Here's Why You Really Should Warm Up Before Your Workout

The pre-exercise warm up has very real benefits for athletes.

warming up before exercise
warming up before exercise offers a variety of benefits. Hero Images/Getty Images

Most athletes perform some type of regular warm up and cool down during training and racing. A proper warm up has some very real benefits for all athletes but is even more important for athletes who perform intensity exercise and for older athletes. The most obvious benefit is the increase in blood flow to the working muscle, which results in decreased muscle stiffness, less risk of injury and possibly improved performance.

Additional benefits of warming up include a wide variety of physiological and psychological changes that prepare the body for exercise.

Benefits of a Proper Warm Up:

  1. Increased Muscle Temperature - The temperature increases within muscles that are used during a warm up routine. A warmed muscle both contracts more forcefully and relaxes more quickly. In this way, both speed and strength can be enhanced. Also, the probability of overstretching a muscle and causing injury is far less.
  2. Increased Body Temperature - This improves muscle elasticity, also reducing the risk of strains and pulls.
  3. Blood Vessels Dilate - This reduces the resistance to blood flow and lower stress on the heart.
  4. Improve Efficient Cooling - By activating the heat-dissipation mechanisms in the body (efficient sweating) an athlete can cool efficiently and help prevent overheating early in the event or race.
  5. Increased Blood Temperature - The temperature of blood increases as it travels through the muscles, and as blood temperature rises, the amount of oxygen it can hold becomes reduced. This means a slightly greater volume of oxygen is made available to the working muscles, enhancing endurance and performance.
  1. Improved Range of Motion - The range of motion around a joint is increased.
  2. Hormonal Changes - Your body increases its production of various hormones responsible for regulating energy production. During warm up this balance of hormones makes more carbohydrates and fatty acids available for energy production.
  1. Mental Preparation - The warm up is also a good time to mentally prepare for an event by clearing the mind, increasing focus, reviewing skills and strategy. Positive imagery can also relax the athlete and build concentration.

Typical Warm up Exercises include:

  • Gradually increasing the intensity of your specific sport. This uses the specific skills of a sport and is sometimes called a related warm up. For runners, the idea is to jog a while and add a few sprints into the routine to engage all the muscle fibers.
    See: How Long to Warm Up
  • Adding movements not related to your sport in a slow steady manner: calisthenics or flexibility exercises for example. Ball players often use unrelated exercise for their warm up.
  • Which to choose? The best time to stretch a muscle is after it has an increased blood flow and has increased temperature to avoid injury. Stretching a cold muscle can increase the risk of injury from pulls and tears. So you are better off doing gradual aerobic exercise before stretching. Keep in mind that the best time to stretch is after exercise because your muscles are warm and pliable with the increase of blood in them. Make sure your warm up begins gradually and uses the muscles that will be stressed during exercise.
  • Keep in mind that the perfect warm up is a very individual process that can only come with practice, experimentation, and experience. Try warming up in various ways, at various intensities until you find what works best for you.


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