NYC Running Training - Custom Performance NYC

Two Experts: Warming Up


What is a warm-up and why is it so important? Simply put, it’s a fundamental preparation for an eventual exercise load. Just like we preheat an oven or start a cold vehicle, our bodies benefit from a gradual progressive warm-up. Wherein lies the difference is in the specificity that is tailored to each sport or type of exercise.

In my experience as a younger athlete, warming up was much different from how it’s performed today. We paid far less attention to increasing blood flow and relied more heavily on static stretching. The thought back then was if we stretched aggressively, we’d be better prepared for practices and competitions. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Static stretches, especially when performed early and beyond one’s capacity, actually puts the muscle in a protective mode, which inhibits their strong and full contraction. Our body uses this mechanism as a protective buffer, shutting muscles down and making them less elastic to avoid over-stretching and tearing. Better to save this kind of stretching for when the body has warmed down.

Today, athletes are better educated on the many benefits of a proper warm-up/dynamic routine and it shows when attending competitions. In regards to long-distance running, dedicating time to ensure a healthy workout involves a few critical points: Start slow to fast, easy to hard, and simple to more complex movements. A good example of this is starting with slow marching and ending with large bounding. The experience should be gradual resulting in being completely warm and ready to tackle each challenge.

DR. ANDREW WARD (Custom Performance)

A proper warm-up is an essential part of preparing for sport, with the capability to increase performance and decrease injury risk. Taking a look at what’s happening at the muscular level during a warm-up can help a coach or athlete design an effective program.

The most important reason to warm up is to literally warm the body up! It will increase internal body temperature and the temperature of muscular tissue in the body. This has many physiological benefits, improving the function of the nerves and muscles used in the sport.

The increase in muscle temperature is largely facilitated by an increase in blood flow to the area, which increases the nutrients and oxygen available to the muscle. In warmer temperatures, the oxygen exchange between blood and muscles also occurs at a faster rate. Increasing blood flow, and therefore nutrient delivery helps to ‘prime the pump’- improving energy availability to the muscle before and during exercise.

Increased muscular temperature decreases the viscosity of the actual tissue. Viscosity can be thought of as the ‘stickiness’ between muscle fibers. With decreased stickiness, muscle fibers can slide past each other more easily, allowing for more fluid movement and elongation of muscles without discomfort. Joints have a similar process of secreting a lubricating fluid (synovial fluid) when their temperature increases. Both joints and muscle tissue are easier to stretch, and less likely to be injured, once their temperature has increased.

Lastly, increased muscle temperature has an effect on the nerves that carry signals to them. As temperature increases, nerve receptors become more sensitive to stimulus. Nerve impulses also travel faster when temperature increases. When these two factors combine, increased body temperature allows for higher speed and accuracy of communication between the brain and the muscles of the body.

With all of this in mind, the optimal warm-up for any sport begins with general exercises, such as jogging or biking to increase the temperature of the major joints and muscle groups. Once these muscles have increased their temperature, they are then ready to tolerate sport-specific work. First, increase body temperature to prime the machine, and then prepare for your specific sport.

There are many ways to warm up, but it is important to remember that no matter what you are doing, you are raising your body temperature prior to launching into sport-specific prep.

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