There was once a time in my life when I’d jump right into my workouts without taking time to warm up. Thankfully, I’ve seen the light and now understand that warm-ups are SO IMPORTANT for health and performance. Today I hope to convince you why that’s the case, if you’re wondering, “Why do we warm up before exercise?”
Why do people skip their warm-ups? I think many people do it because they’re busy and want to get their workouts in as quickly as possible. And I have two questions if this describes you:
- Do you really want to get the most bang for your buck during your workouts and make the most impact during the time you have?
- Do you have time in your schedule for regular physical therapy appointments?
If you answered “yes” and “no,” then you should definitely be warming up.
In other cases, I think athletes just don’t understand the functions of a good warm-up. So let’s talk specifics about why you should be doing those warm-ups every single workout!
Warm-Ups Wake Your Central Nervous System
If you’ve ever been late to a CrossFit class, you know how icky it feels to jump right into an intense workout.
Your central nervous system (CNS)—which consists of your brain and spinal cord—controls your motor functions and nerve activity. It’s kind of like your body’s motherboard.
Going straight from inactivity to intense activity increases the odds that you’ll overload that motherboard (and yes, feel icky).
By contrast, warming up is like letting your computer start up. It gives your brain and spinal cord the opportunity to build connections with all your nerves, organs, and muscles—all super important if you want to move well and feel great!
Warm-Ups Prime Your Muscles for Movement
We talk about getting muscles warm before workouts, but what does that actually mean?
Your muscles are fairly cool at rest, relative to the rest of your body.
As you warm up, your body gradually sends blood to your muscles and increases their temperature in the process. Increased blood flow also provides your muscles with plenty of oxygen, nutrients, and enzymes, all of which allow them to work harder.
Need some evidence? In one small 2010 study, athletes used up to 8.5 percent more muscle fibers in the quads after low- to moderate-intensity warm-ups, compared to muscle fiber recruitment before warming up.
So, why do we warm up before exercise? To allow our muscles to work harder for us!
Warm-Ups Prevent Injury
Given that warm-ups wake up the central nervous system and route blood flow to the muscles, it makes sense that skipping them would increase your risk of injury.
Indeed, a 2012 systematic review including nine randomized controlled trials found that well-planned warm-ups can help reduce the risk of knee injuries.
The keywords here are “well-planned.” A good warm-up is, most importantly, specific to the work that you’ll do during the meat of your workout. It doesn’t make sense to jump into a working set of heavy shoulder presses if all you’ve only run during your warm-up.
In addition to some light cardio to get your heart rate up, a good warmup might include mobility, balance and agility exercises, and/or light technique work, depending on your programming for the day.
Why Do We Warm Up Before Exercise?
I hope by now I’ve convinced you to stop skipping your warm-ups, so that you can get your CNS ready for action, prime your muscles for movement, and lower your risk of injury.
Need a little more guidance on how to warm up properly for your workouts? We can help via personal training, virtual coaching, and socially distant small group training!
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