Why do we warm up? How many people really understand the function of warming up before exercise? I’m not sure I used to fully understood how to gain the best out of a warm up. It was just something I did. Having now joined the fitness profession and studied differing opinions on how to warm up I’ve a few conclusions.  One warm up doesn’t fit everyone and every activity. I’m not just talking about upper body against lower body etc….

There are a number of purposes to the warm, firstly it is to prepare you for activity as the name suggests it is to warm up muscle tissue. Secondly it’s to get your joints mobile and ready for use. Thirdly I would say it is to help your body’s co-ordination tune in to your given activity. I think this has two components, preparing the central nervous system for increased activity and to practice your given movements through your activity or movement rehearsal.

So in there I’ve not mentioned stretching! In all honesty if you prepare correctly you’ll get the stretches in by dynamic movement. This is done through all four of the components of an effective warm up.

Muscle Temp (Warm up!).

We increase muscle temperature, generally, by doing some light CV to raise the heartrate and liven up the major muscle groups. By doing this we warm up the muscles and gently expose them to increased movement and/or strain. As muscles warm up the blood vessels dilate allowing for increased blood flow, and therefore, increases the body’s efficiency in transporting oxygen to and by-products from the muscles being activated.

Mobility (Safety).

The joints in the human body are mainly encapsulated in what is known as a synovial pocket. This pocket secretes synovial fluid when the joint is moved, which lubricates the joint surfaces and reduces wear and tear on the joint. We therefore need to activate the secretion process prior to exercise to enable the joints to perform better and help reduce wear and tear on them. We do this by adding in small, but increasing ranges of movement on each joint in order to provide effective lubricant of the joint. This is where we start to mobilise the body and start to increase our overall mobility. This phase will also start to activate the muscles by mildly stretching them for short periods of time when you hit the end stop of the range of movement. This also has another effect on mobility that I’ll discuss in a second.

Central Nervous System – CNS (Dialling in).

Practice makes perfect. Never forget that when athletes perform at an event, they will have trained parts of their body to respond in certain ways, with little effort of thought. The reason for this it to aide decision making when under stress. The same is true in the short term. Before entering into a session we should get the body ‘dialled in’ to what we are trying to do. Therefore, during a warm up we need to get the CNS working appropriately.

At this time it is also worth looking at how you move for a given exercise or sport. So if you are a power lifter it would not really be beneficial to practice martial arts kicking drills and visa-versa! You should include some of the basic movements of your sport in your warm up. Start with limited range of movement (ROM) and slowly develop the ROM and increase the speed appropriately. I cannot think of many sports that wouldn’t include drills and skills in a warm up prior to a competitive session. This improves co-ordination by waking up the CNS in the short term. It’s worth remembering that we are discussing a warm up and not a drills and skills session, which also breaks down sports specific movements to train the CNS into reacting in a desired way.

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Sprinting requires very effective warming up routines to avoid injury and improve performance.

Other things to consider- Negative effects of Static Stretching

Static stretching is used to stretch a muscle group to its longest point in order to improve flexibility. The issue here, is that it can lengthen the muscle group to such an extent that the muscle has further to go before an effective contraction takes place. The reason for this is that the stretch de-tensions the muscle temporarily. In sports you need quick reactions or to generate power. It has been proven that static stretching prior to exertion will reduce performance in speed and power. So don’t do static stretches for any real length of time. If you have the odd niggle then yes, perhaps try to work it out, but the stretch should be short.

Be safe, be ready and perform!

I recommend dynamic or ballistic stretching in a warm up. With this type of stretching you are also engaging the muscles defence mechanism, which maintains muscle tension. These types of movements can be discrete, simple movements and developed into more complex movements as you warm up and mimic your activity. This way you challenge the CNS to wake up, create muscle warmth and prepare the joints effectively.

If you would like to now more just get in touch.  We run basic lifting seminars every few weeks, which cover affective warm up methods. If you would like to join a seminar or join the club come on in to find out more. Alternatively, you can message us through Facebook or email.