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Get into the warm zone

Earlier, we discussed the need to plan your workout. This week, I will explain the importance and benefits of a warm-up prior to exercise, writes Heath Matthews.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 21, 2010 14:30 IST
Heath Matthews

Earlier, we discussed the need to plan your workout. This week, I will explain the importance and benefits of a warm-up prior to exercise.

Most of us don’t prepare the body sufficiently before our workouts. We all know that it helps prevent injury but don’t realise the other benefits of warming up. Let’s break a warm-up down to its core elements so that you can understand why it is so important.

Research shows that a warm-up done at 60 per cent of maximum effort improves aerobic and anaerobic performance by 6%. This means that your muscles will get that much more oxygen, using it to burn up the energy stored inside them. So if you provide more oxygen and produce more energy, your muscles will generate that much more power.

How does it work?

A warm-up raises your body temperature, enabling the blood to release oxygen to your muscles at a quicker pace. A warmer body improves elasticity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. These connective tissues become more flexible and are less likely to get injured.

The fluid in the joints, which provides nutrients to the cartilage covering them, becomes less viscous at higher temperatures. This improved flow nourishes and lubricates the joint cartilage.

The conductivity of the nerves improves, in turn improving balance, co-ordination and muscle contraction. This makes you more athletic and helps improve your form and efficiency.

At rest, only 15 per cent of your blood flow is directed to your muscles. The body can divert as much as 80 per cent of circulating blood flow to muscles during strenuous exercise. To achieve this, you need to warm up properly. If you hurry through a warm-up, insufficient oxygen reaches the muscles and there is an excessive build-up of lactic acid.

The right way to warm up

There are three stages to a correct warm-up. The first is joint mobilisation. This includes large, full-range movements, like swinging the arms or twisting the body, that loosen up the joints and prepare them for movement. People often do these movements as part of breathing exercises or yoga.

Next, you have to progress to aerobic exercise. This means raising your body’s temperature, increasing your heart rate and blood circulation to the muscles. For a sportsman, this would involve running around a ground about three times at a comfortable pace.

The last stage involves sports-specific drills. These are done to stimulate the brain and nervous system. It could include agility drills in the outfield, practising some batting techniques or bowling a few deliveries.

You’ll know you’ve warmed up well if you feel a light sweat. This means your body’s core temperature has increased and stimulated the body’s natural cooling mechanism. The time required for a warm-up depends on the individual’s constitution and the climate. Since India is hot for most part of the year, I would recommend a 10-15 minute warm-up.

Exercises to follow

Once your joints are loose and ready for action, jog for five minutes. Build up speed as your muscles and joints begin to move better. Next, do some drill jogging. Try these:

High knees — Walk forward lifting the knee as high as you can while keeping your back straight. Stand on the toes of the support leg and use the arms to drive forward. This is good for balance.

Butt kicks — Place your hands on your buttocks. While running forward, kick each heel backwards to touch your hands. This exercise improves hamstring strength.

Walk backwards — Ensure you have a clear path. Accentuate the hip extension. Keep your stomach contracted so your back does not arch.

Carioca — Jog sideways, crossing one leg over the other, first in front and then behind. Pick up speed and knee height.

When you’re done with these drills, you’ll be ready to exercise.

Matthews is a physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust.