Most of us are aware that warming up and cooling down go hand in hand with exercise and physical activity. However, what it actually does and how it should be done isn’t always clear.
A new study in The Journal of Applied Physiology, has found that some athletes warm up so thoroughly that it has a negative effect on their performance due to tiredness. The study involved track cyclists, well known for the length and difficulty of their warm-ups, who were asked to alternate between their usual long warm-up and a shorter version every second day.
The cyclists, who began their warm up with 20 minutes of intense riding followed by timed sprints for 8 minutes, were tiring their muscles during their standard warm-up. When the researchers stimulated the riders’ leg muscles electrically, they found that the muscles contracted more forcefully before the riders’ usual warm-up than after it.
After a more leisurely 15-minute warm-up, though, with the highest intensity reaching only about 65 percent of each rider’s maximal heart rate, the riders’ legs were significantly less fatigued and they performed significantly better during their exercise, thus suggesting an intense warm-up may not always be the “correct” way to approach preparation for sporting activity.
A warm-up is thought to allow tissues literally to become heated, to reach a temperature at which they are, presumably, more flexible and ready for the demands of further exercise. But it hasn’t been proved that warm muscles perform better than colder ones or that they are less prone to injury.
In some studies, people stretched to warm up, while in others they performed jumping jacks or passed a medicine ball around and then raced bicycles. None of the studies persuasively showed that any one approach to warming up was best.
However, research has shown that warm-ups display an improved performance, so if you’ve been following a warm up routine and you haven’t been injured; keep up with it once you don’t push yourself to hard. It is a good idea to determine which type of warm-up best suits you and your body. Should your legs feel weighty and slow after performing a warm-up than perhaps you are overdoing it. Try out different types of warm-ups whereby you shorten and limit the intensity of the activity.