Loosen up! The Importance of a Proper Warm-Ups
By: VIDA Personal Trainer Patrick Merkel
“I walked here, so I’m warmed up and ready to go!”
But are you? Warm ups are essential for all modes of exercise but unfortunately, many people neglect this very important part of their routine. So what are warm ups? It is a common misconception that doing a few arm crosses and quad stretches will get you all ready for your brutal workout that’s to come. The truth is, warm ups and stretching are apples and oranges. A warm-up is “an activity that raises the total body temperature, as well as temperature of the muscles to prepare the body for vigorous exercise” (Coburn and Malek, 2012, p.259). A stretch, on the other hand, is a mode of increasing flexibility over the long term.
Proper warm ups are a key aspect in attaining the intensity needed to achieve optimal results (Coburn and Malek, 2012). Physiologically, many things happen within your body during the warm up period. These changes include:
- Increase in blood flow to the muscles
- Increase in sensitivity of nerve receptors
- Increase in the disassociation of oxygen from hemoglobin and myoglobin
- Increase in the speed of nerve impulse transmission
- Reduction in muscle viscosity
- Lowering of the energy rates of metabolic chemical reactions
(Coburn and Malek, 2012)
What do these changes mean for your performance? Enhanced blood flow to the muscle means that it not only has more oxygen available for use (because oxygen is transported by hemoglobin in the blood), but it also has more nutrients to assist in performance. Another very important bullet point above is the reduction in muscle viscosity. During your warm up, the joints release synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant to lubricate the joints. Doing this lowers the risk of injury and stress on the tendons and ligaments.
Finally, let’s talk biochemistry. By lowering the energy rates of metabolic chemical reactions, you are lowering the amount of energy required for certain reactions to be completed. For example, during exercise (especially weightlifting) our body is rapidly undergoing glycogenolysis, or the break-down of glycogen (our muscles main fuel). This process of breaking down glycogen for use by our body is essential for us to complete any activity involving our muscles. This process happens at a much quicker rate once a warm-up is completed because our body has been “primed” for the metabolic demands that lie ahead. The simple graph below illustrates the result of increased metabolic activity after a warm up. The red line represents someone who has completed a warm up, and the blue line represents someone who has not.
Now that we have all of the science out of the way, what do proper warm-ups look like? Let’s make one thing clear: static stretching is NOT a proper warm up. In fact, recent research indicates that static stretching prior to dynamic activity (running, jumping, throwing) may have a negative effect on performance (Coburn and Malek, 2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests three different modes of warming up: passive, general, and specific.
A passive warm up involves warming the body by using methods such as hot showers, heating pads, or massages. Although it may be beneficial, this method is not the most practical in many situations. The general warm up involves basic activities that require movement of the major muscle groups, such as jogging, cycling, or jumping rope (Coburn and Malek, 2012). The method increases the heart rate, blood flow, muscle temperature, and lubricates the joints. Finally, the specific warm up involves movements that are an actual part of the activity that will be performed, such as using a very low weight on squats before performing your working sets. Research suggests that this method is the most effective at boosting exercise performance.
Another widely accepted method of warming up is using dynamic stretching (the method that I often use with my clients). This involves movements that actively stretch the muscle and increase body temperature to prepare one for exercise. Examples of dynamic stretching include lunges or high knees, both of which are featured below.
Ok, so we understand that proper warm ups are necessary, but how good is good enough? The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that warm up involved one of the methods listed above (passive, general, specific, or dynamic) until a light sweat is broken. This usually takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to achieve. It’s time to rethink our warm up routine and give our body what it deserves—a proper warm up that will maximize our performance!
Interested in learning more? Email Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a training session!