The Warm-Up: Getting Ready to Exercise

The Warm-Up: Getting Ready to Exercise

    The Warm-Up: Getting Ready to Exercise

    The importance of a warm-up was touched upon in the opening chapter. This chapter considers the benefits of a warm-up in greater detail, addresses what a warm-up should include, and gives examples of how to prepare for different sports activities.

    What Is a Warm-Up?

    A warm-up is simply the performance of movements that prepare the body for more strenuous activities to follow. It includes movements that mobilize the joints, movements that raise the pulse rate to increase the blood supply to working muscles, and a preparatory stretch.
    The preparatory stretch is always done after the joints have been mobilized and the pulse rate raised. Whether we mobilize first before raising the pulse rate or vice versa varies with the activity and the environment. In aerobics classes, the mobilizer typically comes before the pulse raiser, but if the room or weather is very cold, it may be better to boost blood circulation first by raising the heartbeat. So some judgement is needed. Moreover, the distinction between the two activities is not always absolute. Activities that raise the pulse rate inevitably involve movement of joints, but they are not usually focused on the joints as such. For example, marching briskly, a a typical pulse-raising activity, moves the hip joint slightly, but mobilization of the hip joint would involve actions focused specifically on the joint, such as pelvic tilts and rotating the hips with the feet stationary.

    Mobilizing the Hips, Trunk, and Shoulders   

    Mobilizing the Joints

    Muscles can bring about movement only when they cross a movable joint. It follows that if the joints are stiff, any strong muscle movement will cause stress on the joint it crosses and could easily result in injury. The muscles, including the tendons via which they insert into the bones, can also be damaged. Joints need to be introduced gently to the full range of their natural movements before embarking on strenuous activities. This ensures that the synovial fluid is warm and can act efficiently as both a lubricant and a buffer against impact.
    Mobilizing the Ankle, Knee, and Hips
    The emphasis given to particular joints depends on the physical activities that follow, as well as those preceding, the exercise. People coming straight from the office, where they have been sitting at a computer, would benefit from more shoulder- and hip-mobilizing moves. These ball-and-socket joints, which are capable of the most diverse movement, are also the most susceptible to injury. The ankle and knee are also highly susceptible, largely because they carry the weight of the body and partly because the attached muscles are of unequal strength. The most important among the list of “musts” for mobilization are the hip, or pelvic, joint, shoulder joint, thoracic and lumbar regions, knees, and ankles (see figures on the previous page), because they usually bear the brunt of most activities. Circling the shoulders, rotating the hips, flexing the ankles, pointing the toes, bending the knees, side bends, and rotating the upper torso with the hips stationary are all examples of mobilizing moves.
    Stretching the Calf Muscles: The Soleus (left) and the Gastrocnemius (right)

    Raising the Pulse Rate

    The objective in a warm-up is to increase the heartbeat to some 50–60 percent of the personal maximum, in order to increase the blood supply to working muscles and their connective tissues, including tendons and ligaments, so that they are warm and pliable. They will then be ready to take on a greater workload.Rhythmic movements that involve the large muscle groups and that can be slowly increased in intensity—such as marching/brisk walking, side steps, and step touches—are widely used in aerobics classes. Generally, this part of the warm-up is similar to the main aerobics component, except that it is slower, is much lower in intensity, and excludes explosive movements such as jumps and high kicks. Obviously the approach will vary according to the fitness of the participant. Again, some degree of judgement is needed.
    Stretching the Adductor Muscles in the Inner Thigh (left) and the Hamstring (right)

    Preparatory Stretches

    Stretches should be done only after you are warm, otherwise they can be harmful. For example, if you are a runner or have arrived in the gym for a workout on, say, the treadmill, do not stretch immediately. Take a few minutes first to mobilize joints, loosen up muscles, and increase blood flow. All the muscles that are to be used in activities following the warm-up must be stretched. Usually this would include the gastrocnemius (the main calf muscles), the soleus (inner calf), the hamstring, and the adductors.These are normally the muscles most used in any exercise regime. Runners would focus on the hamstring, shin, and calves. Rowers would prepare with greater emphasis on the arms (deltoids, biceps, and triceps), trape-zius, pectorals, and quadriceps. Aerobic and body-conditioning classes would also include stretches for the quadriceps, the erector spinae, the lumbar, and the arms (deltoids and triceps).
    Stretching the Deltoid (left) and the Triceps (right)
    Generally, in aerobics classes, stretches are performed in a standing position to maintain the raised heartbeat. Pulse-raising movements are also usually made between stretches in order to maintain the heart rate. This helps participants move smoothly into the aerobic component of the class. Sprinters, on the other hand, might do their preparatory stretches on the ground, because the stretch it provides is more intense. Doing a stretch supported by a wall or on the ground often helps in holding the stretch with less pressure on the joints.
    Stretching the Quadriceps
    Warm-up stretches are usually held for about 10 to 12 seconds, but there is no fixed rule. It can vary with the activity and level of training and flexibility of those involved. Runners often hold stretches for 25 to 30 seconds; by way of contrast, in aerobic classes, this is the length of time recommended for cool-down rather than warm-up stretches. The figures on page 72 and above illustrate some of the main preparatory stretches. More examples of stretches are illustrated in the flexibility training information provided in Chapter 10.

    The Benefits of a Warm-Up

    Sport research has shown that a warm-up before the main exercise substantially reduces the incidence of sports injuries. By keeping muscles warm and joints well lubricated, warming up reduces muscle tear and damage to joints. The cardiorespiratory system is allowed to build up gradually to the increased demand about to be made on it. This avoids the discomfort, including giddiness, palpitations, and breathlessness, that can be provoked by a sudden increase in exertion. By sending preparatory signals to the brain that warn it of the type and range of activities the body is likely to be undertaking, warming up also improves the body’s pattern of response and encourages good-quality movement.
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