A warm-up gets your muscles ready for activity. Without warming up, you not only risk injury but you also get less from your workout. How many times have you walked into your workout just on time or a few minutes late and had to get right to loading the muscles? And how tight and unprepared did everything feel? That’s because your muscles are spending that time trying to turn on. A warm-up takes care of that, making you feel stronger and faster right from the start.
• A warm-up gets your muscles to activate via the stretch reflex, an automatic response your body has when a muscle is lengthened.
• When the muscle lengthens, the muscle spindles (sensory receptors located in the muscle) are activated. The muscle spindles then send a message to your spinal cord, which responds with its own message for the muscle to shorten.
When you exercise, either in the morning or after a day of sitting at work, your muscles are tight and some might be completely shut off. A warm-up activates the stretch reflex telling your muscles they need to turn on and be ready. Your workout requires lengthening and shortening of muscles under load, and a warm-up gets your body ready for that. The stretch reflex protects your muscles from being pulled too far and tearing, so in addition to optimizing muscle performance, you are also helping prevent injury.
Warm-Up Mistakes to Avoid
A proper warm-up will prepare your body for activity by hitting all your muscles in a systemized way. For example, you want to use dynamic movements to stretch and get tissue ready prepared for intended work. If you are to be working legs that day you want to get those hips, glutes and hamstrings to wake up before you go right into a heavy loaded squat or deadlift. A few functional movements will get this job done for you.
DO NOT address muscle tightness first. If you are really tight like most of us, it can be difficult for you to do a proper warm-up. Addressing these muscles first with a foam roller or mild active movement will loosen them up and allow you to reap the benefits of your warm-up.
DO NOT use static stretching as a warm-up. Stretching should be done after activity as part of your cooldown. It sounds a little counter intuitive however stretching before a workout show that static stretching pre workout can actually decrease performance as well as increase risk of injury. In other words, you are better off not warming up at all than warming up with stretching.
Imagine you are pulling a rubber band. When you let go, the band snaps back quickly with a lot of force, but if you pull it too far, it either breaks or is so overly stretched, it can’t snap back. Avoid static stretching, and go for a functional warm-up involving exercises that lengthen and shorten your muscles.
What makes a good functional warm-up? A good warm-up should be based more on your body’s specific needs. For example, if your shoulder blades are in an upward position, use an exercise to force your shoulder blades down, or if you are really tight across the chest, start with a few movements to release the pecs and anterior delts before moving on to bench.
So, should you warm-up before your workout??? The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is, yes. The medium answer is take advantage of your gym facility and use the treadmill, rowing machine, bike, skip rope or even the elliptical, and get your blood flowing.