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A warm-up is an important part of any exercise session. It helps prime your body and your mind for the work ahead, while potentially reducing your chance of injury. A warm-up can be as simple as walking on the treadmill for a few minutes before a run or completing a set of weight exercises with light weights. A warm-up may also entail dynamic moves such as jumping jacks and core rotations to prepare you for the activity to follow. A warm-up lasts just five to 10 minutes, but provides significant benefits.
Cardiovascular and Nervous System
The first benefit of a warm-up is that it prepares the cardiovascular system for the stimulation of exercise. As your muscles are stimulated by movement, your heart responds by pumping more blood, faster. A warm-up eases your cardiovascular system into these greater demands and prevents too quick a rise in blood pressure. Your body and brain need to connect for a workout to be effective and safe. A warm-up helps your body shift gears from whatever activity you were doing prior to hitting the gym. You let the body know that it should become prepared for more explosive activity than you do while driving in your car or sitting at your desk.
Your body performs better when your body temperature is slightly higher. A warm-up, especially in the early morning, helps raise your body temperature so you experience a slight improvement in performance. The American Council on Exercise also notes that you may experience greater efficiency in calorie burning when your core body temperature is higher.
Muscle Pliability and Oxygen Delivery
A warm-up increases the movement of blood through your tissues, resulting in greater pliability of the muscles. Elastic muscles are less likely to become strained or tear. The warm-up also primes your body to deliver nutrients and oxygen to working muscles, so they can perform at their best.
When your nervous system is ready to go, it better communicates with your muscles. A dynamic warm-up, including moves such as slow mountain climbers, lunges and plank position, is especially effective in getting the central nervous system ready to go. When your nerve-to-muscle pathways communicate clearly, your body responds with quicker reaction times and more agile movements.
If you bring your day's stresses to the gym, you may experience a less-than-stellar exercise session. Stress distracts you and slows you down. You also fail to concentrate on the task at hand, which could mean sloppy form and possible injury. A warm-up can help you separate your exercise session from the rest of the day so you are mentally prepared to get results.
Your body gives up on exercise when too much lactic acid builds up in the blood. Without a warm-up, lactic acid can build up quickly, making a workout seem nearly impossible in the first few minutes. If you warm up, however, your energy systems adjust to the increased demands, and lactic acid builds up less quickly and suddenly. As a result, you can work out longer and harder.
Joint Safety and Core Activation
A warm-up can increase the range of motion in your joints, specifically the knees, hips, ankles and shoulders. Immobile joints limit your ability to move efficiently, slowing you down and reducing power. Stiff joints are also vulnerable to injury. A warm-up that involves the spine, glutes, hip flexors, abdominals and back muscles prepares you to be stable and balanced during your session. This core preparation also helps protect your joints from injury by giving you control over your movements.
A warm-up may help you work out on days you just don't feel like it. If you are trying to talk yourself out of a trip to the gym, commit to going for at least 10 minutes for a warm-up. After those 10 minutes, if you still feel like going home - do. Chances are you'll feel better than you think and feel ready to move. A warm-up can also help you test a body that is overcoming illness or injury. If you are unsure whether you should sideline your exercise plans, try a light warm-up. If you feel weak or an injury continues to nag, skip the day.