skip warming up before working out

Can you skip warming up before working out?

Whether we are heading to the gym or out for a run, it’s very tempting to skip warming up before working out. It feels like a good way to save some time and just get straight to business. However, there are both physical and mental benefits to warming up.

When we warm up our body a few things happen. First at the physical level, our body understands that we will need more oxygen and a higher blood flow. With some simple movements, our heart, lungs, and muscles start soliciting more support and get ready for the upcoming effort.

Simultaneously at the mental level, our mind gets into the zone. Exercising isn’t just about getting our limbs to perform certain moves, it’s also about reinforcing our mind-body connection. When you think about the muscles being activated, you feel the exercise more deeply and cognitively are more present.

Advantages of a good warm-up

Warming up isn’t just for pro athletes. Even a low-intensity aerobic session or a short jog benefits from this transition into exercising. So don’t skip warming up before working out, especially if you have been static all day hunched over your computer.

Furthermore, by getting our body’s heat-dissipation system revved up, we are then better prepared to avoid overheating and for cooling down.

Your warm-up doesn’t have to be crazy. Especially when it’s very hot or before a competition, you want to minimize your energy consumption and exertion. According to a 2015 study, “both passive and active warm-up can evoke temperature, metabolic, neural and psychology-related effects, including increased anaerobic metabolism, elevated oxygen uptake kinetics, and post-activation potentiation”. [1]Mcgowan CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, Rattray B. Warm-up strategies for sport and exercise: mechanisms and applicationsSports Med. 2015;45(11):1523-1546. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x So no excuses to skip warming up before working out.

When you warm up the following processes occur:

Blood temperature increases

As your blood circulates through your muscles, its temperature rises. As it gets warmer the binding of oxygen to hemoglobin weakens. This mechanism makes oxygen more readily available to your muscles to sustain your exertion. 

Blood vessels dilate

At the same time, your blood vessels expand to support a blood flow increase. This puts less tension on your heart.

Hormones get your body ready

Different hormones are also released, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which help regulate your energy production. With the warm-up, this hormonal change gives us access to more carbohydrates and fatty acids to support our energy needs. 

Muscle temperature rises

When we skip warming up before working out we also increase our risk of overstretching a muscle and hurting ourselves. When our muscles are warmer they can contract and relax faster and with more force, effectively preventing injury.

With your muscles being more elastic, you can also get more out of your efforts. This means you can be faster and stronger, and because you didn’t go from 0 to 100 you can sustain your exertion for longer.

Range of motion gets bigger

With your body’s temperature rising, your joints are also warming up. Just like your muscles, your joints become more elastic and enable you to reach your maximum range of motion.

Mindset shifts

The time spent on warming up lets your mind shift gears. Being present during your workout and not simply moving weights around or jumping around activates your muscles more deeply and avoids accidents due to being clumsy.

With the warm-up, it’s good to pay extra attention to our breathing. During the day we often fail to notice that our breathing is shallow. Now is the time to breathe in deeply with intent, so we support our oxygen needs and clear our thinking.

Related: Fuel your body: what & when to eat before exercise

Tips for a quick warm-up

Depending on how strenuous your exercise is going to be, adapt the length and type of warm-up you do. As a general guideline, 5 to 10 minutes is enough for a good warm-up.

Adap your warm-up to your workout

Think of the movements your body is about to perform. Whether it’s running or lifting weights it’s the same concept. Your muscles need to get activated.

It’s a good idea to include some of the movements you are planning to do but in a gentler version such as without weights or impact.

The idea is to ease from cold muscles to the level of intensity you are preparing for. For cardio, if you are going to run for 20 minutes, a 5-minute jog is a good way to start. Whereas for yoga or weightlifting, movements that involve your joints with small rolling or back and forth movements are good.

Don’t confuse stretching and warming-up

Holding one position without dynamic movement is static stretching. For example with your spine forward bending to reach your toes is static stretching, whereas cat-cow is dynamic stretching.

When you are over-extending a cold muscle you risk injury from pulls and tears. Keep these moves for your cool-down.

Be present

When you are performing a repetitive movement such as running, it’s ok to zone out and get into that almost meditative state. However, with warming-up and exercise that requires precision and control, being present is key.

When you are mindful during your warm-up you set yourself up for a deeper mind-body connection for your whole workout.

Key takeaways

  • For a better session, don’t skip warming up before working out.
  • There’s a whole mechanism that gets into gear with your warm-up, leading to more strength, elasticity, and endurance.
  • Even a 5-minute warm-up can be enough depending on your planned activity.
  • Adapt your warm-up to your workouts by incorporating similar movements.
  • Be present during your warm-up. The mind-body connection is both a product of a good warm-up and a component of higher performance.

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*Be mindful about your health. This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.