Why You Must Warm Up Before Running

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Why is Warming Up Important

Stirring our resting muscles and joints into sudden high-intensity action makes injury likely. A 15-min. pre-workout warm-up with cardiovascular exercises, dynamic stretching, and strength drills raises the body temp. and boosts blood circulation. This helps the synovial fluid lubricate and loosen up the joints, boosts muscle endurance, prevents cramps, and prepares the brain for intense activity.

Running is one of the best ways to attain fitness. Regular running helps maintain good health and lead a stress-free life. However, running is not just about putting on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, fastening the shoe lace, and taking off. It is important to adequately warm up before you hit the track.

Many studies have been done to understand the importance of adequate warming up before any exercise. A study was done on 97 subjects—59 women and 38 men—with limited dorsiflexion (backward flexing) range of motion (ROM) to know if exercise performance improved with warm-up. A systematic review and meta-analysis were undertaken for the purpose. The meta-analysis showed evidence of increased performance after warming up.1

What Does A Warm-Up Session Entail?

An ideal warm-up should include:

  • Cardiovascular exercises: To increase the heart rate and the body temperature
  • Dynamic stretching: To make the muscles warm
  • Strength drills: For endurance

What Happens When You Don’t Warm Up

Warm-ups prepare the body and the mind for physically intensive activities. Here’s a lowdown on what happens if you don’t warm up well.

You Are Prone To Injuries

Imagine a car that hasn’t seen the road for a while. What will happen if it is taken out for a race one fine morning? It is bound to develop technical snags and not finish the race. Similarly, for your body to work like a well-oiled machine on the track, you need to prep it for at least 15 minutes prior to the task.

When the body is in a relaxed, rested state, the muscles do not need much blood circulation. Most of the small blood vessels or capillaries within those muscles are closed at this point, resulting in stiff, non-pliable muscles. Any intense physical activity at this stage is a clear recipe for injuries.

Warm-up has been found to increase muscle temperature and coordination and the flexibility around the joints. Moreover, the hyperthermia induced by warm-up leads to vasodilatation and increased muscle blood flow. These are found to optimize aerobic function.2 and prevent musculoskeletal injuries3

Warm-up sessions improve the flexibility of the body. A flexible body is less likely to get injured from running or any form of exercise.4

The Mind-Body Link

Warm-up helps to prep the mind for the activity. Studies have shown that it is not just the metabolic capacity that dictates the endurance levels of a human body. Any voluntary exercise starts and ends in the brain. A conscious decision precedes a voluntary effort. To quote a study, “the central nervous system integrates input from various sources related to the exercise and limits the intensity and duration of recruitment of limb skeletal muscle to prevent jeopardizing the integrity of the organism.” Though the role of cardiorespiratory and muscle metabolic capacities in performance cannot be brushed aside, the study has proven the need to prepare the central nervous system as it plays a pivotal role as the ultimate site where exercise starts and ends.5

What Happens During Warm-Ups

To summarize the points mentioned, here is what happens to your body while it warms up:

  • Warm-ups increase the heart rate, prompting the heart to pump more blood into the body. As your heart rate increases, your core body temperature also increases.
  • All the blood vessels, including the arteries and the capillaries in the body, dilate during the warm-up, enabling the blood to reach every nook of the body.
  • It also increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles that help in endurance.
  • A good warm-up helps the bones and joints to loosen up. Synovial fluid secreted by the joints lubricates them. Before a warm-up, the synovial fluid resembles a thick paste. Increase in body temperature makes the fluid thin and the joint movement easy.
  • Warming up gets your brain ready for the workout.
  • Warm-ups prevent side stitch, a stabbing pain felt below the ribs during a brisk walk or a run. It’s a cramp related to breathing.

Now that we know warm-up is important for performance, it leaves us with one question—how much is the ideal warm-up time? In a study to understand the effect of warm-up on performance, a 15-minute warm-up was found to increase heart rate, body temperature, anaerobic capacity and increased ankle dorsiflexion and hip extension. This, however, did not increase hip flexion or knee flexion, which the researchers attributed to anatomical constraints.6

Here, we can conclude that a good 15 minutes of warm-up should take your running performance to optimum level. So, get set, go!

References   [ + ]

1. Knight, Claudia A., Carrie R. Rutledge, Michael E. Cox, Martha Acosta, and Susan J. Hall. “Effect of superficial heat, deep heat, and active exercise warm-up on the extensibility of the plantar flexors.”Physical Therapy 81, no. 6 (2001): 1206-1214.
2.Neiva, H.P., Marques, M.C., Barbosa, T.M., Izquierdo, M. and Marinho, D.A., 2014
3.Shellock, Frank G., and William E. Prentice. “Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries.” Sports Medicine 2, no. 4 (1985): 267-278.
4.Shellock, Frank G., and William E. Prentice. “Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries.” Sports Medicine 2, no. 4 (1985): 267-278.
5.Kayser, Bengt. “Exercise starts and ends in the brain.” European journal of applied physiology 90, no. 3-4 (2003): 411-419.
6.Stewart, Ian B., and Gordon G. Sleivert. “The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance.” Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 27, no. 2 (1998): 154-161.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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