Why Do You Need to Warm up before Exercising?

Published on: January 14, 2020

Exercise is important for good health, but you should prepare the body by warming up and cooling down the muscles before and after you add stress with intense movements. Here is a good reminder of why weight training is also equally important to avoid muscle injury.  

By Dr. Alisara Arirachakaran  

It can be tempting to dive right in and not warm up before exercising or playing sports. Perhaps you are running late and don’t want to keep your teammates waiting. Or maybe you are just excited about finally having time away from the family and want to get started straight away. As tempting as it might be to skip warming up before exercising, working out or playing sports, there are compelling advantages for warming up first — and potential consequences if you don’t.

Here are four things to know about warming up before physical activity.  

1. Warming up helps prepares muscles

It signals to your body that more strenuous demands are to come. The main reasons to do a pre-workout warm-up are to gradually boost your heart rate, raise your body temperature and increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing to your muscles.

During warm-up, veins, capillaries, and arteries of the circulatory system all begin to expand and become more receptive. As body temperature rises and the increased blood flow reaches your muscles, those muscles become warmer and expand while becoming less tense, even before stretching. And when muscles are less tense, they are less prone to injury.  

2.  The same warm-up does not apply to every type of exercise or activity.

A warm-up should include movements and activities that engage the specific muscles you’re going to be using hard in the sport or activity planned for after the warm-up — beginning at a slow pace, then gradually increasing in intensity and speed. Doing this brings blood to the important muscles you are going to be using. If you watch professional tennis players warming up, they will warm-up their serving muscles by doing slow-speed ball tosses and bringing the racket through the full serving motion, all at a much slower speed than during an actual match.

Before a weight-training session, you could include some warm-up curls and lifts at a slower speed using just an empty barbell (i.e. the weight bar without added weights). If you plan to do leg presses, you will want to warm-up your legs first, which can be accomplished with a few minutes on a stair-climber. A warm-up before running might include several minutes of low-speed running on a treadmill.  

3. The risk of injuries and painful recoveries is higher

If you don’t warm up cold muscles are less able to absorb shocks or impacts, making you more prone to muscle strains that result from severe muscle contractions. In some cases, not warming up can even lead to ligament tears, tendon tears and tendon injuries. Ligaments and tendons are typically very tight during inactivity. Without the elongating and contracting motions to loosen them during warm-up, ligaments and tendons can remain stuck in the same length and be more susceptible to tearing. Launching into a full-force workout with no warm-up is often followed by a painful recovery period. If you have ever done a full weight-training workout after a long layoff and skipped the warm-up, you will recognize the pain and soreness that usually begins the next day. The aches and pains are actually symptoms of micro-tears in your muscle fibers, which are much more likely to occur when muscles haven’t been properly warmed up.  

4. Apply warm-up principles to your post-activity cool-down.

Cooling down is as important as warming up, and similar principles apply to both. A proper cool-down includes movements similar to the activity just completed. Begin at a faster pace that gradually decreases in speed and intensity. During a full-intensity workout, your muscles experience a build-up of lactic acid. A proper cool-down that engages the same muscle groups in the same types of motion before stretching helps flush the lactic acid out from those muscles.

Warm-Up Matters

Whether you are exercising for your overall health or are a professional athlete in training, a proper warm-up prepares your body’s muscles for the necessary stretching exercises recommended before every full-force workout or sporting activity — and lowers the risk of painful injury. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise or sports regimen.  

Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash.

About the Author

Dr. Alisara (Amy) Arirachakaran is an orthopedic surgeon and sports science specialist at Bumrungrad International Hospital and the Sports and Lifestyle Clinic at the VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center.

The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects. BAMBI News welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact editor@bambiweb.org.