I get asked variations of this question regularly. Do I need to warm up before exercise? What are the best stretches to do before a gym session? Does a warm up change depending on the type of exercise I’m about to do?
Back in my school days, and throughout university sport there was always a warm up incorporated. We would arrive 30 minutes early and the coach would take us through a physical warm up comprised of stretching and a few drills; followed by the mental warm up with a team talk and focus points for the match.
These days my exercise and sport participation is most certainly not as organised. Thinking too my social touch football team; most of us were rushing from work, got changed in the car park, and straight onto the field. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that our players were twinging hamstrings & tweaking their back on a semi regular basis.
Ultimately it comes down to time. You get to the gym and you have a 45 minutes before life comes knocking again so the few minutes it would take to warm up are surely better spent burning extra calories on the treadmill right?
A warm up prepares our mind and body for exercise. I’m an early morning exerciser. I drag myself out of bed at 5.30am every day, I’m not in the headspace at all, in fact the thought of a hard workout is almost enough for me to snooze my alarm and go right back to sleep. Fast forward 10 minutes I’m getting into my warm up series, I’m starting to sweat, breathing is getting a little heavier and I begin to feel ready.
On a more physical level it stimulates blood flow to the muscular system which aids in oxygen transport to the muscles. This is important because as demands of exercise increase the amount of oxygen our muscles require also increases. This can then have a flow on effect on performance and muscular efficiency with some studies indicating that a good warm up can reduce the risk of sustaining a muscle related injury. It is therefore important to be mindful that the warm up isn’t too vigorous or energy depleting as this may have the opposite effect. It also allows a gradual rise in heart rate and respiratory rate; much less stress on your heart than going from 0-100 in a matter of minutes.
A warm up will look very different based on the type of exercise you are about to do. A pilates instructor may take you through a flow series to activate the glutes and gently begin to mobilise the spine while a rugby team’s warm up would incorporate some on feet conditioning, dynamic drills and ball skills. The key to a successful warm up is that it is no only specific but it takes place directly before the intended exercise. There isn’t much point in warming up if you then sit around and cool right back down again before your intended exercise begins.
A warm up is there to prime us physically and mentally. Make it specific to the intended exercise. Break a sweat but don’t get fatigued.