How important is Warming Up?

Warming up is important for everyone, it is the time for you to prepare your body for the activity you are going to be doing. It will help prevent injury and enhance your performance and also help with your recovery.

The aim of warming up is to prepare your body for what you are about to do so the purpose is to be:

  • Increasing your body temperature
  • Increasing your heart rate and breathing rate
  • Increasing the blood flow to muscles
  • Increasing your neural readiness
  • Increasing the synovial fluid around joints which allow the joints to be more freely mobilized and an increased range of motion.
  • Increase in mental readiness

Warming up should consist of 5-10 minutes of a cardio activity such as jogging, cycling etc and should be followed by a warm up that is more specific to the exercise you will be completing.  For instance if you are going to be lifting weights then you would want to complete the cardio warm up followed by a set of reps of the exercise you will completing but at a low weight. So if you are going to do bench presses then start with a set of using just the bar or a small weight. Then move on to your next exercise and do a warm up set for that one if the exercise uses different muscles.

If you are going to be doing your 1RPM then it is important to do several sets of warm ups gradually increasing the weight so there is not a large jump from no weight to heavy weight. This will prepare your muscles and joints for the heavier weights that will follow.

Stretching

Stretching before exercise is heavily discussed in the world of fitness, some say don’t do it, others say do, some say stretch the muscles you are going to use, others say only stretch the antagonistic muscles (so the opposite muscles to what you are going to use). These days the idea of stretching before working out is now at the point where experts agree that static stretching before working out is not recommended. If you are going to stretch before a work out then it should be done using dynamic stretches to warm up joints and muscles as opposed to static stretches, which were the type that everybody was familiar with up until a few years ago.

Dynamic stretches use movement and momentum where as static stretches are where you hold a muscles in a fixed position for 30 seconds or longer. Static stretches should be done after working out and will be discussed below after the section on cooling down.

The reason for dynamic over static is that it has been researched and found that static stretches actually cause the muscle to tighten instead of relax which puts it more at risk of being injured, or may cause you to pull a muscle, as the muscle is being tensed before you have even started your workout. Your muscles can be weakened before your exercise which can lead you to having reduced strength or power during your exercise.

So if you are going to stretch before a work out do dynamic stretches which will also warm up the muscles and joints surrounding the muscles you will be using. This is particularly good if you are playing any type of sports,  the dynamic stretch should mimic the moves you are going to be doing for your exercise, so if you are going to be playing tennis, do some warm up swings, if playing golf do some moves that are the same as those you will be doing when playing. The following are some examples of dynamic stretches:

  • Walking Lunges
  • Circling shoulders and arms – remember to do both forward and backwards circles
  • Cross body arm swings
  • Twisting of the torso
  • Straight leg lift
  • High knees
  • Butt kicks
  • Spiderman crawl

This vide has various different dynamic stretches that can be used as part of your warm up.

Dynamic stretching involves swinging movements but should not to be confused with ballistic stretching which uses bouncing movements.

Cooling Down

Once you have completed your workout it is important to take time to cool down. Your body needs to prepare itself to go back into a state of rest. Again this will involve cardio eg a 5 minute walk after your work out will help with the following:

Blood pooling in the muscles which can cause a fall in blood pressure and cause some dizziness. Help with the removal of waste products that have been produced such as lactic acid

Part of the cool down is stretching and this is where you will get great benefits from completing post work out stretches.

Post Workout Stretching

After your cool down you will want to stretch all the muscles you have used this will help:

  • Lengthen out your muscles
  • Increase flexibility
  • Reduce muscles soreness (or commonly known as DOMS – delayed onset muscular soreness).

Stretching after a cool down should be done with static stretches, as opposed to dynamic or ballistic. If you are going to do standing, sitting and laying stretches it is a good idea to start with the standing stretches then move on to the sitting ones and then on to the laying  ones so that your body gradually relaxes and isn’t jumping up and down going from sitting position to standing etc which will only increase your heart rate instead of lowering it back to its resting rate.

Post work out stretching is great for improving flexibility, to increase flexibility hold your stretch for the initial 30 seconds and then increase the stretch a little bit further and hold for another 10 seconds.

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