Are You Wasting Your Warm-Up?

 
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I used to ignore a warm-up, especially when I am working out by myself I tend to go straight into my workout or do the bare minimum because I didn’t grasp the value of warm-ups, but with all the reading that I’ve done towards my certification, it’s clear how important warm-ups are, not just as a way to prevent injury, but also to enhance performance.  

Now, think about how much effort it takes to coordinate a TED conference. Thousands of people, multiple speakers, various rooms and spaces, the participants, the logistics involved and so much more right? Now, this level of coordination is equivalent to how much effort and moving parts are involved in each body when it comes to completing a workout. There are so many layers to movement, from the cellular to the physiological, to the mind that requires coordination. Think of the various fibers and cells in a muscle group. Now visualize the various joints and muscles involved in various movements. Finally, think about the connectivity of all the elements required to produce force and movement-- and all of this in one body. If you realize the multifaceted operations required to produce force and movement, it is easy to understand why a warm-up and how we warm-up is so critical.

Walking on the treadmill or jogging around the block for a couple of minutes might have been the golden standard for warm-ups before and maybe add on a couple of stretches here and there. These efforts are better than doing no warm-up at all, but newer research has shown the advantages of a dynamic warm-up and the ineffectiveness of static stretching (unless a person is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance]) in a warm-up.

What is a dynamic warm-up?

Dynamic warm-ups which are also known as “movement preparation,” includes “integrated movements that can improve muscular strength, mobility, stability, balance, coordination, agility and/or even power. Warm-ups can include foam rolling, balance exercises, yoga-type movements, agility drills and even plyometric drills.” (1) To put simply, a dynamic warm-up is a focused approach to warming up the body as a whole connected system versus individual moving parts (i.e. different muscle groups).

What are the benefits of a dynamic warm-up?

  • Elevate the body core temperature
  • Enhance kinesthetic awareness
  • Optimize range of motion (ROM)
  • Igniting the neuromuscular system
  • Increasing blood flow (i.e. enhance the efficiency of the uptake and transport of oxygen in the bloodstream for muscle function)
  • Enhance motor unit excitability

Increase preparation for the main workout (i.e. practicing fundamental movement skills before increasing the demand on the body)

These benefits can easily be overlooked because most of us aren’t thinking about the body in such a detailed way when it comes to exercise, but when we investigate the science (as revealed above), a warm-up is critical down to the cellular level.

Why is static stretching ineffective in a warm-up (unless someone is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance])?

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching may actually inhibit optimal performance for a workout because static stretching is what improves muscle elasticity. In simple terms, what muscle elasticity contributes to is a decrease in tissue viscosity and although this may sound beneficial, tissue viscosity is what lowers the force-generating capacity of the contractile properties of a muscle. This is a problem because the contractile properties of muscles (i.e. eccentric, concentric, isometric, and passive stretch) (2) are what is necessary to assist in generating force and creating movements for most workouts. If the contractile properties of muscles are inhibited, then the muscles ability to perform is also inhibited. But, let’s not confuse this with the value of static stretching post-exercise for recovery (which is another topic on its own).

I think it’s easy from an exercisers standpoint to observe workouts through shallow lenses. Let’s be real most of us (including myself at one point) saw exercise only as a means to an aesthetic goal and maybe as a health goal, but few of us take the time to consider exercise through a scientific lens. With a narrow perspective, it was easy to ignore the specific properties which impact our workouts, but my deeper understanding helped me to change my warm-up habits to optimize my performance.

References:

1 McGrath, Chris. “A New Approach to Warming Up For Your Cardio Workout.” ACE Fitness, ACE Fitness, 8 Aug. 2013, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3456/a-new-approach-to-warming-up-for-your-cardio-workout.

2 “Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions.” Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions, University of California San Diego, 31 May 2006, 10:05, muscle.ucsd.edu/musintro/contractions.shtml.