Most of us struggle to find time to exercise, so it can be tempting to skip certain activities or invent ways to rush through your workout. But if you’re wondering, “Do I really need to warm up?”, take a moment to read about why warm-ups are vital to your daily workouts.
Chances are, you’re exercising first thing in the morning, or after a long day at the office. Whether you’ve just spent eight hours lying in bed or sitting in a chair, the effect on your muscles is the same. Most of your body’s muscles are either tight or completely shut off. If you’ve ever gone for a walk or jog, and noticed that you felt heavy and slow for the first ten or fifteen minutes, you’re noticing the effects of tight, inactive muscles being forced into action too soon.
Warming up and stretching your muscles prevents them from being abruptly overused. You will enjoy a more productive workout, and prevent injuries while you’re at it. A good warm-up will activate your muscles via the stretch reflex, or the muscle’s response when it is lengthened. Stretching the muscles activates sensory receptors, which notifies the spinal cord of the activity. Then the spinal cord responds with it’s own message to shorten the muscle. Of course, this all happens incredibly fast; it’s a reflex, like when a doctor performs the common knee-tap test. Waking up your muscles before a workout is the best way to prevent injuries, because it gets those reflexes operating before you need them for physical activity.
When you warm up, remember not to start by stretching cold muscles. Perform about five minutes of an activity that involves your entire body – brisk walking, or some slow jumping jacks. Then gently stretch your warmed muscles, paying special attention to any areas that feel particularly tight. Once your muscles are fully activated and loosened, you’re ready to engage in more vigorous physical activity.