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Why Warm Up?

By Dr Noel Duncan

When you were young you never had to warm up before climbing a tree or playing tag. So why is pre-exercise warm up now an accepted, even expected, part of exercise? And how should you do it?

Warming up brings a multitude of benefits and it is for these reasons that the warm up is now ingrained in any exercise session program design. Two of the most obvious reasons for warming up include an increase in your physical capabilities and a reduced chance of injury.

Performed correctly, the warm up will stimulate your cardiac, nerve and metabolic systems, increasing your body temperature.

Benefits of increased body temperature include:

  • Higher muscle temperature, resulting in muscles capable of more forceful contraction and faster relaxation - speed, strength and power are all enhanced.
  • With the increase in temperature, the body's ability to send and receive nerve messages also increases. Faster reflexes and related muscular reactions will not only aid performance but importantly, reduce the chance of injury.
  • Higher metabolic rate so oxygen can be transported to the working muscles faster.
  • Greater joint mobility and less joint stiffness. The amount of fluid within the exercising joints increases, improving joint range and mobility.
  • Better cooling mechanisms; the body has a very efficient cooling method and the warm up activates this process (sweating).
  • Higher blood temperature, blood vessel dilation and a resulting reduction in resistance to blood flow. This reduces the stress placed on the heart.
  • Improved hormonal response, resulting in greater efficiency in processing carbohydrates and fatty acids for efficient calorie burning.
  • Better psychological preparation for competition or a workout - you can mentally prepare while you warm up.

The warm up should be split into two phases:

Preliminary Phase

  1. Perform approximately 10 minutes of controlled, moderate intensity exercise. Where possible, utilise the muscle groups which will be active in competition.
  2. Slowly increase joint mobility through a series of flexibility exercises focusing on the active body parts. Only perform these mobility exercises after the body temperature has increased. The increased temperature and the increased blood flow will reduce the chance of injury.

Specific Phase:

  1. Increase the intensity of the warm up until you begin to sweat. Sweating indicates the intensity of the exercise is appropriate.
  2. Do not over exert yourself. While sweating is a good indicator of intensity, there are no set guidelines to establish the exact duration of warm up. This will depend on your fitness level and the type of activity you are preparing for.
  3. Increase joint range of movement further using functional exercises i.e. exercises which replicate the movements performed during the workout or event.
  4. Time the warm up so that there is only a short time (approximately two minutes) between the end of the warm up period and the start of your activity.
  5. Increase the duration of the warm up in cooler temperatures because it will take longer to get the body temperature to the same level that would occur in warmer environments.

Individualise your own warm up routine, trying different routines until you are satisfied your preparation brings the best possible results. Everyone responds differently to different routines so proactively try numerous possibilities until you are confident the routine you use is the best for you.

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