As San Diego’s voted best personal trainer, I cannot stress these words enough: Warming up for a workout will significantly alleviate the risk for exercise-related injury.
We’ve all been told to “go warm up,” before training, before a game, or before a long run; and most people may think it’s to simply get your heart rate going and get the blood flowing. However, so much more actually goes into a structured dynamic warm-up. You are preparing – both mentally and physically for the activities that you are about to put your mind and body through.
As humans, its normal to walk into the gym and bring with us all the “stuff” swirling around in our heads all day, whether it be about work, our relationship, our families, stress, anxiety or negative thoughts. As a personal trainer, the warm-up is a crucial part of training because it’s about mentally checking in to this one hour you are committing to yourself, by putting aside the distractions and being 100% present. Warming up provides some time to build confidence, use imagery to build on what you’ve previously learned, and to set goals for your training, all while your body activates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Fight or Flight?
The sympathetic system controls “fight or flight” responses, while the parasympathetic system regulates “rest and digest” functions. During a properly designed dynamic warm-up, the sympathetic system dominates by releasing adrenaline, elevating your body temperature, flushing out toxins and increasing the flow of blood that is well-oxygenated and rich in nutrients to the working skeletal muscles to prepare the body for strenuous physical activity. By eliminating negative demotivators and mental interruptions during this natural occurring “fight or flight” response, we can better warm-up our brains to be ready to learn and be ready to try new skills. In contrast, the parasympathetic will dominate during resting conditions, aka rest days, helping reduce stress and allowing our bodies to heal and repair. When the nervous system is activated in this way, our joints get lubricated with synovial fluid, allowing our ligaments (those rubber bands connecting bone to bone) and tendons (the bands connecting muscles to bone) to absorb the shock of the upcoming strenuous activity we are preparing for—because again, we’re still just warming up!
In addition to your 5-10 minute warm-up, stretching your (now warm) muscles is another key component to a dynamic warm-up. Short-hold static stretching of 10-15 seconds benefits overall flexibility and activates your Golgi tendon organ (GTO). Muscles and their connective tissues are protected by this sensory organ; and when triggered can prevent an injury. Basically, when a muscle is stretched or pulled, the Golgi tendon signals the central nervous system and causes the muscle to relax, preventing injury. Keep in mind, stretching is not the warm-up, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that doing a few stretches constitutes a warm-up.
So, how long should your warmup be? Well, there isn’t one answer. Factors such as: age, level of fitness, previous injuries and your lifestyle will determine what is appropriate. For example, if you come to train after your desk job where you’ve been sitting for eight hours, your body may need a greater adjustment time warming up. Clients may notice their warmup requirements adjusting to their advancing fitness levels, which is why I often change up their warm-up routine. Again, why it’s so important to get the mind warmed up and prepared to learn so that we can keep building on what our bodies have mastered.
Hopefully, the next time you walk into the gym to train, or wherever and however you choose to exercise, when you hear your coach or trainer or the voice in your head tell you “Go warm up,” you can start by inhaling some positive affirmations to yourself: “Let’s do this!” “I’m pumped!” “I’ve got this!” and exhaling all the distractions and negativity that walked in with you to get yourself checked in and present, because this is your time you’ve dedicated.