Why You Should Never Skip a Warm-up

Many people question the importance of warming up before exercise and ask, ‘is it really necessary?’. The simple answer is yes, when executed correctly, warming-up can reduce the risk of injury and advance your physical performance. In this article, we will reveal why warming-up should be a fundamental part of your exercise routine.

Why is a warm-up important?

A warm-up is a low-intensity session, consisting of light cardio and stretches and is designed to prepare your body for specific aerobic activity, or strength training. Whilst a good warm-up might lengthen your time spent in the gym, it will gradually raise your body temperature and help increase blood flow to your muscles. In turn, this can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and lower the risk of injury. The benefits of warming up include:

  • Dilates blood vessels, ensuring muscles are well-supplied with oxygen.
  • Reduces the stress on your heart by gradually increasing heart rate.
  • Lubricates and loosens joints and increases blood flow for ease of movement.
  • Prevents injury to muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Helps to expand the range of movement.
  • Advance reaction times and coordination.
  • Can help to improve muscle strength and power.
  • Helps to mentally prepare you for the workout ahead.

Incorporating a consistent warm-up into your routine will prepare your circulatory and respiratory system for your upcoming workout. Bear in mind that your warm-up should be variable, as it’s important to change up the routine to fit your session.

How to adapt your warm-up to fit your workout

Although you need to consistently warm-up before every workout, it’s important that you are focusing on the correct movements to engage the muscle groups that you will be exercising. Your warm-up should begin by emulating the activity and movement of your chosen exercise at a slower pace. E.g. Prior to an endurance run (5k+) start by walking and gradually increase to a jog. Your first kilometre should be your slowest, and your speed should increase gradually, before reaching a steady pace that you can maintain throughout.

The same rules apply regardless of whether you are running, swimming, cycling, or whatever else! Your warm up should last for a minimum of five to ten minutes, however if you are exercising for a longer duration, or more intensely, your warm-up time should reflect this.

What about for strength training?

If you are strength training, you will need to adapt your warm-up accordingly, depending on your goals. Foam rolling is beneficial before heavy weight lifting, as it will reduce inflammation, increase circulation and improve flexibility. All of which can help improve weight lifting performance.

Light cardiovascular activity can also be beneficial before a heavy weights session. If you are focusing on legs, try adding a 5-minute high-incline walk, or a light jog to get the blood pumping before your session. On arms/ shoulder day, 10 minutes of steady state rowing will prepare the muscles before heavy lifting.

When it comes to weight-lifting, adding a single set of body weight, or light-weight repetitions (depending on your strength level), prior to your heavy-weight reps, can vastly improve your strength performance. Pyramid sets can help you increase your personal best. This refers to beginning with a low weight and high reps and increasing the weigh with lower repetitions. The benefits of warming up before strength training include:

  • Prepares the target muscles and joints before committing to heavy weights.
  • Prepares the central nervous system and blood flow.
  • Mental preparation for the weight training ahead.
  • Allows workout completion without excessive fatigue/ muscle soreness

Cooling Down is important too!

Cooling down is equally, if not more important, than warming-up. It allows for a gradual heart rate decline whilst regulating blood pressure. The aim of a cool down is to decrease intensity to return the body to a state of rest, slowly, not suddenly. Walking/ jogging on the treadmill ‘til your heart rate drops to 120bpm, or less, is an indication of a thorough cool down process.

Whilst we label it as a ‘cool down’, you should try to maintain and regulate your body temperature after a gruelling session. Going from temperature extremities can cause blood pooling in the muscles, a build-up of lactic acid and general sickness. Its advised to layer up with a cosy gym hoodie, post workout, to prevent these side-effects. 

Stretching 

The list of benefits associated with stretching is endless! A good post-workout stretch can improve performance and form due to increased range of motion, which is especially important for compound movements. It can ease muscle pain and stiffness, and improve your flexibility, when executed correctly. These tips will help ensure good form:

  • Your heart rate should be at a state of rest before you start stretching.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds for maximum impact.
  • Repeat the stretch for a further 30 seconds, leaning further into it to improve flexibility.
  • Do not bounce.
  • Control your breathing, inhaling and exhaling deeply with a brief pause will oxygenate your system and should allow you to ease into a deeper stretch.

Whilst a deep stretch will feel slightly uncomfortable, it should not be painful. If you feel aching or cramping during a stretch, you should slowly ease out of the movement, to prevent any muscle pulls. By stretching the muscles used during your workout, you will reduce the likeliness of DOMS and help your body to repair.

A well-rounded stretching routine has many health benefits, such as: reduced tension, improved range of motion and coordination; better blood circulation; and increased energy levels to name a few. Whilst it’s important to stretch after every session, incorporating a low-intensity stretch-focussed workout into your weekly regime can develop your overall performance. Try a Yoga, or Pilates class to add variation to your workouts. The movements are designed to improve your flexibility and core strength, and the breathing exercises will calm your mind and release tension.

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