How to warm up in the winter – tips to avoid injury

For those still exercising outdoors – good work! As well as finding the paths and roads a bit quieter compared to the summer, you’ll also have noticed it takes a bit longer to warm up.

Warming up for exercise is one of those subjects full of good and bad advice – so first let’s look at what we want to achieve.

  1. Increase core body temperature
  2. Improve blood flow to muscles
  3. Improve muscle recruitment

Increase core temp

As we exercise our core body temperature increases as a byproduct of muscle work. It also has the advantage of improving the mobility of muscles which is important in avoiding injury.

Think of the muscles like elastic bands – put one in the freezer and they’ll break, but when they’re warm there’s more strength and flexibility.

Improve blood flow

snow running

It might be stating the obvious – but muscles need blood! This enables them to respire, which requires oxygen (for aerobic activities such as running or cycling any distance greater than a sprint). Oxygen is transported by the blood, as are nutrients involved in muscle contraction.

Improve muscle recruitment

This is probably the least well known of the three – when you ‘contract’ a muscle your brain sends a signal down through a variety of (motor) nerves to that muscle – the nerves essentially zap the muscle and make it contract.

Muscles are made up of lots of little fibres but you don’t use all of them for all contractions. For example, if we take the biceps as an example, simply bending your arm will only recruit a few muscle fibres.

However if you’re at a weight lifting competition (or just the gym!) you recruit a lot more muscle fibres to have a bigger ‘team’ working for you so you can lift more weight. You can’t just recruit them all without ‘priming’ them. So, a warm up will essentially say to your body “I need to be able to use all these fibres”.

What’s best for a warm up?

Make it specific to your activity – so if you’re going out for a 5k run, we would recommend a good 5-10 minutes of slow jogging before increasing the speed incrementally. The more intense the planned session or race, the longer you’ll want to take for the warm up. Just think  how long track athletes are out on the track warming up before their race.

Is stretching good for a warm up?

We have discussed this in a previous blog but in a nutshell, do not do static stretching as part of your warm up as it doesn’t actually warm anything up and may even increase your chance of injury. Dynamic stretching is ok, but make the warm up as specific to your sport as possible. For example warming up for football, netball, hockey or rugby should involve some jogging, like pre-5k, but you’d also need change of direction drills as you get warmer.

As always, please get in touch if you’d like to chat to one of our physios about the best way for you to warm up safely and effectively.

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