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Reference Guide to Warming Up

An In-Depth Look at the Warm Up
  -- By Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Fitness Experts
SparkPeople’s Exercise Reference Guides offer an in-depth look at the principles of fitness.

What is a Warm Up?
A warm up is the act of preparing for an athletic event or workout by exercising or practicing for a short time beforehand. Warming up helps reduce your risk of injury and the aches and pains that come with exercise. The physiological reason to warm up is to assist your circulatory system in pumping oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles. The idea is to increase circulation throughout the body, in a gradual manner. A proper warm up safely prepares the body for the increased demands of exercise.

Cold muscles do not absorb shock or impact as well, and are more susceptible to injury. While scientific studies are ongoing to define the best warm up techniques for injury prevention, the warm up in general is firmly established as a key to exercising safely and effectively. A warm up should be done before strength training, aerobic (and anaerobic exercise) and stretching.

Examples of Warm Up Activities
A warm up should be sport-specific, which means that it mimics the activity you’re about to do, but at a lower intensity, lower impact, and/or slower speed. For example, you’d walk before running. Other general warm ups include the stationary biking, using the elliptical machine or light stair climbing. Exercises that use your arms and your legs (such as a Nordic Track or Air Dyne bicycle) are great for a total body warm up. A good warm up before strength training is to do the exercises you are about to perform with a very light weight first. Contrary to popular belief, stretching is NOT the same thing as warming up. In fact, stretching should come at the very end of your workout for best results.

What are the Benefits of Warming Up?
A warm-up helps you prepare both mentally and physically for exercise, and reduces the chance of injury. During a warm-up, any injury or illness you have can often be recognized, and further injury prevented. Other benefits of a proper warm up include: How to Warm Up
When warming up, keep the FITT Principles (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) in mind.