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Do I really need to Warm Up Before my workout?

Warm-ups are crucial because they get your muscles ready for activity. Without warming up, you not only risk injury but you also get less from your workout. How many times have you gone for a run and felt heavy and slow for that first mile? That’s because your muscles are spending that time trying to turn on. A warm-up takes care of that, making you feel stronger and faster from the start.

Here’s the science behind why you need to warm up:

• An effective warm-up gets your muscles to activate via the stretch reflex, an automatic response your body has when a muscle is lengthened.
• When the muscle lengthens, the muscle spindles (sensory receptors located in the muscle) are activated. The muscle spindles then send a message to your spinal cord, which responds with its own message for the muscle to shorten. Think of the knee-tap test your doctor does. The tap causes the patellar tendon and quadriceps muscles to lengthen slightly, then shorten and make you kick.
When you exercise first thing in the morning or after a day of sitting at work, most of your muscles are tight while some might be completely shut off. A warm-up activates the stretch reflex, essentially telling your muscles they need to turn on. Activity requires lengthening and shortening of muscles, and this gets you ready for that. The stretch reflex is intended to protect your muscles from being pulled too far and tearing, so in addition to optimizing muscle production, you are also helping prevent injury.

What makes a good functional warm-up? A good warm-up should cover your whole body and apply to all activities. I give all of my athletes the same functional warm-up regardless of their sport. Rather than tailor your warm-up to your activity, it should be based more on your body’s specific needs. For example, if your shoulder blades are in an upward position, add an exercise to force your shoulder blades down, or if you are really tight, start with muscle releases before moving on to the exercises.

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