Working out is essential to maintaining your physical and emotional health. It is recommended that adults get up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week, preferably spread out throughout the week. It is important to remember that what may seem like moderate intensity exercise to you, may be more vigorous for another person. Just exercise at a level that you feel comfortable with, and remember, a little bit of exercise is better than nothing! But before working out, you have to make sure you address an important aspect of your workout, one that is often times looked over: the warm up! If you are in a hurry to get your workout in, the warmup is usually the first thing to go because the belief is largely that the main body of the workout is more important than the warm up. Hopefully this can convince you that the warm up is extremely important, and something you definitely need to do before every workout.
Properly warming up before a workout is the best way to get your body ready for the exercise ahead. When you warm up, your cardiovascular system has a bit of time to rev up before you get into the more intense periods of your workout. Exercise puts a strain on your heart because of the muscles’ higher demand for oxygenated blood. Your heart can more easily meet this demand if you allow your heart rate to increase gradually through the warm up, as opposed to just diving right into vigorous exercise. In this case, your heart has to play catch up and will have difficulty getting oxygenated blood to every muscle that needs it. This puts excess strain on the heart, and leads to the muscles producing lactic acid, which is the prime culprit for sore muscles! So by properly warming up before exercise, you decrease the likelihood that you will be sore from your workout.
A good warm up is also beneficial in decreasing your risk of injury. Like your cardiovascular system, your muscular system needs a bit of time to rev up. Warm muscles stretch more readily than cold muscles do. Therefore, your warm up will help decrease the risk of injury such as muscle pulls or tears.
The benefits of warming up aren’t all just physical. There is a mental component to warming up too! While many people think exercising is only physical endeavor, your mind plays an important role in exercise as well. The time spent warming up gives you time to mentally prepare yourself for your workout.
Now that you know why warming up is important, here is how you should structure your warm up to your specific work out:
Your warm up should be similar to the exercise you are going to do – if you are going to swim, start with a slow swim
Your warm up should include your whole body – try a slow jog or slow bike ride
You should spend time targeting the specific muscles you will be using – if you are going to exercise your arms, spend some time warming up the arms
When you stretch, do dynamic or moving stretches, instead of stretching standing still – instead of trying to touch your toes, hold your arm straight in front of you and try to kick your hand
Your warm up should last a minimum of 5 minutes, but ideally would be 10-15 minutes
Almost as important as the warm up before exercise, is the cool down after exercise. You can think of the cool down as beneficial for the opposite reasons that a warm up is beneficial. Instead of gradually increasing your heart rate, cooling down helps to gradually decrease your heart rate. This aids in lactic acid removal from the muscles and will decrease muscle soreness. The cool down allows all of your body systems to return to normal levels slowly and in a controlled manner. Here is the best way to cool down after working out:
Use slow, full body movements – walk briskly for a couple of minutes
Dynamically stretch all parts of the body that were used during your workout – stretching after exercise will help prevent tight muscles the next day
Cool down for 5-10 minutes after your workout
Even when you are pressed for time, make sure you find the time to include a warm up and cool down in your exercise routine. Your body will thank you!