For the time crunched athlete, a proper warm up and cool down are often the first things to be dropped from the training regimen. After all, when was the last time one of teammates said, “We missed you last night. How did your warm up go?” I’m guessing never. The question was likely “How many miles did you get in?”
Both a proper warm up and cool down serve a very important purpose in both improving performance and increasing your longevity as an athlete. Here’s why.
Effects On Muscles
A proper warm up increases the temperature of the muscles and the tendons that connect them to your bones. In turn, these tissues become more pliable, and less susceptible to injury. Note that that focus is not on flexibility or increased range of motion. These are characteristic that require months or years of stretching to significantly improve and may actually have a negative impact on performance or injury prevention.
As the work load gradually increases during your warm up, blood within your body moves from your trunk to your limbs. This movement away from vital organs to your legs allows for more efficient transport of oxygen to the working muscles. The arteries that transport the blood to these working muscles will dilate. In the absence of a gradual warm up, the heart must work harder to move the same amount of blood through constricted blood vessels, thus causing a spike in blood pressure.
If the type of warm up you are doing mimics the actual higher intensity work to be done by the body, there is evidence pointing to improved performance through greater muscular recruitment. This means that if you work through a series of dynamic warm-ups or muscle activation techniques that focus on a particular muscle group, a great percentage of muscle fibers in that group will engage during the actual activity.
How Much Is Enough
The rule of thumb within the industry is that every athlete should warm up for five to fifteen minutes. However, there are many variables that impact both how long and what type of warm up activity you should complete as an athlete. In general, the more conditioned you are and the greater the training load required for the activity, the longer the recommended warm up. As always, having a great sense of mind body awareness will help you understand what works best for your training.
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