Warming up to the notion of exercising your body properly

There is a common misconception that stretching is a type of warm-up, when in reality, they are two completely different activities.

It is commonly assumed that warming up is mandatory for a good workout and that without it, one will be at an increased risk for injury. Athletes believe that warming up is important and that it will lead to a significant reduction of injuries.
Before I let you in on the secrets of why warming up is essential prior to engaging in physical activity, it is important to know what is considered warming up and what is not.
There is a common misconception that stretching is a type of warm-up, when in reality, they are two completely different activities that should not be confused with each other. My second piece in this series will address the controversial issue of whether or not stretching leads to reduction in the incidence of injuries, or whether in fact, it does more harm than good.
Warm-ups are postulated to be beneficial for our bodies for a number of reasons.
The primary purpose of warming up is to increase body and muscle temperature, by slowing increasing your heart rate and breathing rate. This increases the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, preparing them for hard, physical work. This is something that should be done BEFORE stretching.
An additional reason for warming up is that when your muscles and tendons are cold, they are more likely to be injured. Warming up muscles reduces their stiffness, which is essential for injury prevention.
Yet another benefit is that warming up speeds up nerve impulses, which means that coordination will improve, leading to better performance.
When you warm-up your body, you are slowly preparing your body for physical activity. This gradual adjustment to activity is much healthier for your body than rapid and instant change in activity.
Your body greatly appreciates the slow and steady rise in activity that gives your cardiovascular system (your heart and blood vessels) sufficient time to adapt to its new physical demands for oxygen and blood.
Your body is now prepared to start physical activity! Now that you know how warming up works, let’s elaborate on its different types.
As I wrote earlier, warming up is meant to increase your body temperature and there are different types of warm-ups that one can do.
There’s warming up using equipment (for instance, an elliptical machine), warming up without equipment that focuses on a specific body part (for instance, the knee), and warming up that focuses on the entire body (for instance, jumping jacks).
Research shows that a warm-up that focuses on a specific body part is most beneficial, because essentially you are practicing the activity that you will be doing.
The activity you are warming up for, and one’s physical capabilities is definitely something that should be taken into account, as this will affect the type of warmup that is required.
There is a lot of research that supports the claim that a warm-up is an essential part of physical activity and lowers the chances of injuries that can occur during physical activity.
When you warm up consistently before physical activity, you are ensuring that your muscle contractions will be smoother (as they are more used to the activity), due to greater muscle elasticity.
Many studies found that when participants warmedup prior to engaging in physical activity, they were less susceptible to injury.
Warming up was found to reduce the occurrence of sports-related injuries to the musculoskeletal system (also called the locomotor system).
The musculoskeletal system can be injured by sprains, tears, strains and injuries between connecting tissues.
Musculoskeletal injuries can affect ligaments, muscles, bones, tendons, nerves, cartilage, spinal discs and joints.
Flexibility helps reduce injuries to these areas.
There are two different types of flexibility, static and dynamic.
Static flexibility – a passive movement where something or someone else is moving the joint and not the person themselves.
Dynamic flexibility – a movement that results from a muscle contraction from the person themselves.
As with any type of exercise, double-check with your sports physician, physiotherapist or personal trainer before attempting any of these stretches. The above examples are given only so that you will have some background information on the issue.
The next time you get ready to jog, swim, play basketball, or take part in your preferred physical activity, remember to warm up! Your body will feel better for having warmed itself up and your range of motion will be easier and smoother.
The above information is supplied by Yonatan Kaplan PT PhD (Candidate). Director, Jerusalem Sports Medicine Institute, Lerner Sports Center, Hebrew University. For further details, please visit www.jsportmed.com, e-mail sportmed@zahav.net.il or call Yonatan at 054-463-9463.