Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Warm is Too Warm? Perfecting the Art of the Warm-up

It’s not just professional athletes who risk injury during exercise. Even the casual jogger can tweak a muscle or strain a tendon in the blink of an eye. To prevent injury, many athletes opt to stretch or engage in a lighter form of exercise before the main event.

So how much of a warm-up is enough? Experts agree that exercisers should match the level of preparation to the intended effort. For instance, the faster the run or race, the longer and more thorough the warm-up should be. But, the effort should never be so tiring that muscles are worn out before the starting line.

Running coach and Lululemon Ambassador, Heather Calcote, RD, urges her clients to fit in a brief warm-up before a run, even if they’re short on time. “A good warm-up is an essential part of the workout,” she stressed. “It primes the body for exercise; it gets blood flowing to the muscles, allows the heart rate to increase slowly and significantly reduces injury risk.”

Coach Calcote advises runners to warm-up for daily runs with a simple walk (approximately 5 minutes) or a very slow jog for several blocks. On race day, she recommends about 10 minutes of very light, slow jogging to “get the kinks out” and loosen up the muscles.

While it’s true a good warm-up can boost workout efficiency and protect muscles, there can be too much of a good thing. When it’s overdone, a warm-up can have a negative impact on a fitness routine, so it’s important to strike a balance between successfully achieving muscle looseness without promoting fatigue.

Research supports the idea that when it comes to warming-up, less is more. Cyclists who tried a traditional warm-up with escalating levels of exertion (as high as 95%!) demonstrated greater performance fatigue when compared with cyclists who rode through an abbreviated warm-up with less intensity. Intuitively, this makes sense - don’t overwork muscles before demanding the best from them.

Injury is one of the most frustrating situations for an athlete. Stay healthy and make every workout a success with a quick but careful warm-up session!

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