The why’s and how’s of warming up

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Warming up before exercise is one of those things that many people see as optional.  For your body however,  warming up is non-negotiable.  It can change your whole exercise experience, which can either drain or boost your motivation.   It’s worth taking a moment to know the why’s and how’s of warming up.

Let’s start with why warm up.

  • Body temperature rises:  Yep, the term warm up literally means, warming up.  Why is this important?  Because as blood temperature goes up, oxygen is released from blood easier, which means it is more available to muscles.  See our blog series on heart rate to know why the oxygen availability is so important for cardiovascular exercise.
  • Blood flow shifts:  If you are sitting and resting while you read this, about 80% your blood flow is going to your digestive system, your brain and other essential organs.  Only 20% is sent to your skeletal muscles.  When you exercise this flips;  about 80% is set to the moving muscles and 20% is sent to essential organs.  This shift takes time. Skipping the warm up means your muscles have less of what they need as you start and are more likely to fatigue faster.
  • Brain/body connection: This is called ‘neuromuscular” warming up.  When you warm up with movements you are using during exercise, it helps your brain and body communicate more effectively by waking up the nerve pathways the create smooth coordinated movement. This is most important during types of exercise where the movements involves  coordination and agility such as strength training, sports, or dance.   During sports doing the movements slower with full focus helps the body prepare for doing them wit more strength and power.
  • More mobility:  Mobility is freedom of movement.  Just like a gummy worm, when it is cold it would be less elastic.  When warm, more flexible.  Raising your body temp helps you have more freedom of movement.

So some pretty important things happen in those few minutes.  Here is how to make the most of your warm up time:

  • Mimic the moves:  Do the movements you will be doing during exercise, just at a lighter, slower level.  For strength training, do the first set at a light level and practice using core stability, proper breathing and whole-body awareness will help each  more challenging set(s) be more effective and less straining for your body.
  • Light breathing:  Start moving at a level that feels light for your breathing on cardiovascular exercise.  On some types of exercise that might mean just walking around before getting on a machine.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body temperature.  Notice when you start to feel warmer.  Your body will tell you when you are ready to increase the intensity of exercise.

Enjoy the warm up time to mentally check in on how you are feeling.  Using mindfulness will allow you to adjust what you are doing for exercise each time to match just what your body needs. The warm up time gives you a chance to figure that out before you dive into exercise.

Your body and your brain will thank you because exercise will be more enjoyable and thus more motivating to come back again!

Keep moving, Be Well,

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by | March 20, 2019 · 6:00 pm

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