From the moment we begin to consult others about exercise or sports, the importance of the warm-up is drummed into us. No matter what form your exercise takes, whether fitness or a workout, warm-ups are essential if you wish to avoid injury that could set your fitness regime back many months, or even years, in the worst case scenario.
If you do not warm-up then essentially your body is moving from a state of rest to a state of extreme motion. One good analogy to make about your muscle is one of a string cheese. If you pull the cheese quickly it is similar to going straight into exercise – it has excessive force acting upon it and hasn’t adapted so breaks – resulting in a muscle strain or tear. On the other hand, if the cheese is pulled slowly, it extends much easier – as with a warm-up the net force acting upon it is much less and therefore the chance of it breaking is much lower; the exercise is much less likely to harm you. Warm-ups must be done for at least 10 minutes and taken at a pace that best suits you and must be done every time you wish to do exercise.
Different types of exercise need different intensity and types of warm-up. A fitness warm-up is not necessarily needed to be of the same high-intensity as a workout warm-up. This is because a fitness session is more about endurance and is not a large ‘burst’ of energy as with a workout warm-up. Because of this, there is an extent of warming up during your regime. Your muscles are warming up slowly as you exercise so, although you must still warm-up a bit beforehand, the stretches must be mainly aerobic based; i.e. lots of movement. With a work out warm-up, the warm-up must last a little bit longer and also incorporate static stretches in order to ensure that your muscles have been fully warmed up before you exert a large amount of force over a short period of time.
In terms of how you should warm-up, you must always start from the top and work your way down. The reason for this is that, whilst you exercise your upper body the muscles lower down your body are slowly being brought into the warm-up – again resulting in less chance of injury. The aerobic exercises should be mainly rotary – constant movement ensuring that all angles are covered in the warm-up. For static stretches, it is very important not to over-exert yourself at first – take the strain and when it begins to get more comfortable, exert a small amount of additional force. This results in your muscles being fully stretched. All the big muscles (particularly your legs and arms) must be stretched sufficiently as the smaller ones will be stretched to an extent whilst you stretch those.