming up as outlined above will allow for a gradual increase in intensity. A proper warm-up also provides a framework from which to create a safe and pleasant exercise experience.
Taking time out of each day for exercise is extremely rewarding and provides many physiological and psychological benefits. Our aging population and sedentary behavior, however, have required us to look differently at how we approach each exercise session. Current scientific literature has taught us that following a comprehensive, systematic warm-up routine prior to exercise can maximize the benefits of exercise, decrease risk of injury, improve performance, and accelerate recovery. Scheduling a few additional minutes of time at the beginning of each workout should not be overlooked; the warm-up is just as important as the exercise session itself.
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