Why Warming Up Is So Important Before You Exercise

Preparing Your Body for Exercise

Man and woman running on a track
Gabrielle Lutze/Stocksy United

When it comes to exercise, most of us think more about the workout than we do the warm-up or the cool down. Hey, we want to burn calories, right? 

Losing weight may be your ultimate goal, but getting your body ready for exercise is crucial for not only keeping your body injury free but making your workout the best it can be.

The Warm-Up

An effective warm-up has a number of very important key elements. These elements, or parts, should all be working together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury from physical activity.

The Benefits

  • It prepares your body and mind for more strenuous activity.
  • It helps increase the body’s core temperature, while also increasing the body’s muscle temperature.
  • Warming up helps make the muscles loose, supple, and pliable.
  • It increases both your heart rate and your respiratory rate, which helps prepare your body for exercise
  • It increases blood flow, which in turn increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles.

All this helps to prepare the muscles and tendons for more strenuous activity.

Structuring Your Warm-Up

When warming up, you want to start with the easiest and most gentle activity first, building upon each part with more energetic activities, until the body is at a physical and mental peak. This is the state in which the body is most prepared for the physical activity to come and where the likelihood of sports injury has been minimized as much as possible. So, how should we structure the warm-up to achieve these goals?

You start with the general warm-up, the first step towards your best workout.

1) General Warm-Up

The general warm-up is the first place to start and basically consists of light activity. How long and how hard you work is based on your fitness level and your goals, but for the average exerciser, you want to work for about 10 minutes and end your warm-up feeling, well, warm, and sweating lightly.

The purpose of the general warm-up is to raise the heart rate and your breathing. This, in turn, increases the blood flow and helps with the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This also helps to increase the muscle temperature, which means your muscles are ready for more vigorous activity.

Example:  Brisk walking, gradually increasing speed/incline or both to work at about a Level 4 on this ​perceived exertion chart.

2) Sport Specific Warm-Up

Now, if you're an athlete, you'll want to move from a general warm-up to one that leads you into the activity you'll be doing.

Obviously, the warm-up you do will depend on your sport. Runners, for example, may start with running drills or. It's during this part of the warm-up that you should up the intensity, doing the same movements you'll be doing in your workout or event.

Getting the Most Out of Your Warm-Ups

If you're the average exerciser, like most of us are, your main goal is to simply prepare your body for your workout. If you're doing a very high intensity workout, you want your warm-up to be longer and more intense so your body is ready for the hard road ahead.

If you're doing a lighter workout, your warm-up can be lighter as well. Try to match your warm-up to the level of workout you're going for. Either way, always give yourself plenty of time to warm-up. Your body will thank you.