The Importance of a Warm-Up

( [email protected] ) Dec 24, 2005 02:03 PM EST

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You just made it to the fitness center and are on a very tight schedule. You have exactly 45 minutes to throw on work-out attire, work out, shower and rush back to pick up your kids. Should you make time for warming up or is it really a waste of time?

Is Warming Up Important?

In general, yes warming up is very important. I wish I could say without a doubt that all studies on warm-ups suggest a proven decrease in muscle strain and injury. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many studies support and recommend a proper warm-up while others studies show no real importance or value to warm-ups.

Types of Warm-Ups

There are two types of warm-ups: general and specific. A general warm-up involves performing some type of cardiovascular activity for a certain amount of time before commencing your exercise program. A specific warm-up is more in tune with the actual workout for the day. In other words, if you are going to exercise your lower body using squats as one of the exercises, you would begin by decreasing the amount of weight you usually use by 50% and perform a few warm-up sets. This helps prepare the body and specific joints for the task at hand. Both types of warm-ups serve their purpose. Whether you choose to complete both or just one depends on the exercise situation. However, it is important that you implement at least one form of warm-up into your routine.

Most scientific research on warm-ups focus on injury prevention for athletes. Warm-ups for athletes can take anywhere from 25 minutes to 60 minutes which is why questioning the validity of a warm-up is so important. Is it more beneficial to spend one hour warming up the body or using that time in actual sport-specific drills and training? Most of us are not athletes and are not warming up to compete in a professional sport. So, should we take approximately 15 minutes to warm up before performing a resistance training program or can we jump right into the first set? Let’s have a quick look at the benefits of warming up before jumping into a workout.

Why Warm Up?

Every lunch break, I warm up before a workout whether I am about to start a thorough 45 minute workout or a quick 15 minute workout in the office. Regardless of what science says, there is one thing I know for certain: a little bit of sweat makes me feel stronger and safer performing the exercise and helps me recover better between sets. In other words, I can get more resistance work accomplished in a shorter period of time.

Warming up on a bike, elliptical machine or walking on the spot changes your entire physical profile. Increasing you body temperature before a workout improves the mobility and elasticity of your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Your ability to move is also enhanced as co-ordination between your mind (which sends the nerve impulse) and muscle (which receives the impulse) is improved. There is also an increase in blood flow or circulation to the working muscles which increases muscle contraction and strength potential. As you warm up, you’ll also begin to sweat which increases the evaporation of heat, gets your body ready for more difficult work, improves the response of your heart and blood vessels to increased activity and increases the delivery of oxygen to your muscles. Are you still not convinced that warming up is worth the time?

Some Good News

Since we are not athletes, we do not have to warm up like athletes. Five to 10 minutes on a stationary bike which includes a progressive increase in the resistance or pedaling rate (RPMs) is all that is needed to raise your body temperature and to get your body ready for a workout. After 10 minutes, have a drink of water and perform five minutes of stretching. At the end of your workout, if you have time, perform another five minutes on a bike to help with recovery and stretch to relieve some of the tension.

A Word of Warning

Don’t be one of those people who jump right into a warm-up without thinking about safety. Your body will ache and your performance will drop off quickly if you don’t warm up properly. Below are a few scenarios that will help you choose an “ideal” or “proper” warm-up.

Warm-Up Ideas

1. The ideal warm-up scenario – you arrive at the fitness center and spend 15 minutes on a cardio machine or until you feel a sweat. You don’t train to the point of fatigue, but hard enough that you feel good and strong. You perform 10 minutes stretching the body parts you are going to exercise that day. Before officially starting your workout, you perform a few warm-up sets with the resistance training exercises you planned for the day. At the end of the workout, you perform a 10-minute cool-down on the cardio machine followed by a 10-minute stretch routine. In total, you are looking at a 90- minute workout commitment.

2. Quick 30-minute circuit resistance training workout – in this scenario, if you have cardio equipment handy, perform a 5-minute warm-up on the machine. Afterwards, get on the circuit and use the first two or three exercises as a further warm-up. By the fourth resistance exercise, you should be ready to exercise at a good pace. Stretch the major muscle groups for 5 minutes at the end of the circuit and stretch between exercises or stations holding each stretch for 10 to 15 seconds.

3. Cardio workout day only – Your exercise program calls for a 20 to 30 minute cardio day. Use the first five to eight minutes of the workout to adequately raise body temperature and to allow the heart and vessels to adapt to the demands of the workout by slowly increasing the resistance or pedal frequency (RPMs). Try increasing the resistance and RPMs every two minutes until you are close to your workout level. Leave two to three minutes for a cool-down at the end of the workout. Stretch your lower body for three to five minutes.

Final Words

These three scenarios by no means exhaust all warm-up opportunities. If you don’t have time for a general warm-up or just don’t like performing cardio type exercises, then a specific warm-up is ideal for you. Simply choose three to four exercises and lift a lighter weight for 10 to 15 repetitions. You will feel better, stronger and protect your body from sudden movements or loads that can increase your chance of injury. If you enjoy a good cardio warm-up, just keep in mind that while 5 to 10 minutes of cardio training will increase overall body temperature and circulation, most cardio machines generally involve the muscles of the lower body with no real movement in the upper body. So, if you are stuck for time, but want to perform a general cardio warm-up before your resistance workout, perform two to three specific light warm-up sets for your upper body. Warming up prepares your body for movement and gives you a better sense of your body’s ability and performance potential. If you don’t normally warm up before starting your routine, give it a try during your next workout.

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