When you’re pressed for time, or just eager to start your workout, it can be tempting to skip a warm-up. But warming up before you exercise, especially before engaging in strenuous activity, has very real physiological, and often psychological, benefits. Here’s what to know to get the most out of your warm-up.
Benefits of a Proper Warm-Up
Warming up prepares your heart, lungs, and muscles for the more strenuous phase, the main focus of your workout.
By activating the heat-dissipation mechanisms in the body, your body can cool efficiently and help prevent overheating early on, which is especially important during a demanding aerobic activity, such as running or bicycling in a race.
Here are the specifics of what happens to your body during a warm-up:
- Blood temperature rises: The temperature of blood increases as it travels through the muscles. As blood temperature goes up, the binding of oxygen to hemoglobin weakens so oxygen is more readily available to working muscles, which may improve endurance.
- Blood vessels dilate: This increases blood flow and puts less stress on the heart.1
- Hormonal changes occur: Your body increases its production of various hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine, which are responsible for regulating energy production. During a warm-up, this balance of hormones makes more carbohydrates and fatty acids available for energy production.
- Muscle temperature increases: Warm muscles both contract more forcefully and relax more quickly, reducing the risk of overstretching a muscle and causing injury.1 Your overall body temperature also increases, which improves muscle elasticity; this can enhance speed and strength.
- Range of motion increases: This allows your large joints (such as your shoulders and knees) to reach their maximum movement potential.
- You mentally prepare: The warm-up is also a good time to mentally prepare for an event by clearing the mind, increasing focus, and reviewing skills and strategy.2 Positive imagery can also relax you and build concentration for a competition.