All of us have heard that we’re supposed to warm up before strenuous exercises and races. But, do we know why, how and how much?
Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably an endurance athlete and/or a Cross-Country ski racer. Your endurance distance training, intermixed with quality sessions such as intervals and pace/time-trial workouts, may have prepared you well for your regular or occasional races. However, how well do you perform your final race preparation, how much do you warm up before your race, and does it make a difference?
At this time of the year, – January and February, we’re in the middle of the Cross-Country racing season. A proper warm-up will enhance your race performance, and now is the time to try it.
The objective of a warm-up for a race is twofold. One objective is to prepare yourself psychologically for the upcoming race and intense activity. This means to concentrate and focus on the upcoming task, and mentally motivate yourself such that you reach an appropriate tension. To feel a bit “nervous” ahead of the race is appropriate, as long as it creates a positive tension and not a “paralyzing” effect.
The second objective is to create an increased muscle and core temperate such that a number of positive physical reactions can occur. For an aerobic sport such as Cross-Country skiing, the most beneficial factors of increased core temperature is related to the cardiovascular system. These factors are:
– Blood and fluids become less viscous – i.e. you get increased flow. Transportation of nutrients and oxygen to the working muscles is faster
– Oxygen is released easier from the hemoglobin molecules in the blood (which carries the oxygen around the body). Oxygen is your most important factor for generating energy.
– The diffusion of oxygen, nutrients and fluids at the cell level is better. This means that oxygen is transferred faster and better from the blood into the working muscles.
Other positive elements of warm-up have been seen relative to heart rhythm, blood pressure and asthma:
Research has shown that without warm-up, abnormal EKG values (heart rhythm) is common at the start of a strenuous activity, even for the majority of healthy individuals. With proper warm-up the abnormal values disappear. Similar positive results have been seen with blood pressure. Without warm-up, abnormally high blood pressure is commonly observed, while after a 15-minute warm-up the subjects’ blood pressure is much lower. A prolonged warm-up has also proven beneficial to asthmatic athletes (and athletes with exercise induced asthma).
NOTE: References to these research studies can be provided by the author if requested