With gyms re-opening and sports training beginning to start up again, it is important to make sure you’re looking after your body.
For those of you who read my previous blog post ‘Returning to training after lockdown’ you may remember I mentioned how important it is to prepare your body for exercise to reduce injury risk. In this blog post I will discuss in more detail why it is so important to warm-up properly before exercising, and what you can include in your own warm-up.
Why is it so important to warm-up?
Getting injured isn’t on anyone’s to-do list for when they go to the gym or sports training. Everyday I see people walk into the gym, find a resistance machine and start their workout with a heavy weight within seconds. These people are ASKING to get injured.
Warm-ups help to prepare your body for exercise. Think of your muscles as rubber bands- if you spend majority of your day inactive (sitting at a desk for example), those rubber bands haven’t been used and may have got stiff. If you go to the gym and immediately start a high intensity workout without warming up first, the cold and stiff rubber bands try to stretch very quickly and can get pulled out of shape or snapped.
What can I include in my warm-up?
Everyone has a slightly different idea as to what they need to do in order to “be warm” and this will take some people longer than others to achieve. A well rounded warm-up should incorporate the following areas
Low impact cardio to raise body temperature
Your muscles need to be warm before you do anything else. Start with some light cardio to increase circulation and to raise your body temperature. Personally, I like the static bike for my warm-up, but rowing machines and cross trainers also work really well for this. Start off on a low resistance and gradually build it up. By the end of your cardio warm-up (usually about 5-10 minutes) you should feel warmer and have a light sweat. During this phase of your warm-up, your body temperature should raise by one to two degrees Celsius.
Light dynamic stretching
It is important to note that generally it isn’t recommended to perform static stretches before your main exercise session as it can increase injury risk, and some research has found that power and strength can be reduced after static stretching.
At school you may have left your class room, gone outside and stretched for a minute before racing your friends across the field, but this practice is flawed, DO NOT stretch before you’ve raised your body temperature- A warm muscle is more flexible than a cold muscle. Dynamic stretching helps to keep your body temperature up, whilst also stretching major muscle groups which you are going to be working.
It is important not to over-stretch your muscles before exercise though. If you stretch them too much they won’t be able to sufficiently support your joints during your workout. Dynamic stretching will stretch them enough to get them ready for your workout, whilst maintaining joint stability.
Often mobility exercises come hand-in-hand with dynamic stretching, but can also be a separate element of a warm-up. They prepare your body for the more vigorous movements commonly found in sports training rather than those which will be found in a gym workout. These exercises stimulate your nervous system which is needed during exercise to help prevent injuries during vigorous sporting movements.
When recovering and rehabilitating an injury, particularly those to joints, for example a broken ankle or shoulder dislocation, mobility exercises will be an important focus during the warm-up. These exercises will help increase range of movement at the joint, before placing weighted load through it, allowing for you to gain confidence in the joint being able to complete the movement in a safe and controlled manor. It is common for these mobility exercises to become a part of an injured athletes usual warm-up even following full return to sport as it helps them to feel confident in the load-bearing ability of the previously injured joint.
Warming-up not only prepares your body physically, but also allows you to mentally prepare and focus prior to exercising. That one day you decide not to warm-up because you’re in a rush could well be the day you get injured- make sure you warm-up properly before you exercise if you want to stay injury free!