You wouldn’t go for a jog before you mowed the lawn or cleaned the car, and even if you did, it wouldn’t improve your performance or reduce the risk of injury. So, let’s look at the reasons behind warming up and why this approach doesn’t best prepare us for movement-based resistance training, core training, or balance training.
The warm-up is all about preparing the body for physical activity. Unfortunately, there is still a fair bit of misinformation and disagreement about what makes for an effective warm-up, particularly for resistance training. So, while everyone agrees that we should warm up, how we do it is a different matter.
The warm-up has a few specific purposes:
improves movement patterns and coordination;
increases blood flow to the muscles;
prepares the nervous system for increased activity;
speeds muscle contraction and relaxation;
aids mental preparation;
increases muscle temperature;
improves joint mobility and movement.
A warm-up is an essential part of any workout or competition, no matter what level you are at. Although many people believe it prevents injury, it is still possible to injure yourself during a warm-up if the movement is not done correctly. So far, however, the benefits of a warm-up for performance are clearer in the research than benefits for injury prevention, and most sports and exercise scientists would agree that some form of warm-up is both advisable and beneficial for everyone before exercise.
An effective start to any training routine is to prepare the body for what lies ahead. It should contain movements that will activate our muscles ready for what is to come, and should challenge all the body’s systems. So, although walking may be a good way to increase bloodflow around the body, it does not work the muscles of the hips, spine and shoulders in the way that they will be needed for exercises such as squats or press-ups. A complete warm-up will need to include activities similar to the main workout. This is the reason why athletes will prepare for their event by doing a less intense version of the real thing. An example of this is a tennis player, who will practise serving and volleying with their coach or opponent to warm up. A cyclist will prepare by cycling; it seems like common sense, right?
To prepare you for the training, we are going to use active warm-up drills. By using movements similar to those in the workout ahead, but at a lower intensity, we can prepare the body for activity. The dynamic warm-up will raise the heart rate and body temperature, while also working the muscles in a way that really prepares them for the workout ahead.
For cardiovascular exercise, it is particularly important that you perform a thorough warm-up using a similar (or the same) activity. As with all warm-ups, it should be both gradual and progressive to allow the body time to adapt to the change in activity levels. Suddenly beginning strenuous exercise can lead to a situation where the body is unable to keep up with the heart’s need for oxygen, which can be potentially very dangerous, but which is easily avoided with a short warm-up. Begin a cardiovascular warm-up gently, and gradually increase it to the pace you are going to be training at in the workout. It is not necessary to do a full dynamic warm-up before a more gentle activity such as walking or cycling, although it certainly won’t do you any harm either.