What are these people doing?
These are images I gathered from stock photos under “warm-up.”
(all image source for this blog: pexels.com)
Many people stretch for a warm-up. You may do that, too. I used to. For years. Decades. That’s all I had done growing up before playing sports. I’d go to the gym in my adulthood and do the same stretch I learned in school before I started running or lifting weights.
Do you ever feel particularly “warm” after doing these stretches shown in the photos? You get in a position, hold it for 10 seconds or longer. Yeah, I may feel a pull in my muscles. But not warm.
Why do we do a warm-up?
What is a warm-up suppose to do? To warm up your body! It sounds such an obvious thing, but we don’t actually take it literally.
We all do it to reduce the risks of injury. Cold muscles are less flexible. Less flexible muscles get pulled and torn easily.
Oh! so if we stretch our muscles, by doing stretches, it does what a warming-up our body do – make our body more flexible! That’s why we stretch even though it doesn’t warm up our bodies!
Well. No. It might very well be the exact thought process of how stretching became a common method of “warm-up”. However, this theory is problematic in 2 major ways.
1. Cold muscles don’t stretch well
The whole reason we are warming up is to prime our muscles and make them less rigid. Stretching unprimed muscles is not effective. In the morning, the smallest movements could feel like a stretch because our muscles aren’t ready for movements yet.
Stretching cold muscles have the same negative effect as engaging in physical activity without a warm-up.
2. static stretch doesn’t make you more flexible
If we are getting more flexible from static stretches, why aren’t we more flexible by now? Static stretch, during which you don’t move but just hold a position with a stretching sensation for a few seconds to a dozen seconds, gives you nothing more than a temporary relief that goes away almost as soon as you release the stretch.
How should we warm up?
It’s quite simple. Just warm up your body in a safe manner that doesn’t hurt you. Sounds too simple? Sorry, but it just is.
Jogger/Runner, for example, should warm up by starting with a walk that gradually develops into a full jog/run.
For weight lifting, walk/jog a bit first, then do some mimicking of the planned routine without any weights or just light weights to get the muscles warmed up before starting full weight.
A stretching class needs a warm-up, too! What’s really effective is some of those group aerobic exercise’s warm-up sequences. They are designed to warm up all parts of the body in just a short few minutes. It gets your blood flowing, joints lubricated, and muscles oxygenated. Essentrics® classes often start with faster-paced, aerobics-type movements to warm up our bodies.
All warm-ups should be progressive even within a short few minutes. Start slow, gradually increase the pace, angles, and intensity. But keep everything loose. Nothing should be strenuous during warm-ups. Tensed-up muscles will not receive warm-up benefits.
This video is in Japanese, but I grew up doing this 3-minute Radio Exercise. One of the children’s summer activities is to do this daily in the early morning with the neighborhood community members. Kids lead the exercise with this specific music and instruction aired on a radio station nationwide. If you are curious, you can just watch it or actually try it. But if you do try, do it all very smaller, slower, and relaxed, to see how your body moves and feels. It is a good warm-up exercise, but it’s also a good exercise for all ages.