Exercise has benefits for just about everyone.
No matter your age, skill level, or personal goals, getting physical activity is good for both physical and mental health.
However, exercising without a proper warm up can lead to injury which will set you back from reaching your goals.
We’re a DC sports medicine clinic, and we’ve seen the consequences first hand of clients who skipped the warm up.
We want everyone to exercise, but we also want you to do so safely.
Today we’ll look at why warm ups are important, and how to create one that’s right for you.
Let’s get warmed up.
What Is A Warm Up?
Simply put, a warm up is activity you do prior to your workout.
It helps prepare your body and mind for the more demanding activity of your actual workout.
They generally consist of lower impact exercises, similar to the ones you’ll do in your actual workout.
Often times people will skip warm ups.
After all, they add extra time to your workout.
Plus, generally a warm up doesn’t provide the calorie burn and muscle building you will experience when you get to the main event.
But skipping your warm ups, can lead to muscle soreness, injury, and excess strain on your heart.
This is especially true if you are participating in high impact and intense exercise.
What Are The Benefits Of Warm Ups?
When you go from not moving to moving, you’ll notice some changes in your body.
Think about something you do every day – waking up in the morning.
It can often be difficult to get moving.
To go from being wrapped in a cozy blanket to getting up and starting your day.
And rarely do we jump out of bed and are fully ready to face the day.
We start slowly.
Take time to stretch.
You’re warming up for your day.
And starting your workout isn’t much different.
You’re making a change to your level of activity, and you need to prepare for it.
1. They Prepare Your Body For A Workout
When you start working out, there are some changes which occur in your body, such as:
- Your heart rate increases
- Your joints loosen
- Your blood vessels widen to increase blood flow to muscles
- Your body temperature increases
- The connection between your body and brain increases
- Your muscles get more oxygen
- Your muscles contract more easily
While these are all good things, if they happen to quickly it can be a shock to your system.
A warm up gives your body a chance to ease into these changes and build up to them gradually.
2. They Reduce Your Risk Of Sports Injuries
Everyone wants to see that they’re progressing towards their exercise goals.
This is true whether you’re hitting the gym, running outside, or participating in sports.
The last thing you want is to suffer an injury which will set you back and make progressing harder.
But this is a lot more likely to happen if you skip your warm up.
A proper warm up lowers your risk of injury.
3. They Improve Flexibility
An important component of your warm up should be stretching.
This improves blood flow to your muscles and helps increase your flexibility.
Stretch after the rest of your warm up when your muscles are warm, but before jumping into the main part of your workout.
4. They Increase Your Body Temperature
Going from being extremely cold to warm very quickly increases your chance of developing muscle cramps and strains.
Jumping into a workout without gradually bringing up your body temperature first is not a great idea.
Doing this can put a lot of excess stress on your muscle, including your heart.
5. They Can Help You Get In A Headspace For Exercise
Mental preparation for things can be just as important, if not more important, than physical preparation.
This seems obvious when it comes to mental exercises.
You don’t write an important test without studying first.
And you’re unlikely to go into an important work presentation without practicing.
But mental preparation for physical activity is just as important.
This is especially true when your exercises get more difficult and your goals get harder to reach.
Warming up will put you in the right headspace to push further and reach your goals.
How To Warm Up Before An Exercise
The way you warm up will depend on the exercise you want to do after you’ve warmed up.
Which muscles you focus on, and how you move in your warm up should be specific to what activities you’re going to do next.
Let’s look at some general principles for warming up.
1. General Warm Up
In general, your warm up should focus on major muscle groups.
Activities such as using a stationary bike on a low setting, walking, jogging, or light aerobics are a great way to warm up.
This should last between five and ten minutes and be enough to start to notice a little bit of sweat.
The goal of the general warm up is to increase your respiration and heart rate to get more oxygen to your muscles.
2. Static Stretching
Static stretching simply means holding each stretch for ten to fifteen seconds.
It helps increase overall flexibility and should target all major muscle groups.
Stretching acts to elongate tendons and muscles, allowing for an increase range of motion.
3. Warm Up Specific To Your Sport
Once you’ve got a general warm up, and some static stretches out of the way, you’ll want to focus on sport specific moves next.
Since your muscles are already warm by this point, you can increase the intensity a little bit.
Sport specific warm ups are exactly that, sport specific.
For instance, if you’re going to be lifting weights, you might perform the same lifting movements but with lighter weights than you’d use when trying for a personal best.
If you’re going for a bike ride or a run, then you’ll cycle or jog at a slower pace than you intend to go at the peak of your workout.
Essentially, consider what your workout or sport entails, and then do those movements at a less intense pace.
4. Dynamic Stretching
Static stretches, as we discussed, involve holding your stretch for ten to fifteen sections.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves movement.
Using controlled movements, bring the part of your body you want to stretch to the upper limits of what your range of motion allows.
This may start to feel uncomfortable, but you should never stretch to the point of it feeling painful – doing so could risk injury.
Just like the sports specific warm up, dynamic stretching should be reserved for movements which are sport specific.
How Long Should A Warm Up Last?
You may be reading everything involved in the warm up described above and thinking “wow – that will take as long as my workout”.
And yes, we’ve described all of the steps we would all do to warm up in an ideal world.
But that’s not the world we live in, and we don’t all have unlimited time to dedicate to our warm ups and workouts.
So a good rule to use is that your warmup should be relative to the level at which you are training or practicing in.
For instance, in most hour long group fitness class meant for people looking for increase their health and wellness levels, a typical warm up is usually between five and ten minutes long.
However, if you’re involved in your sport or activity of choice at a higher level, then you’ll want to dedicate the appropriate amount of time and effort to warming up to prevent injury.
Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today
Are you concerned about avoiding sports injuries?
Or perhaps you’re returning to exercise after an injury.
Maybe you’re heading back to the gym for the first time since the pandemic started, and are worried about injury risk after a few years of being less active.
We’re Capitol Physical Therapy and we can help you navigate all of these situations.
Whether it’s for prevention of sports injuries, or starting to exercise again after having one, we can help.
Book an appointment today with one of our skilled professionals.
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005
9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC