Why you need to warm up before exercising

Although warm–ups will probably not help much with burning calories or building muscle, they are crucial to the success of a workout.  PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Although warming up is often overlooked by most people who work out, it is as important as the workout itself.

Owing to time constraints or out of tiredness, many of us often tend to skip warm-up exercises before working out. While it may not seem too important, warmups can contribute to your workout. Warming up prepares the body, muscles and brain for endurance. 

According to Robert Ddamulira, a fitness instructor at Robbie Fitness, an average warm up may take about three to five minutes. However, this time can be longer if you are warming up for more strenuous exercises. Warming up reduces your risk of injuring muscles, developing muscle pulls and also makes you focus.

“If you do not warm up before a workout, you force a cold start to your body. A sudden burst of energy brings a sudden wave of tiredness thereafter. Weather and time of day are also important factors during warm-up. On cold days, circulation is slower and the body takes longer to warm than during hot days. Muscles and joints are stiffer in the morning than in the evenings,” he says.

Before a workout, the muscles, heart and brain are in a resting mode and they cannot be just woken up with vigorous exercise. A warm-up is essential because it helps the body to prepare for what it is about to endure. 

A warm up also facilitates ligament, nerve, and muscle coordination, which are essential for proper execution of the main exercises.

“Warm ups are done with the aim of increasing body temperature, which in turn warms the muscles, causing them to become more flexible and stretch more easily,” says Ddamulira. 

When the temperature of the muscles rises as a result of the exercises, there is an increase in blood flow and oxygen supply. When you warm up, there is increased intensity in physical activity. As a result, breathing becomes more rapid, more oxygen enters the body which in turn increases your endurance to the exercises.

“With increased blood flow, the temperature of the muscles increases, which makes the muscle fibres become more flexible. This reduces the risk of muscle injuries such as tearing of muscles and muscle tension,” Ddamulira says. 

By moving the joints during a warm up, one reduces the risk of cartilage injuries. This is because warm ups stimulate increased fluid production in the joint capsules, allowing the joints to move more easily. In addition, warm ups do not only increase physical activity, but also mentally prepare one for the workout. Without mental alertness, the effectiveness of any exercise is significantly reduced. A lack of mental preparation can also lead to injuries.

What exercises to include
A warm up can be as simple as marching, moving your arms around, turning your torso left and right, a little jogging or stretching.  It can also be movements of the main exercise but at a slower pace. 

If you do road work training or fitness walking, instead of starting off with running, Ddamulira recommends walking at a slower pace and increasing intensity gradually.  For example, on the stairs, face the lowest stair and climb one full stair up and down, repeating this for 30 seconds and then take a break. 

Warm your shoulder muscles by putting your arms out to the sides and then moving them in circles, backward and forward to allow for full range of shoulder movement.

Punch the air in front of you while alternating right and left arms, for 30 seconds. Then do cross-body punches; punch your right hand to the left, and then your left hand to the right and punch upward to increase your heart rate. 

“The basic rules of warm-up are that you start warming up slowly, gradually increasing the intensity and avoiding sudden movements. It is also important that you pay attention to your breathing and posture. You can start exercising once you start sweating,” Ddamulira tips.


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