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Why is warming up important?

Dr Fishers

A proper warm up is important to both maximize performance and reduce the risk of injury.  It readies the body for more vigorous activity by raising body temperature and increasing blood flow to the heart, lungs and muscles.  Increased oxygen and nutrients are supplied to muscles and warmed up muscles are more pliable and less likely to be injured.  

A proper warm up increases the synovial fluid in the joints which improves mobility and provides a protective effect.   Additionally, it benefits nervous system function by improving coordination and reducing reaction times, also preparing the athlete mentally for increasingly demanding activities.

I stretched.  Doesn’t that count as a warm up?

While stretching is important, it should not be the only part of a warm up.  The cardiovascular and nervous systems also need to be warmed up, and a muscle that has not been warmed up properly is more difficult to stretch adequately.

Should a warm up for an endurance sport such as cross country be different than one that involves fast bursts of energy like football?

Warm ups should be specific for the demands of a particular sport.  All warm ups should have a general component which includes some aerobic activity to increase body temperature and blood flow, followed by some stretching, and should involve sport-specific activities last.  An endurance athlete, such as a cross country runner, may perform some running for short distances at their intended pace and may add some short sprints to engage all the muscles.  A football player that requires short bursts of energy and more complex movements should perform activities that simulate what will be required.  Usually a more dynamic warm up will be performed followed by position specific drills.  For example, wide receivers will run pass routes with increasing speed, while the quarterbacks will perform throwing drills gradually increasing distance and velocity of the throws.

What happens if I don’t warm up adequately?

Without a proper warm up, performance can be negatively affected and the risk of injury is increased.  Blood vessels dilate with warming up making it easier for the heart to pump blood.  Without a proper warm up, blood pressure rises rapidly because the blood vessels are still constricted and heart function is affected, resulting in earlier fatigue which decreases performance.  More serious consequences could occur in those with any underlying cardiovascular issues.  With muscles and joints being less pliable and coordination decreased, the risk of injury is increased.

How long should I warm up?

In general, a warm up should be a minimum of 5-10 minutes.  If the activity requires more complex or intricate movements such as gymnastics, football, basketball, etc the warm up time should be significantly longer to include the more sport specific activities.

Dr. Stephen Fisher is a board-certified orthopedic sports medicine physician who practices at The Orthopedic Sports Medicine Center of Atlanta, with offices in Alpharetta and Roswell. For more information, please visit us online at ATLSportsMed.com or call us at 770-663-1100

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