Why you Should Warm-Up Before Sport
We are often told that it’s important to warm up before exercise, but many of us find it tempting to skip this step. You might think warming up is a waste of time, especially if you’re eager to start your workout or if you’ve got a tight schedule. While it can be tricky to fit time for sport into a busy lifestyle, warming up is actually really important. Doing some light body movement to activate your muscles primes them for the stress to come. Here are some of the reasons why you should do a proper warm up before sport:
1. Increase Circulation to Muscles
The main function of warming up is to increase circulation of blood and oxygen throughout your body. This raises the temperature of your muscles and delivers the nutrients required to sustain intense movement. When you’re immobile, sitting down and relaxing, your muscular system only receives about 20% blood flow, but a few minutes of exercise increases that level to about 70%. Warming up allows your muscles to gradually build up the blood and oxygen they need, rather than trying to achieve a sudden spike in blood flow which can cause your workout to suffer as your body tries to play catch-up.
A higher muscle temperature also activates you hemoglobin to release additional oxygen for more efficient movement. You overall muscle metabolism speeds up and you burn fuel more effectively. This has a number of practical benefits, so let’s dive into those now…
2. Prevent Injuries
When you don’t warm up before sport, you put yourself at risk for injuries. Demanding strenuous movement from your ‘cold’ body can easily result in a soft tissue (muscle, ligament and tendon) injury. Warming up gives your ligaments and tendons time to become more flexible to avoid tears, and you’ll also be less likely to pull a muscle. Gradually building up you range of motion and blood flow prepares your soft tissues to work in conjunction with each other harmoniously. Anecdotal evidence suggests that acute muscle tears happen more often in people who haven’t warmed up. Studies performed on animals have found that a muscle which has been warmed up required more force to cause injury, compared to a muscle which hasn’t been warmed up.
While soft tissues injuries are often the most obvious results of a failure to warm up, there are a few more life-threatening changes which can happen inside your body with sudden intense exercise, which you may not be aware of. Blood pressure increases during exercise, but a sudden spike in blood pressure as a result of sudden movement can put your heart at serious risk.
One study placed 44 healthy men onto a high intensity treadmill for 10-15 seconds without a warm-up, and found that 70% of the participants had abnormal ECG readings as their hearts struggled to cope with an inadequate blood supply. After a 2 minute warm-up, most of the same men did the same task, with no ECG abnormalities. Even a short burst of intense exercise can put real strain on your heart that could be easily avoided with even a basic warm up.
Don’t put your cardiovascular health at risk. Good warm-up habits over a lifetime will reduce your likelihood of heart disease later on and help prevent any nasty soft tissue injuries which can demand a long recovery time.
3. Improve the Quality of your Workout
Your athletic ability can actually improve if you take the time to warm up. If you’re competing or just trying to push yourself, a warm up can improve your muscle efficiency. Increased circulation increases muscle and overall body temperature. Muscles at a higher temperature are able contract quicker and reflex times improve. A higher body and muscle temperature also stimulates hormonal changes for greater energy production, making it possible for you to work out harder or for a longer time. Warming up also primes nerve pathways, preparing them to send signals to your muscles more quickly.
If you don’t warm up, your muscles may lack adequate oxygen levels, causing you get out of breath sooner, which may impede your workout, especially if you need to stop and rest. This will also result in higher levels of discomfort, which places a real strain on your mental ability to continue with the sport. Warming up isn’t just to prevent injuries; it can actually make improve your performance and help you to push your limits.
4. Reduce Post-Workout Soreness
While we all expect some level of discomfort during sport, nobody wants to continue suffering for hours or days afterward. The stress your muscles experience during exercise can result in ongoing soreness, but this is particularly exacerbated if you’ve put them through the additional trauma of blood deprivation after neglecting to warm up. Sudden intense movement means your body has to work hard to increase blood pressure and circulation too quickly and your muscles are already working without the oxygen it needs. A warm-up prepares your muscles for sport, so that all your soldiers are already lined up and ready to go with sufficient fuel already. Warming up can improve our body’s recovery after intense exercise, as it reduces the stress your body experiences during sport.
5. Mental Preparation
Sport is just as much about mental strength as it is about physical strength. Warming up gives you the perfect opportunity to prepare yourself mentally and get in the right ‘headspace’ for the task ahead. After sitting down and relaxing, even the most active person isn’t usually ready to go from 0 to 100 on the intensity scale, so warming up prepares your mind for activity and even discomfort so that you can really go for it and achieve peak performance.