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Warming Up Before a Workout? Who Cares!?

I am often asked how important a proper warm up and stretching session is when it comes to improving performance and what effects it can have on your workout. Let's break each down and explain the benefits, the proper timing, and types of warm up and stretching:

Warm Up:

The main purpose of the warm-up period is to prepare the individual mentally and physically for exercise.  A well designed warm up can increase muscle and core temperature and can have the following positive impacts on performance:

  • Faster muscle contractions
  • Improved rate of force development and reaction time
  • Improvements in muscle strength and power
  • Improved oxygen delivery to the working muscles
  • Increased blood flow to active muscles
  • Enhanced metabolic reactions
  • A gradual increase in heart rate

In general there are two components of a warm up.  A general warm up and specific warm-up:

A general warm up period consists of 5-10 minutes of easy activity such as jogging where the goal is to increase heart rate, blood flow, deep muscle temperature, respiration rate, and perspiration.

A specific warm-up incorporates movements similar to the activity being performed.  It involves 8-12 minutes of dynamic stretching focusing on movements through the range of motion required for the activity, such as a walking knee lift.  This is followed by more activity specific drills such as sprints or jumps.

Take for example a cross country runner preparing for a 10k race.  For this individual the general warm up (30 minutes before the race)  might look like this:

15-20 minutes of light jogging at 65-70% of max heart rate followed by 5 x 30 seconds sprints with equal recovery.  This warm up will accomplish all the benefits of a proper warm up and should end 5 minutes before the start of the competition.  Some might question how stretching is involved in the warm up process; this will be discussed in my next blog.

In sum, a warm up should progress gradually and provide sufficient intensity to increase muscle and core temperature without causing fatigue or reducing energy stores. Optimal warm up will always be related to the activity, the individual, and the environment.