The Importance of Warming Up

Why It’s Cool to Get Warm

By Michael Campanella, Owner of PEX Health and Fitness

I used to warm-up before training sessions.  That was before I started my own business and my wife gave birth to our daughter, Leila.  Now, I barely have time to eat, never mind get in a 60-minute training session.  Since time is limited, I started skipping my warm-up.  Admittedly, it wasn’t a problem at first.  This is probably because I am still relatively young and moderately spry.  But I’ve noticed a few things as I get older; my memory sucks, staying asleep is hard, and if I don’t warm-up before training, I crumble faster than a gluten-free cookie. 

Considering I really can’t afford to be injured from training sessions, I’ve been making it a point to warm-up prior to hard training sessions.  The result?  I get hurt less than I did when I didn’t warm-up.  Shocker

But enough about me, let’s talk about how cool it is to get warm.

RAISING THE HEAT

As you warm-up, your body temperature increases.  Increased body temperature improves muscle elasticity.  More elasticity means improved range of motion around specific joints.  Improved range of motion, when coupled with an appropriate amount of stability, means less injury.  That’s a good thing, unless you’re a glutton for pain and injury, of course.

In addition to the increase of body temperature, the specific muscles being used warm up, too.  When the temperature of a specific muscle increases, it contracts more forcefully and relaxes more quickly (hello performance boost!).  Increasing the sensitivity of a muscle’s stretch-reflex also decreases the probability of over-stretching, or straining, the muscle.  

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BLOOD

There is a direct correlation between heart rate and blood temperature.  As your heart rate increases, the temperature of blood increases as it travels faster through the muscles.  As blood temperature rises, the binding of oxygen to hemoglobin weakens.  The weakening of oxygen to hemoglobin means easier access to oxygen for working muscles.  As you can imagine, easier access to oxygen means an increase in muscular endurance. 

Warming up prior to working out also increases blood vessel dilation.  Anyone who watches TV already knows what this means (think about any Viagra or Cialis commercial you’ve ever seen).  Blood vessel dilation reduces the resistance of blood flow, making blood easier to pump.  Easier pumping blood, coupled with increased oxygen availability from warmer temperatures, equals a sizable boost in physical performance.  Before warming up, ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex…ugh, I mean working out.

Insert awkward transition!  Another benefit to warming up has to do with the body’s ability to cool off (which you probably need to do after reading that last paragraph).  It seems counter-intuitive, but warming up actually helps you to cool down through heat-dissipation mechanisms in the body.  Heat-dissipation is a fancy term for sweating, and sweating, as we know, allows you to cool efficiently and prevents overheating during a workout or competition.

WHAT ABOUT THE HORMONES?

When you work out, you need energy (you don’t say?).  When you need energy, your body increases its production of the various hormones responsible for regulating energy production.  The warm-up, of course, starts this process.  Through a cascade of hormonal reactions, your body begins the release of available carbohydrates and fatty acids, making them accessible for fuel.  This is critical.  Any serious athlete can remember a time they didn’t warm-up prior to a training session, or competition, and bonked prematurely because they were unable to tap into available fuel sources. (Seriously, this happens.)

YOUR BIG, BEAUTIFUL, BRAIN

Last, but certainly not least, we come to the mental aspect of warming up.  Your brain is huge.  Lots of things happen in the brain.  Starting each training session with a routine, in this case a warm-up, helps to set the context for what is about to take place.  It helps to compartmentalize your day and can aid in separating work time from training time.   Mental preparation, a clear mind, increased focus, and strategy review are all critical to a successful warm-up and subsequent workout.  If you want to kick ass and finish strong, warming up is the best place to start. 

IN SUMMARY

If you are looking to increase performance, and prevent injury, you should be warming up before your training session.  If you don’t want to perform well during your session, or if you want to roll the injury dice, then skip the warm-up.  A good warm-up should take 5 to 10 minutes, and you should have at least one bead of sweat dripping down your back when it’s over.  (And don’t be afraid to wear multiple layers of clothing during the warm-up!  The goal is to be warm, after all.)

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