Doing warm up exercises before your workout is important in many ways. A good warm up will gradually increase your heart rate, increase circulation to your muscles, tendons and ligaments, and mentally prepare you for your workout. Although warm ups and stretching generally occur in the beginning of a workout session, they are two different concepts.
The Importance of Warm Up Exercises
The importance of warm up exercises can be compared to driving your car in freezing cold weather. It is generally best to allow your car to warm up a bit before revving it up to high speeds. The same principle applies when you work out. You want to physically prepare your body for the demands of a strenuous workout by gradually increasing your body temperature.
When you give your body 5 to 10 minutes of a good warm up, through walking or jogging in place for example, you gradually increase blood circulation throughout your muscles, tendons and ligaments. This is much like oiling a squeaky wheel. You give the different aspects of your physiology a chance to prepare to work together. Your heart rate increases gradually. Your muscles warm up to prevent injury. Your ligaments and tendons become more flexible, reducing the chance of tears.
Warm up exercises are also important as a form of mental preparation. Your mind can ease into the workout. This is especially helpful if you engage in strenuous forms of exercise such as hiking or cycling a steep hill, lifting heavy weights or taking an advanced aerobics class. Your body experiences a great deal of stress during these types of activities, so an adequate warm up and mental preparation increase your chances of enduring and benefiting from the hardest part of your exercise regimen.
Although warm up exercises and stretching are often lumped together in discussions and sometimes occur simultaneously in dance and aerobics classes, they are two distinct principles. Both are important for an optimal workout. During warm up exercises, you are increasing your body temperature and slowly preparing your body for what is to come. When stretching, you are focusing specifically on stretching your muscles.
It can be problematic when people confuse warming up with stretching. One example is when a person jumps right into stretching without first raising his body temperature through an initial period of walking, running in place or easy pedaling on a bike. This can cause injury because your muscles need warmth to achieve optimal stretch. Another example is when an individual warms up but skips stretching, which can also lead to injury.
A good workout consists of a solid warm up, a period of stretching, a more strenuous portion increasing the heart rate and a cool down period, which often includes stretching. When you take the time to experience each of these workout segments, you will experience fewer occurrences of injuries and increase your workout enjoyment.