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What's in a Warm-Up?

You’ve prepared. You’ve given thought to what type(s) of exercise to undertake. If you’re a runner, you’ve selected appropriate running shoes and have charted your running path. If you’re strength training, you’ve researched nearby gyms or invested in weights, bands, kettle bells or other gear. Regardless of where and how you’re going to exercise, you’ve carved out time on your calendar for it.

But do you have a plan for warming up? Warming up your body before any form of exercise is another essential element of preparation. It can help you prepare both physically and mentally for your workout, and it can help prevent serious injury during your workout. But if you’re like most people, it’s hard enough to find time to actually do the exercise, let alone add in time to warm up.

What does warming up your body before exercise do?

  • Raises your body, including muscle, temperature, which increases blood flow to your muscles, increasing energy production
  • Improves your muscle contraction and reflex times
  • Stimulates your cardiovascular system and lungs, ultimately reducing stress on your heart
  • Reduces your risk of injury to your tendons, ligaments and muscles
  • Helps get you mentally prepared to participate

Tips for Warming Up

Your warm-up routine will vary depending on the type of exercise you undertake. Regardless, the objective is to prepare your body and your mind for what’s coming. Here are a few basic warm-up tips.

  • Get your heart rate up. To stimulate your cardiovascular system, get moving. Jog (even jog in place), spend a few minutes on a cardio machine (such as a treadmill, elliptical machine or exercise bike) or do jumping jacks or basic calisthenics.
  • Dynamic stretching. Prepare your body for exercise by undertaking active range-of-motion movements that are similar to what you’ll do in your workout. You might try leg swings, lunges with a twist, knee to chest or high kicks. You might even perform a few short intervals of your planned exercise, but at a much lower intensity, such as walking before running.
  • Myofascial release. Many athletes have incorporated myofascial release into their pre-workout routines, using foam rollers, PVC pipe and balls (many use lacrosse balls) to release tightness in their fascia (connective tissues of the body). If you decide to take this approach, consult with an expert to learn proper technique, to gain maximum benefit.

How much is enough?

A general warm-up should last 5 to 10 minutes, longer if you’re participating in a more vigorous program or performing a higher skill. If you’re properly warmed up, your heart rate should be no more than 10 beats above or below the low end of your training heart range, and you will have broken a light sweat.

Don’t forget the cool-down

When you’re finished with your workout, it’s important to gradually cool down, through some sort of light activity, like walking or slow jogging, or slow spinning or swimming, if you’ve undertaken those activities. Your cool-down should also include flexibility exercises covering your whole body, to help reduce residual muscle soreness.

Understanding the role a proper warm-up plays in your exercise regimen will help you stay injury free and increase your performance. Before undertaking any strenuous activity, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor, to make sure your intended exercise program is right for you.

If you have questions about your heart-readiness for fitness and exercise, schedule an appointment with a Memorial Hermann affiliated cardiologist online or by calling (713) 222-2273.