Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Are you one of those who are tempted to skip the warm-up and jump directly to the main workout or your sport? If the answer is yes then you need to reconsider your decision.
In this article, we will discuss why performing a warm-up before exercise is important to enhance your performance and if skipping this crucial part is really going to help you or not.
What is a warm-up?
When athletes start performing exercises, there exists a physiological time lag that between the start of the activity and adjustments occurring in the body to meet the corresponding physical and mental demands. This period is named as the warm-up period.
In other words, warm-up is a short duration of activities undertaken between the onset and the main workout. Warming up is a term used to describe the process of preparing the body for activity, such as exercise, athletics, dance, or stretching.
Why is warm-up important?
Any person who hits the gym in the morning does so after 8-9 hours of sleep, or someone who play a sport in the evening does so after working in an office for 8 – 9 hours. Due to a lack of mobility coming from prolonged lying down, sitting, standing, or any other sustained posture throughout the day, the body’s muscles become tight and stiff. Any such person who does active training or workout without warming up the body is not very far from turning/twisting injuries, muscle pains (cramps or spasms in some cases even tear) clicking sounds from joints, pressure on their cardiorespiratory system, etc. This is due to sudden pressure on the cardiovascular system, muscles, etc. after prolonged periods of less mobility.
What are the benefits of warm-up?
Warm-up slowly introduces new stressors to the body so that the body gets used to take up larger stressors. In addition to prevention of injuries and enhancement of performance, the major benefits of warm-up are
1. Increased blood flow to the muscle and increased metabolism
2. Increased body temperature
3. Gradual rise in heart rate (HR), and therefore, increased oxygen intake
4. Optimized ability to perform
5. Gentle movements and increased blood flow resulting in increased muscle elasticity,
faster muscle contraction and relaxation
6. Reduced resistance of the connective tissue resulting in reduced muscle tension
7. Adaptation of body to cardiorespiratory changes
8. Rapid transmission of nerve impulses due to activation of central nervous system
9. Mental preparation of athletes towards training
10. Improvements in the rate of force development while training
How to perform warm-up?
Traditionally used warm-up methods include general body movement and Range of Motion (ROM) exercises for joints before starting the main workout. Dr. Ian Jeffreys and Mark Verstegen has developed two basic warm-up models in an attempt to improve current performance preparations. RAMP protocol given by Dr. Ian Jeffreys allows easy classification of movements and helps to construct a warm-up routine.
RAMP includes 3 phases
A&M- Activate and Mobilize
Each of these phases is important in delivering an efficient warm-up and plays a key role in terms of the athlete's physiological and psychological preparation. Furthermore, the methodical framework ensures that all actions are arranged in such a way that the previous phase prepares the athlete for the next one. For ease of understanding, we shall explain this with the examples of a badminton player and a weight lifter.
As the name suggests, this phase is particularly used to increase body temperature which triggers the rise in physiological parameters such as blood flow muscle and core temperature, neural activation. Low-intensity aerobic exercises are the key elements of this phase. You should plan your Raise phase according to the main workout or sport. For example, badminton players can include running in different directions, multi-direction movements, sudden stop, and initiation of movement, dynamic movements such as low-intensity jumps, high knees, butt kicks, etc. Extending to gym training or calisthenics low-intensity cardio exercises such as elliptical, stationary cycles, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, stair climbing are good for kickstarting your Raise phase.
2. Activation and mobilization
Traditionally this phase was particularly used for stretching exercises. But, performing individual muscle stretches can reduce body temperature, heart rate and therefore diminishes the effect of warm-up.
This phase focuses on mobilizing different joints and activating the muscle which is required for the game. Mobility is a combination of flexibility, coordination, motor control body balance, or stability. Therefore, different patterns such as squats, lunges, push-ups should be a part of this phase. In general, this phase includes fundamental movements which are present in-game in abundance. Athlete and their coaches should be aware of these movements so they can train effectively for the competition. For badminton players, mobilization movements can be lunges in different directions, squats, shoulder mobilization, ankle mobilization exercise, etc. Similarly, weight lifters can perform different mobilization exercises for shoulders, hip, etc.
This is also an important phase for correcting wrong patterns and creating correct activation patterns. Attention should be on individuals to improve their particular skills. For example, a badminton player performing the wrong landing technique after hitting a smash or a weight lifter performing the wrong hinging movement can correct such patterns during this phase of warm-up.
Activating muscles which are required for your game is also a part of this phase. Badminton players, as well as weight lifters, can include exercises such as glute bridges, scapular muscle activation, core activation, shoulder rotation, single-leg balance.
Potentiation phase is a buffer between warm-up and the actual workout or sport. Here, the athlete performs movements that are similar to the sport and with progressive intensity reach the level of their sports. Therefore, it can be viewed as a rehearsal of the actual sport or activity. This explains why some weightlifters lift weights or badminton players jump and smash before the acutual competition.
Target heart rate zones while warming up
Warm-up helps to elevate HR from your base/ resting HR. While working out, it should be kept in mind that you do not undertrain or overexert. HR Zone based training is the best method to improve your performance without any injuries. Read all about HR Zones here.
Your maximum HR (max HR) is the heart rate beyond which you should not exert as chances of injury is really high. It is calculated as (220 – your age).
As the intensity progresses in warm-up, your HR starts to rise and it should hit Zone 1 (50-60% of max HR) and later proceed to the start of Zone 2 (60-70% of max HR). This means that once you start your main workout, you will already be in Zone 2 and you can smoothly transition to higher zones if your workout or activity demands so. For example, if your maximum HR is 190 bpm, your Zone 1 will have HR from 95 -114 bpm and Zone 2 will be from 115 bpm to 133 bpm. You should try to progressively reach an HR of around 125 bpm by the end of your Warm-up.
From the onset to your main workout, there should be a slow rise in HR, which means that your heart rate in the HR zones graph should show a steady, gradual elevation instead of a steep and sudden rise.
The heart rate zone graph in Fig. 1 suggests a steep and sudden elevation in the heart rate after the activity has begun. Here, the individual started the main workout, running, in higher intensity zones without performing appropriate warm-up in lower-intensity zones. This could create sudden pressure in the cardiovascular system and could lead to injuries.
The heart rate zone graph in Fig. 2 suggests a steady and gradual elevation in the heart rate. Here, the athlete was performing an appropriate warm-up in Zone 1 and 2 prior to the main workout, brisk walking, in higher intensity zones.
Common myths about warm-up
Myth 1 - No warm-up required
Truth - Warm-up is necessary, if you want to live a healthy and injury-free life. Skipping warm-up on daily basis may feel fine temporarily but you may face injury if you continue the same for the long term.
Myth 2 - Dynamic stretches prepare the athlete better for a workout
Truth - Properly structured warm-up prepares the athlete better for a workout
Myth 3 - Running is a good warm-up
Truth - Running can be part of warm-up at the initial phases but it is not entire
warm-up. You need to activate and mobilize muscles for performance enhancement.
Myth 4 - I am flexible and hence I don’t need warm-up
Truth - Improving flexibility is not the single aim of warm-up. Activating muscles and
mobilizing joints are also necessary to prepare your body for the upcoming activity.
Myth 5 - Warm-up is waste of time and does not help me with my performance
Truth - Well-structured warm-up helps you to improve the neuromuscular pathway to enhance your performance
Myth 6 - 5 minutes of warm-up is sufficient
Truth - Warm-ups typically last 10 to 30 minutes, which means that all needed movements must be strategically packed into this amount of time. 5 minutes of warm-up will not give you all the benefits of a warm-up.
Myth 7 - You need to stretch every single muscle before the workout
Truth - You can keep that static stretching at the end of the workout when your muscles are warm. Ending a workout with static stretching will aid in returning to the normal state and in preventing certain injuries.
So, a proper warm up is as important as your main workout. And we hope that we helped you understand the why's and how's of a warm up. As they say, well begun is half done. :)