Why We Need to Warm Up
1. A proper warm up enables you to dial in your mind, put any other issues on hold, and resolve to focus on the task at hand.
**NB: Multi-tasking decreases efficiency (despite what we think), and we can’t actually perform two tasks simultaneously. When we attempt to complete multiple things at once, our minds rapidly switch/jump between tasks, and with every switch a little time and efficiency is lost (I’ll touch more on that in another post).**
When you come into the gym to train, your mind should be 100% focused on your training if you want maximum results and minimum risk of injury. If the workout you are doing includes highly technical skills (e.g. the Olympic lifts), I highly recommend you focus on the loaded barbell right over your head and not on what you are going to make for dinner.
2. A proper warm up decreases the risk of injuries and helps minimize the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
When a muscle hasn’t been used all day (i.e. if your job has made a desk jockey out of you), it gets cold and tightens/stiffens up. As a result of this inactivity, your range of motion (ROM), flexibility and resilience to stress are all compromised; thus the risk of muscle tears (minor or major) significantly increases.
Major muscle tears (i.e. the serious ones) can put you out for days, weeks, or even months at a time, so we definitely want to avoid those.
Minor muscle tears (also known as DOMS) are responsible for the inflammation, soreness and stiffness experienced after a hard training session and are typically worse if the workout included new/unfamiliar movements or eccentric exercises (e.g.running down-hill, the lowering portion of a squat, push-up, etc).
There is no magic way to avoid DOMS altogether. If you stress your body, you will cause micro-tears and be sore because of it, which comes with the territory. However, by incorporating a proper warm-up, you can decrease the number/severity of micro-tears, which will enable you to perform better and train with less discomfort.
3. A proper warm up decreases the negative effects of lactic acid.
Lactic Acid During Anaerobic Exercise
Lactic acid, a byproduct of anaerobic exercise, often gets blamed for DOMS, but it is actually responsible for the burning sensation experienced during and immediately after a high intensity workout, not for the soreness that sets in later.
When we exercise anaerobically, our bodies produce lactic acid more rapidly than it can be removed; as a result, it quickly builds up and our performance begins to drop and/or stops altogether. Luckily, the reaction responsible for creating lactic acid is easily reversible if sufficient oxygen is supplied to the muscles. This means that if we slow down to catch our breath, the lactic acid build-up will rapidly diminish, and we will be able to up the intensity again (e.g. Tabata Intervals, hill sprints and all those other fun exercises).
Lactic Acid During Aerobic Exercise
Have you ever noticed that the first few minutes of a workout are often the worst?
…But then it seems to get easier as the workout continues? (NB: This is more applicable to steady state cardio workouts, not something like Fran). This is because the concentration of lactic acid increases rapidly initially, but once your body realizes what is going on it adjusts and is able to remove/use the lactic acid as quickly as it is being produced, as long as you pace correctly.
This is where the warm-up comes in.
Rather than have those first few minutes of suckiness happen during the workout, do a proper warm-up and get them over and done with so that you will be 100% ready to go when it really matters. This means for a warm-up to be effective it should be:
- long enough for the body to realize what’s going on to adapt accordingly
- completed only a little before the actual workout (if done too far in advance, you will cool down again and then it will have been pointless)