Workout Wednesday: The Importance of a Proper Warm-up


by Emily Wheeler

If you’ve ever been to a group fitness class on campus or participated in a sport, you know that the workouts always start with a warm-up before the real workout begins, but how often do we warm up on our own before starting our personal workouts? Is the warm-up really necessary, anyway? Chances are, you’ve probably already discovered that you won’t die if you don’t warm up properly before you go to the gym or for a run, so why take the extra time to bother with a warm-up? Excellent question; let’s look into those reasons that make a warm-up worth it.

Why warm up?

The main and most basic reason that warming up before vigorous exercise it worth the extra time is that it prepares your body for the workout that is to come, decreasing your risk or injury or pain from the exercise.  A warm-up prepares your body through mechanisms such as increasing overall body, blood, and muscle temperature, stimulating dilation of the blood vessels and preparing your body’s cooling mechanisms, and improving your range of motion before you even start the exercise.  Increasing muscle, blood, and overall body temperature before you start your workout allows your muscles to become more pliable and allows more oxygen to be available to the muscles, increasing your muscular endurance.  Warming up also allows your body temperature to rise more slowly than it would if you started your workout immediately from a resting heart rate and room temperature, and that slow rise prepares your body to react to the exercise, making you sweat and cool yourself more efficiently.  All of this means that a proper warm-up can decrease your risk of over-heating or over-stretching a muscle as you exercise and can also improve your overall performance.

I also enjoy warming up before I exercise simply as mental preparation! It can be hard to feel like exercising in the morning if you’re tired, or in the afternoon or evening after a long day.  Your body might be tired and feel a bit sluggish when you start, but turning on an  up-beat song that you like as you warm up for just five to ten minutes can increase your energy levels and make you feel ready to start your workout off well.

Types of warm-ups: 

So now you know that warming up has many fantastic benefits for your body, but did you know that there are two different main types of warm-ups depending on the type of exercise you are going to be doing? These two main types are (1) warm-ups that are directly related to the motion of the exercise or sport that you will be performing directly afterward, and (2) warm-ups that are unrelated (or at least less related) to the motion of the sport or type of exercise you are about to perform.

As an example, let’s say you’re going for an outdoor jog.  (It doesn’t have to be outdoors, it just sounds nicer to me.) An example of the first type of warm-up would be to walk briskly for a few minutes, jog slowly for a few minutes, and then maybe add some short bursts of faster jogging or even sprints until you feel nice and warm, you start to perspire, and your heart rate begins to increase.  You shouldn’t be extremely tired, sweaty, or hot by this point, but your body should be prepared for physical activity and you can then begin your run at your normal running pace now that your muscles are nice and warm. We see how this type of warm-up uses the exact same motions and muscles as the exercise itself.  The second type of warm-up applied to this same situation could include stretching your leg muscles by standing, touching your toes (or as close as you can get), and then holding for fifteen seconds before switching to a different stretch, such as a sitting toe-touch, butterfly stretch, or a hamstring stretch by standing on one leg and pulling the other up behind you.   These movements are not necessarily the same movements that you will be doing while running, but the same muscles are involved and will become more pliable through the stationary stretches as well.

Continuing with the running warm-up as an example, it may be most useful to combine the two types of warm-ups by walking briskly or jogging for a few minutes and then stopping to stretch your already-warm muscles, which can allow the stretch to be more effective and comfortable instead of starting off by stretching a cold muscle.

Next time you work out, take the extra five minutes to stretch before you start! Your workout may go more smoothly than usual and you’ll likely be less sore the next day! Try creating your own personal warmups until you find the one that is best for you– it’ll likely require some trial and error, but that’s okay! For some ideas about the types of stretches and warm-ups that might be good for you and your favorite form of exercise, I’ve added a few videos below so that you can actually see some ideas. (I feel like this first guy really enjoys looking at his own muscles.)

This website has some great advice about warm-ups as well, with a video of an excellent dynamic-stretch warm-up embedded in the site.  Check it out and consider applying it to your own workout, whether you’re lifting weights or just doing cardio—it’s great for either!

The following video is a great five minute warm-up before starting a cardio workout and can be easily completed in your apartment or dorm room before you start your run or head to the gym! The timing is such that you can just follow along with the video and you’ll be warmed up in no time!

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

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