The warm-up is something that all athletes know is an important part of training. As a competitive swimmer in my youth, I was familiar with the concept. However – when people tell me that I should do a 5-minute warm-up I find it humorous, that does nothing for me, and my legs feel exactly the same after 5 minutes as they do when I start. As a walker, it takes me a long time to warm up, sometimes it takes me a mile, sometimes it’s more like a mile and a half. For me (right now) that can be up to a good 30 minute walk.
Before I hit the trail, path, or treadmill I have a short stretching routine, but my physical therapist wants me to do most of my stretching work after my walks, not before. Because of this – I’ve been thinking of the first parts of my work out as my warm-up. I make sure that I don’t start off too fast, I don’t push my pace until I know that I’ve hit my warm-up point. How do I know when that is you may ask? Because I can feel it, and you can too if you pay attention to your body.
Now – this may sound super weird – but not having ever been a runner, I wasn’t aware that my legs would actually warm up. When I was a teenage swimmer, I didn’t have the same level of awareness over my body as I do today. I thought that doing a warm-up was just a nice way to stretch out your body and get your head in the right place before hand. That’s just a very small part of it though.
According to Active.com “Relaxed, sitting in your chair and reading this column produces a relatively low 15- to 20-percent of blood flow to your skeletal muscles. Most of the small blood vessels within those muscles are closed. After 10 to 12 minutes of total body exercise, blood flow to the skeletal muscles increases to some 70 to 75 percent.” That is HUGE!! And if you pay attention you can feel even it happen, because “with more blood flow comes an increase in muscle temperature.”
Raising the temperature in your muscles doesn’t just feel good either – it helps your blood release oxygen. “More blood going to the muscles, along with more oxygen available to the working muscles, means better performance.” That heat also contributes to better nerve transmission, which means faster muscle contraction and relaxation making for easier and more fluid movements. Warming up is pretty awesome.
I hear many people say – the first part of my workouts suck! Yea, I know what you mean buddy. That’s because the body isn’t yet properly warmed up. It’s always a pleasant surprise to me when I get that flush of heat running through my legs. Once it hits I feel so much better, the pain goes away, it’s easier to move, and I can increase my pace work to get the biggest benefits from my work out.
When I hit that point it’s the best part of my work out, I love how my legs feel once they’ve warmed up, and I know that I’m ready to crush it.
I think now that my workouts are getting longer and my distance farther I’ll be able to make strong improvements because I have more time where I’m in that warm receptive state that feels good. Today that meant I reached and sustained 20 minute a mile pace for about 5 minutes. I was really pleased with that.