Warming Up

Amy Eggleston


~By Amy Elliott, PT,  MSPT               workout warmup


As we head into a new year, many of us have resolved to improve our overall health and fitness.  For a vast majority that entails beginning or increasing a workout routine.   Including an active warm up as part of that routine will go a long way towards preventing injury, allowing you to stick with that resolution long term and reap all the benefits your new, healthier lifestyle has to offer.

Stretching has long been promoted as an essential part of any fitness program, but what about an active warm up?  While the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of stretching in preventing injury and reducing post exercise soreness, the evidence strongly suggests that an active warm up can do just that.   The purpose of a general warm up is raise total body temperature, as well as muscular temperature to prepare the body for vigorous activity.  The gradual increase in demands placed on various other body systems (including cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous) helps prepare the body as a whole to accommodate the more strenuous demands of your work out. 

Warming up raises the core temperature and increases circulation.  In turn, this helps to heat up the muscles, tendons and ligaments thereby reducing the potential for a strain or a pull.   A proper warm up can also reduce the severity of post exercise muscle soreness via improved blood flow to the muscles.  Increased blood flow helps to bring oxygen to the muscles to optimize performance, while also aiding in the removal of waste product in the tissues, the build-up of which results in post exercise soreness. 

The specific duration and intensity a warm up will vary from person to person (and also on the temperature of the work out environment as well as your work out attire) but most research agrees that the goal is to increase body temperature by one to two degrees Fahrenheit.  A brisk 5-10 minute warm up is generally sufficient.  Begin gradually and be sure that your warm up includes the muscles that you will be using during your work out.   More rigorous activity (i.e. your workout) should begin within a few minutes of the warm up in order to reap the benefits of the increased body temperature before it has had time to cool back down.  

Stretching is best left to the end of your workout routine, when your muscles are warm and blood flow has been optimized.  Attempting to stretch a cold muscle can result in strains or tears.  Also, your muscles are more pliable when they are warm, so you will maximize the effectiveness of your stretching by sequencing it properly at the end of your routine. 

So good luck with your resolutions and remember, an active warm up will go a long way to keep injury from sidelining you from your workout routine and health aspirations. 

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