Warming up before exercise is incredibly beneficial.  To skip it is to decide to get less out of every exercise session.  Because warming up is less about increasing temperature and more about preparing for the exercise session, we call it Preparation for Exercise (PE)

PE facilities the transition from rest to exercise.  Being prepared for exercise helps you get more out of every exercise session. It is a classic case of working smarter.  Skipping your warm up means that your first few sets may become the warm up (preparation) because you are not best prepared for greater challenges yet.  That leaves less time for the part of your exercise session that will best stimulate the adaptations you are looking for.  Omitting the warm up makes you less capable of performing.  That means you must use lighter weights and go slower at the onset.  It also means everything will likely feel harder in the beginning, and possibly throughout the entire session.  In the end, you still warm up.  You are taking part of your exercise session to do so.

Here are the benefits of PE:

  1. Increase muscle contraction performance
  2. Decrease perceived effort. It feels EASIER to perform the same amount of work or you feel like you can perform greater amounts of work
  3. Increase blood circulation and 02 levels before more intense exercise begins
  4. Q10 Effect – Increasing temperature can increase speed of enzyme reaction processes. This may lead to improved efficiency in performance via increased muscle contraction speed
  5. Increase coronary blood flow during early stages of exercise
  6. Increase cardiac output
  7. Dilates capillary beds muscles
  8. Increase pliability of connective tissues
  9. Increase range of motion
  10. Increase synovial joint fluid (prepare the joints for greater loads)
  11. Increase force output

A brief, practical way to think about PE is two pieces:

  1. Systemic (whole body). This provides a small increase in challenge from pre-workout state. Most of the body is being used, especially large muscles which help increase temperature (quads, glutes).
    1. Some “cardiovascular exercise” such as treadmill, jumping rope, elliptical, versaclimber.
  2. Local (specific muscles/motions being targeted). This is the next place to bridge the gap between the challenges the body dealt with during the systemic PE and what it will face during the actual workout session.
    1. Exercises/movements that are similar or identical to actual working sets with lower loads.

A technique we use as Symmetry Exercise Clinic with our personal training clients is a “ramp up”.  We ask our clients to do the Systemic PE on their own before the session.  We then use a ramping up method for the first set of each new exercise for the session.  As an example, if a client is doing a chest press on our Nautilus Nitro Chest machine, we have the client do 2 reps of each weight until achieving about 10-12 reps.  We like to come close to, but not achieve full failure on the ramp up set.

Take Home Point:

  1. Do not skip your PE unless you want to get less out of every session, increase your effort, increase your risk of injury, and achieve less of the overall results you want.

Things to avoid.  At best, these do nothing aside from waste your time. 

  1. Stretching
  2. Foam rolling

This article does not address PE for sports

Watch the warm up video by Greg Mack, founder of the Muscle System Specialist program and owner of Physicians Fitness in Columbus, OH.