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Common Fitness Problems: “Do I Really Need to Warm-Up?”

Cory Ohlendorf

It happens to the best of us. We show up late to a training session or simply want to squeeze in a workout before work or during a lunch break. Maybe you just want to go for a run or jump on your bike, so you skip the warm-up figuring the main activity or exercise is more important anyway. 

Do we really need to warm-up?

In a word: yes. “Warming up before any workout or sport is critical for preventing injury and prepping your body,” says Dr. Johnny Lee of the New York University Langone Medical Center.  Which is to say, your warm-up is both physical and mental. When you’re relaxed and not moving - say, reading an article online - only about 25% of blood is flowing to your skeletal muscles, according to Dr. Lee. But after just ten minutes of total body exercise, blood flow increases to about 75%, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen.

It also raises your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. “Stretching allows for greater range of motion and eases the stress on the joints and tendons,” says Dr. Lee. This is what prevents potential injuries. And by slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up helps minimize stress on your circulatory and respiratory system and prepares you for the challenge ahead.

 As your blood flow increases, so does your muscle temperature. This is beneficial because the hemoglobin within blood releases oxygen more readily when it’s warmed up. A boost in oxygen available to the working muscles means better performance and efficiency.

And as most athletes can attest, even a quick warm-up helps to disconnect from whatever you were doing before and clear your mind for the upcoming physical activity. When you can concentrate on the task at hand, you’ll no doubt enjoy improved coordination and technique. This comes in handy whether you’re working out alone, taking a class or playing a sport. The mental preparation also readies you for any discomfort - the struggle of triathlon training or a particularly grueling HIIT set. Plenty of studies have shown that visualizing your success while you warm-up leads to better performance overall.

Your Go-To Warm-Up

Michael Schletter, a NSCA-certified coach in Boston, suggests this simple and quick, yet highly effective five-element warm-up.

1. Foam roll (2-3 minutes, focusing on hamstrings, lats, and mid/lower back)
2. Overhead squat (1 set of 10 reps)
3. Jump rope (1-2 minutes)
4. Pushup (1 set of 15-20 reps)
5. Chinup (1 set of 5-10 reps)

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