Warm Up

One of the most crucial elements, if not THE most important in exercise, is the warm up. Before doing any type of exercise you need your muscles in particular but also your ligaments and tendons to be warm. This is all the more essential if the exercise you’re going to do involves explosive movements, stretching, impact or intensity. Failure to warm up before doing such exercise is a one-way ticket to a sports injury. However, very few people actually know how to warm up properly. There are a wide variety of ways to warm up and people doing exercise practise an even wider variety. But let me explode a certain myth right away, stretching is NOT warming up. Stretching is a warm down, it is a way to prevent the build-up of lactic acid so that your muscles are not sore and stiff the next day after exercise.

Stretching can be used as part of a warm up programme but it is useless unless the muscles are already warm. Stretching cold muscles does nothing except increase the probability of picking up a muscle injury. It is important for certain sports and activities where suppleness and flexibility are needed but even so, unless it’s already 35 degrees or more outside, you can’t start stretching until after warming up. So what is a warm up and how do you do it? There’s no one single answer but the essential thing is that you need to get the blood flowing around your body, which in turn will warm up your muscles. Movement is the basic and easiest way to do this. That could be jogging, skipping, jumping, anything really that gets you moving and starts warming up your body. Movement will also help to start loosening up your muscles, preparing them for stretching.

It’s not essential to move to warm up, though, as you can actually get the blood pumping while remaining relatively static. One way of doing that is to do core exercises or isometric ones where resistance is used to work the muscles. Holding a position that is difficult to do can be a good way to start getting the blood flowing as your muscles scream for oxygen to enable them to keep producing an effort. The bridge, or plank, is a great way to warm up. By holding your rigid body position you’re very unlikely to be able to injure yourself but the effort you will be exerting will get the blood pumping and start to warm you up. Also, floor exercises can be done as part of an extended warm up as well as your actual workout. Donkey kicks, dirty dogs, crunches, back extensions, leg raises, they can all be done with little risk and by combining your warm up with your workout you can get maximum use out of the time you spend exercising.

Earlier I said stretching is not a warm up, well that wasn’t quite accurate. What I meant was static stretching, which is what most people would consider to be stretching. However, dynamic stretching, also known as bouncing, can be used to warm up, and effectively. When I was younger I was once told that you shouldn’t bounce as you stretch as this could result in injury, that instead you should just ease into a stretch. That’s half right, but also half wrong. As long as you don’t push the stretch too far, bouncing into a stretch, or dynamic stretching, is a very good way to warm up. With each bounce you inch slightly further into the stretch, all the while ensuring you don’t push too far. This will also ensure you’re moving, hence getting the blood pumping and warming up your body. You can combine your stretching, beginning with dynamic to get warm and then going into static to ensure your muscles are supple, when you start exercising.

Essentially, there are many ways to warm up and none is necessarily right, but some ARE wrong. The essential aim in warming up is to get the blood pumping around your body and to warm up your muscles. Anything that achieves this without injuring you is a right way. Anything that fails to achieve this is wrong. What I choose to do is get myself moving with some dynamic stretching, followed by some simple movement, jogging on the spot or skipping, and then go into floor exercises of some sort. I follow that with stretching before hitting the more physical section in my workouts. Now if you do all that it can take a lot of time, but it’s vital that you don’t get injured. So judge for yourself depending on what exercise you’re planning to do, what you need to do to warm up beforehand. However you do it, just make sure you find the time to warm up, exercise and warm down. It’s all part of a healthy lifestyle!



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