The first time most
of us heard the words “warm-up” was likely in an elementary school gym
class. We soon learned it was code for “if you want to play the fun games, you
have to do these silly exercises and run laps of the gym.”
Our teachers told us
it was important, but most of us figured out early on that minimal effort was
required. Get it done, goof around with your buddies and move on to the good
part of the lesson.
So when we return to regular exercise as
adults, it’s only natural that we bring our notions that warming up is
minimally important. The best people-watching at running events is the 20
minutes before the start of a race. The warm-up routines range from standing in
line at the porta potties to elaborate exercises and pre-event rituals.
warming up makes a difference in performance and injury prevention for one
simple reason: warm muscles work better then cold ones. They’re more
efficient, have greater blood flow and oxygen uptake, have a greater range of
motion and contract with greater power.
The time spent
warming up is time well spent. However, all warm-ups are not created equal. Some
routines are much more effective than others and some exercises can actually
increase your risk of injury.
The first part of a
sound warm-up routine is to raise the body temperature with 5 to 20 minutes of
cardiovascular activity at a gentle effort level. Since the goal is to get warm,
you should wear a sweatshirt or running jacket and a pair of track pants.
finished, its time to ease into some stretching. The traditional approach to
warm-up stretching was to have a good 20 minutes of gentle, passive stretching
exercises. The thought was that a greater range of motion would help as you
moved into more intense aerobic or anarobic exercise. This approach is now being
questioned and passive stretching is now recommended for after exercise for
recovery or specific flexibility training.
finding that over-stretching your connective tissue immediately before intense
activity can impair running efficiency and actually hurt your performance.
Running is a dynamic activity that requires your legs to act as energy returning
mechanisms, transferring the impact-forces into forward motion.
Too much passive
stretching before exercise leaves your muscles over-absorbant and reduces your
neuromuscular ability to contract your muscles quickly on impact.
Athletes are now
moving towards specific and dynamic stretching for their warm-up routines.
Instead of a passive hamstring stretch where you reach for your toes, a dynamic
stretch might have you stabilizing yourself against a wall as you gently swing
your leg in front and back of your body. With each swing, your hamstring is
brought to the limits of its range of motion.
exercises might resemble running drills such as running high knee lifts,
butt-kicks and lunge walks.
If you’re warming
up for an intense effort like a race or a speed workout, end the warm-up with a
bit of quality work. Do five to eight strides. These are 80 to 120 metre sprints
that run at 75 to 90 per cent of your maximum pace. Start gradually and pick up
the pace, taking a minute or two between these efforts to allow your body to
Finish your warm-up
with a few hops, skips or jumps. That stimulates your central nervous system and
gets your muscles contracting quickly.
If truth be told,
you probably figured things out quite accurately as a child in gym class.
Warming up is what you have to do before you get to the real fun.
What you missed as a
child is that the better you warm up, the more fun you’ll have.
Deacon is a two-time Olympian in the marathon.