Why We Warm Up
BY ALISON MCGINNIS, DPT, PT, FAFS
Everyone has been told to warm up before they exercise. But why is it so important?!
The first reason is because it helps to gradually increase your heart rate and body temperature, and increases blood flow to the muscles. This helps the heart pump more efficiently to reduce fatigue, and allows muscles to contract more effectively to move your body through space. Foam rolling or using a percussion massage gun is a great way to hydrate the local tissues and improve the viscoelastic properties of the muscles and fascia, and walking before running helps to increase heart rate and overall circulation before you start exercising.
And remember, a warm up should be DYNAMIC! A dynamic warm up starts with slow small movements and works up to larger, faster, whole body movements. A warm up is also key to prep your body to move through the ranges of motion that the activity will demand. Unlike stretching (which is passive range), a dynamic warm up provides active motor control through the entire range of motion. The nervous system restricts movement it deems unsafe or beyond its control. This top-down protective strategy reduces variability of movement that can lead to pain or injury if the exercise demands exceed the available mobility. By taking your body through a variety of ranges of motion, you’re establishing proof of protection for your brain so it knows not to lock down movement in the area for safety. You’ve demonstrated to your brain that you can dissipate forces in the region and control movements of the body, so these ranges are now available for you to use. The goal is active control through the range, not the passive range you can achieve but can’t control through stretching.
A warm up also boosts performance by practicing movements and skills that you’re going to use. Runners utilize running drills, weightlifters perform lifts slowly and with minimal weight focusing on form, soccer players practice touch drills and change of direction drills to simulate in-game movement demands. Practicing skills before you go out to perform means your coordination will be at its peak and your body is ready to move faster and more efficiently.
My warmup prescription usually looks like this:
- Start with foam rolling of any specific problem areas, or the main muscles you’re going to use when exercising (for runners that would be the quads, glutes, calves, and feet).
- Next move to localized dynamic stretches that are sport specific. For runners that could be a hip flexor and calf mobilization, for golfers it would be some thoracic spine mobilization, and soccer players would utilize hip openers in all planes of motions.
- After doing localized mobilizations move to larger, more global dynamic movements that move the entire body through all three planes of motion (see 3D lunge matrix or 3D maps matrix stretch below).
- Then you’re ready to walk or lightly jog a few blocks to increase your heart rate followed by performing a few sport specific drills (high knees, butt kicks, side shuffles, skipping, etc).
- After that you’re good to go!