Everyone has their routine. Whether it be a 10 second hammy stretch, or an arm swing and foot wiggle, most people have a preferred pre-activity warm up. We tend to get a lot of questions regarding this particular routine. Do I stretch? How long should it take? What EXACTLY do I do? Our response is the resounding non-answer; it depends. A sport specific warm up is necessary, especially for activities requiring max efforts. You don’t need to spend a ton of time priming the legs for a max bench press competition. A cyclist doesn’t take a ton of time to activate their rotator cuff musculature. Duh. You want to direct blood and neuromuscular control to the right areas. That being said, there are a myriad of benefits to a generalized warm up, which also happen to be transferable to just about all exercise. Some of the benefits:
Increase core body + muscle temp: You wouldn’t step out of bed and immediately play soccer. We need to warm up the engine block before the road trip.
Increase viscoelasticity of tissue- In very cold weather the fan belt on your car may squeal when your first turn on the engine. Our tissue essentially does the same. As the fan belt warms up, it makes less noise and becomes more elastic. Pull on our tissue too hard without warming it up is a sure fire way to injure yourself.
Increase synovial fluid in joint space- Synovial fluid is our natural joint lubricant that essentially keeps our joints healthy and resilient. Without movement and a gradual warm up, that fluid stagnates and can not provide its health benefit to your joints- like running a car engine without enough oil.
Muscle Priming- This is a great way to remind your body to recruit a particular muscle group. We always default in recruitment of specific muscle groups during certain exercises, so this is a great way to “prime” our preferred mind → muscle connection. By pre-activating, or priming, you are providing contractile stimulus, as well as proprioceptive feedback for the activity you are about to participate in. An example would be a cyclist who is very versed at using their quads, but has a hard time with glute recruitment. By priming their glute musculature, they are essentially reminding their brain to recruit that muscle group during exercise.
Mental prep- Often overlooked, deliberate warm up time provides a great mental seagueway and transition time to put some mental attention to what you are about to do. A conscious warm up gives you time to prepare yourself psychologically, as well as physically.
So, some final take homes:
A warm up is important, and in most cases, necessary for optimal performance.
Warm up activities should be directed and deliberate. They should mimic effort, actions, and physiological demand of the activity you are about to participate in.
Start with a whole body approach and fine tune as necessary.
Take the warm up time to get your head right.
Warm it up, or shut it down!