The basis of any good exercise program starts with a proper warm-up. It provides the solid foundation that anyone from age 7 to 70 needs in order to start exercising. A warm-up has two important benefits for a person about to workout: prevent injury and increase the level of performance. However, most young athletes and adults alike do not give warming-up a second thought.
While warming-up, your focus should be on increasing your body’s core temperature to prepare it for the training session you are about to start. The warm-up will increase your heart rate, increase your blood flow, improve your flexibility, and awaken your central nervous system.
There are many benefits you’ll get from your increased body temperature: the likelihood of injury is reduced with improved motor ability; sports and athletic performance will be improved; you’ll also have increased muscle efficiency, less risk for muscle strain and tears, improved reaction time, and improved speed of movement of all the muscles.
Most people today — both children and adults — lead very sedentary lifestyles and are overweight. They spend more time sitting down at a computer and resting than up and moving around. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, close to 35 percent of our population is overweight. This sedentary lifestyle causes muscles to become short, tight, inactive and weak. It will also decrease motor skill development in young children, and decrease reaction time in older children and adults.
A proper warm-up will address these issues, plus the issues of flexibility, weak muscles and poor motor skills through active and ballistic stretches and movements, plus core muscle activation exercises. All of this will lead to injury prevention because the body will start to produce the proper movement patterns required to do efficient exercises or skills that burn the most calories, build the most muscle, and increase endurance.
After your body is given a proper warm-up, it will move much better because the central nervous system is fired up, the muscles are more pliable, there is improved circulation, and joint range of motion is enhanced. A good warm-up can also become a great core-building program as well — and, no, I don’t mean you need a six-pack of abs, although those muscles are important — I mean your obliques, lower back muscles, gluteals and inner thigh muscles, all of which need to be worked.
Simply put, if your core isn’t completely activated and working together, you will never reach the level of fitness required to live a quality lifestyle. But, when the core is working together, your results will improve tenfold, no matter what your goals are. Your balance, stability and strength will improve — all of which is needed to produce any skill, whether it is playing a sport, riding a bike, or carrying a bag of groceries up the stairs.
A proper warm-up can also help reduce the severity of post-exercise muscle soreness. The higher temperatures and increased blood flow that a warm-up provides are important for the delivery of oxygen to the muscles, and the prevention of build-up of unwanted waste products, which can lead to muscle soreness.
It is difficult to recommend a specific intensity and duration of warming-up for every child and adult, but most research suggests that an increase in body and muscle temperature that produces sweat is adequate. This warm-up should last about 10 to 15 minutes, and will generally produce sufficient results that will prepare the body for more strenuous activities.
The duration and intensity of a warm-up can be adjusted according to the population of people working out, or the environment you are in. A warmer temperature and greater amount of clothing you are wearing will make you reach the desired body temperature sooner. It is also important to begin a major activity while still warmed-up. The rest time should, preferably, be no more than a few minutes between the major part of your exercise program or the activity you have planned for the day.
There is a difference between warming-up and stretching. Many people stretch and call it a warm-up. This is incorrect. It is important to warm-up before stretching in order to increase circulation and increase the elasticity of your soft tissues — mainly your fascia tissue — your muscles and tendons.
When you try to stretch the muscles without the proper active warm-up, the muscles are still “cold,” and are more prone to an injury, such as a muscle tear or strain. The traditional static stretch should be implemented at the end of your workout to improve recovery time between workouts and calm the body down.
So remember the next time you or your child start a workout or training program to be sure to actively warm-up, so you can avoid injury and increase your chances of optimal performance and success!
Gary Miller, NASM, CPT, PES, CES, is the director of operations at the Victory Performance Center, the home of the Parisi Speed School. Miller has been a personal trainer for over a decade, and studies exercise science at William Paterson University. He has trained everyone from children to adults, executives, pro-athletes and celebrities.