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How To Properly Warm Up (And Avoid Injury)

by Alexandra Parren
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warm up exercise workout stretch

We all know we should do it, but many of us don't know how to warm up properly before training or running. We give you a run-down of how to warm up properly to avoid injury.

What happens to your body when you warm up?

Before you exercise, your muscles will be somewhat cold (dependant on outside temperature) and usually quite stiff (especially if you rarely stretch). Additionally, your heart rate will be at resting rate which is much lower than working rate and your breathing rate will be low. When you exercise, your muscles need to be warm and limber and your heart rate and breathing rate will increase. 

When you warm up, you are easing your body into a working state. You will be warming up your muscles, increasing blood circulation, increasing heart rate, and increasing your body temperature. All of this will improve circulation to your muscles so that they can perform better while you are exercising and will reduce the likelihood of injury. Not only this, a warm up can prepare you mentally for the workout or race ahead and help you get into the right frame of mind.

quad stretch warm up exercise workout running

How long do you need to warm up?

How long you need to warm up depends on what type of race, game, or workout you are about to do. If you are going to do a short run such as a 5k, you will only need to warm up for a few minutes. If you are going to do a big workout at the gym, lifting weights or doing HIIT, you may need to warm up for a little longer, up to 5 minutes. 

If you are about to play a team sports game such as football or rugby, you will require a longer warm up, and this will usually involve drills as well as team work to prepare you for the game or match. A big event like a triathlon or Ironman will also require a much longer warm up and you may spend up to 20 minutes warming up in anticipation of an event like this. 

lunge warm up workout stretch exercise

What happens if you don't warm up?

Missing or skipping a warm up can be quite costly and you could get injured. Especially if you are going to be lifting heavy weights in your workout, you could pull a muscle or end up with a tear. Not only this, by not preparing your body for a workout, it won't be ready to cope with the added stress and therefore you may not perform as well. 

Warming up is not the only important thing: you must cool down properly after exercise, too. You will often see people whizz off the end of a treadmill after a tough workout and just walk straight out of the gym. This is a bad idea: when you exercise, your heart is pumping extra hard and pushing more blood around your body. If you don't cool down properly, you will end up with 'blood pooling' which, while not as bad as it sounds, can lead to cramping and injury. 

What are good warm up exercises?

It's never a good idea to do static stretches before a workout as this could tear your muscles. Additionally, it's not recommended to do static stretches after a workout either as your muscles have just torn and stretched during the workout, so you don't want to exacerbate this effect by stretching them further.

Instead, it's best to do dynamic stretches and drills as a warm up. The best warm up exercises include things like windmills, where you swing your arms round in circles, leg swings, high knees, fast feet, and kick backs. 

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