What’s the likelihood, you’re reading this because you think you should warm up, and you know you should, but you don’t. That’s good, it means that you’re thinking the right way!
You don’t feel like you have enough time to fit a warm-up into your routine before you have to be somewhere else. You shouldn’t have to fit it in…a warm-up should be in your routine, no matter what!
Do these sound familiar? These are classic examples of excuses to not to warm-up.
“I don’t have enough time”
“I want to get my workout done as quickly as possible”
“I’m only going for a run”
“I’m only doing a short session”
“I’m only doing a light session, so I’ll warm-up as I go”
One of my pet peeves is when I get told that they went for a run and didn’t warm up because well, it’s running. “I warm-up in the first 10 minutes” is often the response. Why compromise your performance and your risk for injury? What’s the point in running for time, if you’re reducing your intensity for the first 10 minutes to warm-up… not to mention it doesn’t include the correct aspects of a warm up either!
Just an insight… muscles are great at absorbing force, thus ground reaction force. When our muscles are cold or inactive, they are less likely to absorb force, and this gets relayed to our joints instead. You hear, “running is bad for your knees”, but it doesn’t have to be if you know how.
You probably get the gist by now…. warming-up is really important and here’s why.
1. Raises Body Temperature
A warm-up should consist of progressive cardiovascular exercise, meaning that you should start light and build up both speed and intensity. This gives the heart a chance to recognise the demands of muscles and respond accordingly. A gradual increase in heart rate and an increase in blood helps to raise internal muscle temperature, preparing you for activity.
2. Delivers Oxygen to Muscles that are about to Work
As we know, our blood transports oxygen via Haemoglobin to the working muscles. This is why it is important to warm-up those muscles specific to the activity you are about to carry out. As well as the initial demand of oxygen to our muscles, warming- up also makes our respiratory system more efficient, with Haemoglobin more readily available and a quicker transport due to widening of blood vessels and speed of blood flow.
3. Reduces your Injury Risk
We now know that a graded warm-up increases the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system. With that in mind, an increase blood blow and subsequent increase in internal muscular temperature, our muscles become more pliant and have ability to change shape easier. Under circumstances where you may have to stretch during your activity, i.e. stretching for a forehand in Tennis, or simply increasing stride length when sprinting, these pliant muscles are more likely to adapt their shape with less tissue resistance. It must also be noticed that, all tissues, whether that be tendons, ligaments and fascia will also benefit from internal temperature changes.
Furthermore, our neuromuscular system is also stimulated and as we start to increase our intensity, our neuromuscular system becomes quicker and more efficient. Why is this important? Well…let’s take a simple buckling of the ankle during running- everyone’s done it! A neuromuscular system (system that involves our muscle contraction through nerve conduction) that has been stimulated with sport specific warm-up, is more likely to react quicker to correct the buckled ankle by firing signals to the correct muscles – the Peroneals in this example.
4. Increase in Performance
Both previous points explained above will have bearings on performance increase- such that an increase in temperature will increase contraction capability (due to an increase in range of motion) and increase in contraction speed due to a stimulated neuromuscular system.
The latter half of the warm-up, including sport specific bounding and reactive calisthenics will help with the “spring-ness” of our Tendons. These exercises enable Tendons to be more efficient when storing and using energy- thus making you jump higher, jump further or run or change direction faster.
5. Mental Preparation can Improve Performance
Often neglected and mostly seen in professional sport. Mental preparation can be a great opportunity to review skills, tactics and strategy to focus on the task in hand before performing. This may be as simple as clearing the mind with closing of the eyes and deep breaths, or may include imagery- imagining you performance step by step to help your body prepare for competition. It must be stressed that, mental preparation does not just need to be for professional athletes, nor does it only apply to pre-competition. It can and should be used before each workout, for all levels of sport.
So now you’re thinking…. What should a warm-up include?
So here it is…
==> Light cardiovascular exercise that will gradually increase intensity: Might include a light jog, static bike or movement on the spot.
==> Stimulate muscle activation of specific muscle groups: Active bands are great for this!
==> Dynamic stretching: Exercises that increase range of motion. A lunge with rotation is a great example to stretch those Hip Flexors and core.
==> Sports Specific drills: might include high skips or stiff leg jumps for runners or landing scenarios (jump, land and hold) for games players.
==> AVOID static stretching: Not only does static stretching NOT reduce your risk, they actually increase your risk- by increasing the stretch threshold in which the neuromuscular system reacts to. This means when your muscles stretch to its maximum capability during sport, there is no longer a mechanism to inform your brain, you are over-stretching. Stretching cold muscles can also be quite uncomfortable too, so don’t waste your time.