GETTING WARMER Warm-ups are a vital part of any fitness regime.
In today’s highly stressed and fast-paced techno world, many of us struggle to find time to give our bodies what they crave – regular exercise. We squeeze it into short windows that appear in our clustered schedules. With such time constraints, thoughts of taking five of ten extra minutes to warm up correctly before exercise don’t enter our stratosphere. ‘Get it done’ is the motto – another tick-box attended to.
Perhaps we are unaware of the importance and benefits of a proper warm-up. As well as helping us to avoid injury and prepare for exercise, there are many other benefits to be gained from just a short warm-up session.
Reasons to warm up
Increased blood flow and respiration rate
As the blood flow to muscles increases during a warm-up, the muscles become warmer and therefore more flexible and supple. This leads to more-effective exercise and far less chance of injury during exertion. It also helps switch on the body’s cooling system, the sweat glands.
Increased blood flow and respiration also mean more-efficient delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your working muscles. There’s also an increase in blood-vessel dilation, helping prepare the heart and circulatory system.
Increased joint mobility
An effective warm-up helps release fluid around your joints, cushioning them and leading to less wear and tear on joints over time.
Improved active range of motion
Because your joints and muscles have been warmed up, the range of motion around the joints is improved, aiding movement efficiency, performance and decreasing injury risk.
Sends a message
An effective warm-up also forewarns the brain that further, more-strenuous exercise is on the way. The brain responds by overseeing the release of hormones that power energy delivery, blood flow and all the other functions related to exercise.
The connection between your brain and the working muscles is also strengthened, further priming your body for performance.
Warming up is a good time to clear the mind of distractions, focus on what you want to achieve and mentally prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Employing some mental strategies, like a short visualisation or mantra, can help you get the most from your sessions.
Warm-ups will vary based on individual preferences and based on what you are warming up for. For example, a warm-up for a five-mile jog will be very different from that of a tennis player. However, an effective warm-up should comprise two main elements:
Gradual build-up phase
The aim of this phase if to increase heart rate (blood flow, dilation etc) and respiration rate (breathing), helping to warm-up the muscles and lubricate the joints, as well as beginning to ‘tune in’ the brain.
You should begin at a slow pace with some form of cardiovascular exercise – walking, jogging, skipping etc. After three minutes at a slow pace, increase pace by about 10 percent every minute for the next two to threee minutes. You’ll know you’re warmed up when you start breaking into a light sweat and your respiration rate has increased. If you are unable to maintain a conversation during this phase of the warm-up, slow down!
Specific movement phase
This is the time to add some movement exercises to the warm-up. Preferably, these movements should mirror what you will be doing during your main phase of exercise. For example, a runner may perform bodyweight lunges and high knee drills to mimic the joint movements during a run. For other disciplines, performing the moves of the actual main phase at a slower pace offers a very effective warm-up. Dynamic stretches can also be added here.
A further one to two minutes of higher intensity moves can be performed to prime the muscles before beginning your main exercise phase.
In colder weather, warm-ups should be extended to ten to 15 minutes. This is also the case as you get older, if you are coming back from injury and for those of lower fitness levels.
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.