“Why do we have to warm-up Coach? Can’t we just go right into squatting?” Strength and conditioning coaches hear this from time to time or in some cases multiple times a day. To be fair, I’ll even catch myself wanting to skip my own warm up and jump into things, but I know better. I understand the importance a warm-up has on my performance for the day and for my body long-term.
So back to the original question: Why should we bother warming up?
In general, a warm-up is designed to prepare an athlete for upcoming training or competition. A well designed warm-up can improve performance while lessening the risk of injury. If done properly, the warm up initiates a series of physiological responses that are responsible for an increase in subsequent performance.
These physiological responses include an increase in muscle and core body temperature–which is why we call it a “warm up.” Additional responses are enhanced neural firing, greater blood flow to muscle tissues, increased consumption of oxygen by the working muscles, and the circulation of white blood cells–which play a role in managing the body’s inflammatory response. Finally, a warm up provokes postactivation potentiation–a process that readies the body for the specific movements and energetic demands of the workout (more on this in my next post in this series).
There are several positive effects a proper warm up may have on an athlete’s performance during their training session. In the realm of strength and conditioning, speed is king. In short, the faster you are, the stronger you are, and thus the more powerful you become. To this end, warm-ups have been shown to decrease viscous resistance in muscles and joints. Reduced viscous resistance allows muscles to increase the speed of contraction and the rate of relaxation. This not only helps to prevent injuries such as muscle tears but also allows the working musculature to develop higher rates of force in shorter amounts of time. Simply put, a good warm up can help you lift heavier loads and perform exercises faster.
Lastly, warm ups increase our sense of preparedness for performance. Indeed, one measure of the effectiveness of a warm up is how ready you feel to attack whatever comes next in your training session. A well designed warm up mentally prepares the athlete for that day’s workout.
In short, warm ups are immensely important because they ready the body and mind for the upcoming workout, prevent injury to the muscles and other connective tissues, and improve performance during the workout. So, don’t skip/miss the warm up!
Stay tuned for more on this topic. Our next blog in this series explains how to build an effective warm up.