Today’s blog is all about the warm up phase of a workout. This phase, which quite a few people like to unnecessarily skip, is actually very important! If you don’t know, a warm up takes place before the main workout, in order to wake up and prepare the body for exercise, and a cool down (which we will discuss next time) takes place after the main workout, to help get the body back to it’s pre-exercise state.
Reason’s why you should warm up
- Injury prevention: one of the main reasons why you should warm up is to prevent injury at the muscles and joints. Quite simply, if you’ve been sat around for hours, if not days, it’s not the best idea to suddenly dive into exercise because your muscles and joints will be stiff, therefore by warming them up, you increase the blood flow and gradually ‘wake up’ the body for the main event. If you injure yourself, not only will this cause pain and negatively effect your day-to-day activities, you will not be able to exercise again until you are fully recovered, of which recovery will be dependent on the severity of the injury.
- Wake up the heart: At rest, resting heart rate can be around 60 beats per minute if you’re a fairly active person, whereas during exercise it can be up to 200 beats per minute during maximal exercise if you’re 20 years old. So to go from 60 to 200 immediately puts a lot of pressure on the heart, therefore it is important to gradually increase the beats per minute, so that it can cope with the demands of moderate and high intensity exercise.
- Mental preparation: Often, it is pretty hard to get ‘in the zone’ for sport and exercise when we’ve been at work, or have been relaxing, therefore by warming up we begin to mentally prepare for exercise. A light warm up is still a form of exercise and we are therefore increasing blood flow to our brain, releasing endorphins and slowly but surely, getting into the enjoyment phase of exercise. Additionally for those who play sports, often the warm up consists of sport-specific drills, so by completing these drills it also helps to mentally prepare for movements and skills required during training or a match.
- Increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles: the body uses oxygen and glucose for energy during exercise, which enables the muscles to contract, which forces the bones to move, which allows you to produce the movement or skill. Therefore by warming up, there is an increase in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles as a result of the demand (because when we exercise we need more), which means that the body is able to serve it’s purpose during sport and exercise without fatiguing too early.
How long should a warm up last for?
A warm up should be at least 5 minutes, and can last up to 30 minutes.
What are the phases of a warm up?
The first phase of the warm up typically aims to get your heart rate up, so that blood is diverted to the muscles you are about to use, because at rest, most of the blood goes to the organs, whereas during exercise, most of the blood goes to the muscles, so it is important to ‘alert’ the body that we need this to happen. Therefore, forms of light aerobic activity should take place, such as light jogging and brisk walking.
The second stage of the warm up typically aims to engage the muscles that are going to be used, therefore dynamic (not static) stretching is key. Dynamic stretching is where stretches take place while the body is moving, for example, stepping into a lunge to stretch muscles in the leg, and then stepping with the other leg to stretch the muscles in the other leg and so forth. Static stretching is where stretching takes place stationary, such as standing on one leg and lifting your heel to your bottom to stretch the quads. However, evidence suggests this is not an effective warm up strategy and can often lead to injury (tears and strains) due to stretching the muscle beyond it’s capabilities – especially without completing the first phase of the warm up. Therefore you must ensure that your stretching is dynamic.
The third stage of the warm up tends to be sport-specific drills. For example if you were about to go for a run, you would complete a variety of leg exercises to wake up the calf (gastrocnemius), quadriceps group and hamstrings group, such as walking lunges, leg swings, squats, calf raises and hip extensions to name a few. This mimics what the body will be doing during the run, therefore these specific warm-up drills prepares the body for the main run. If you play a certain sport, this would be the phase where you could complete a number of drills specific to your sport.
I hope this has highlighted reasons why you shouldn’t skip the warm up, you will notice that you will have a better workout/performance after you’ve completed an effective warm up compared to not having done so, therefore it’s only ever going to benefit you!
© 2018. Naomi Laws. All rights reserved.