The beauty of exercise science is that it is always evolving. We discover and learn new things almost daily. The problem is, what science unfolds and what becomes popular belief are very distant, thus causing more pseudo-science than what really needs to be understood. There are several exercise truths however that through the course of the relatively young modern fitness movement (began in the 1950s) has stood the test of time none more other than the concept of warming up before exercise.
Why Should You Warm Up?
In a few more weeks (perhaps even now in some areas) you will want to let your car warm up a few minutes prior to driving on your way to work. Why? The engine and mechanical parts work better if given just a few minutes to get things circulating and heated up. Your body is no different. Here are some of the reasons why warming up your body prior to exercise is important:
- Reduces the risk of injury and optimizes physical performance by lubricating the joints through the production of synovial fluid.
- Warms up the muscles by increasing blood flow through the muscles and increasing core temperature, thus making the muscles more pliable.
- Improves motor unit recruitment of particular movement patterns suitable for the upcoming workout
- Increases the rate of sweat production to keep the body temperature regulated.
- Elevates the heart rate so there is less of an initial stress to the body as the workout begins.
- Helps your mental preparation for the task, taking the time to get into the right mindset so that the workout does not become yet another mundane activity.
It is an all too common mistake by novice and veteran exercisers alike to skip or neglect a proper warm up prior to working out. Unfortunately, it could be the difference between a very effective and safe workout and a so-so workout that could possibly end up with an injury. But what constitutes an effective warm up?
What Makes A Warm Up?
There is a short answer and a slightly longer but more specific answer to this question. First the short. Simply anything that you can do that gets the body moving, whether it’s jumping jacks, marching in place, old school calisthenics (toe touches, windmills, etc.), walking on the treadmill for a few minutes, or simply pedaling the bike, anything you can do to go from a state of rest to one of sustained activity. Depending on the length of workout you have planned or the temperature or relative humidity of the surroundings, the warm up can be effective as short as two to three minutes or as much as five to ten minutes. But for a more proper and effective warm up, the warm up will resemble more of a workout to the novice exerciser but a welcomed addition for the experienced. Here are the components of a more effective warm up:
- Joint Mobility – Good mobility truly is the fountain of youth! The further you can move your joints through their active range of movement the more mobile you are. As we age we lose mobility through the joints and become less and less mobile. A good mobility routine will not only help to lubricate the joints with synovial fluid but it will also help to maintain a good level of joint mobility. The stiffer the joints become the more labored the movements become. You will improve your economy of movement by increasing your mobility. Your mobility also has a direct impact on the way your body moves as an integrated unit. If you have tight hips then your lower back will need to become more mobile in order to move fluidly. Joint mobility should be approached systemically from head to toe spending more time on stiff joints and less time on mobile joints.
- Movement Integration – Prepare the body for exercise by integrating your entire body. Your body consists of small stabilizer muscles that keep your joints in place and larger prime mover muscles that do all the work. The best way to improve this is to include movements that require balance and cross body movements.
- Movement Preparation – Movement preparation involves practicing specific movements that mimic the movements that you will be using in your workout. You would not want to prepare for a squat workout while sitting riding a bike. Movement preparation based exercises not only copy the exact movement patterns in preparation for the workout but they also give you time to improve them.
- Soft Tissue Work – It is very important to keep all of your soft tissue in good condition. Muscles, tendons and ligaments that have micro-tears, adhesions and scar tissue needs to be addressed and assisted in the recovery process. Self-myofascial techniques such as foam rollers or even just a tennis ball can help to improve muscle movement by helping to break up knots and tight spots.
The Final Stretch
For many years, we thought that stretching the muscle prior to activity reduced the chance of injury. Research now shows that stretching prior to exercise has no effect on rate of injury and can have a serious effect on muscle performance. Joint mobility movements are far better at the beginning of a workout than the old fashioned static stretching exercises. Regardless of the amount of time you have never skip your warm up. A warm up is an important part of your workout; it is not separate from your workout. There are other parts that you can skip – like checking your phone every 30 seconds,
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.
2013 12 Days of Fitness is coming soon! Hard to believe but it’s getting close to that time of year again. This will be my fourth year writing the 12 Days of Fitness, a 12 day feature on my website where I write about helpful exercise and health topics to keep you focused and thinking about your fitness through the busy holiday season. I’m gratefully accepting topic ideas so if there’s something you’d like to see featured in any one of the 12 Days, just let me know by sending me an email. All suggestions are completely anonymous.