You’ve often heard well-known athletes tell you on these pages that a warm up prior to exercise is essential. Yet, I bet most of you think you don’t really need to, either because ‘you aren’t at that level’ or you ‘don’t have the time’. Both these are poor excuses for skipping a warm up. Let’s break this vital part of a training programme down to its core elements so you have a crystal clear understanding of why it is so important.
What the experts found
There is a lifetime of studies done on warming up and stretching, but I’m going to focus on two:
The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physiotherapy found that a warm up done at 60 per cent of maximum improved aerobic and anaerobic performance by 6 per cent. This means that you will be able to provide 6 per cent more oxygen to your muscles. Oxygen is used by muscles to burn energy stored inside them. It stands to reason that if you provide 6 per cent more oxygen and produce more energy, your muscles will be able to generate 6 per cent more power.
The University of Strathclyde found that less accumulation of blood and muscle lactate occurred in subjects who performed a good warm up prior to intense exercise. Lactate is a waste product that builds up in your body as a result of anaerobic metabolism. It is detrimental to performance as it inhibits your muscles’ ability to perform.
Function of a warm-up
A good warm up does the following:
-Raises your temperature helping your body get more oxygen to the muscles. This is because haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, releases oxygen into the muscles quicker at higher temperatures.
-A warmer body improves elasticity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia, making these connective tissues more pliable and more resistant to injury.
-Synovial fluid becomes less viscous at higher temperatures. Synovial fluid is responsible for providing the articular cartilage of our joints with nutrients as there are no blood vessels there. If the viscosity drops then the fluid is less sticky and flows better, nourishing and lubricating cartilage surfaces.
-Improves nerve conductivity so that your nervous system can control vital functions like balance, co-ordination and muscle contractility much better. This helps with your form, efficiency, and athleticism and makes you perform better.
-Increases your heart rate and improves circulation in muscles. At rest, only 15 per cent of your blood flow goes to your muscles. If you don’t allow your body to warm up properly it will not get enough time to divert more blood to the muscles. This means that insufficient oxygen will reach muscles; leading to excessive build up of lactic acid, impeding muscle performance. The body can divert as much as 80 per cent of circulating blood flow to muscles during strenuous exercise. This is a 500 per cent increase from rest so why make your body exercise before it is ready?
How to get it going
There are three stages to warming up safely and correctly:
-Joint mobilisation. This is characterised by large full range movements to loosen up important joints and prepare them for movement.
-Progressive aerobic exercise to raise the body’s temperature, increase heart rate and increase blood circulation to the muscles.
-Sports specific drills to stimulate the brain and nervous system so the neuromuscular pathways are working correctly and signals travelling along nerves at optimum speed.
You should feel a light sweat after warm-up. This is an indication that your body’s core temperature has risen by about 1°C, stimulating the natural cooling mechanism — sweat.
Matthews is physiotherapist for the Mittal Champions Trust.