For individuals about to engage in physical activity or exercise, how does warming up the body help prepare for the work ahead?
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A proper warm-up before physical activity or working out prepares the mind and body to reduce risks of injury, mentally and physically transition to physical activity work, and enhance performance. A well-designed warm-up also primes the central nervous system/CNS for activity. The central nervous system transmits messages to the muscles to prepare them for action. Central nervous system activation increases motor neuron recruitment and engages the sympathetic nervous system so the body can better handle the physical stressors. The process may seem complex, but priming the nervous system is as simple as warming up with light aerobic activity before getting into more explosive movements.
The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. This central communication system uses another part of the nervous system known as the peripheral nervous system or PNS to transmit and receive messages throughout the body. The PNS is connected to the entire body and the brain and spinal cord (CNS).
Properly preparing the body for an intense strength training session or other physical activity needs the correct messages to be sent through the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system consists of two subcategories, which are parasympathetic and sympathetic.
Individuals are recommended to perform a few calming movements and actions after a workout to return the body to a parasympathetic state. This can be:
Returning the mind and body to a calm state helps with recovery and reduces stress hormone production. (National Academy of Sports Medicine. 2022)
Activating the CNS can increase performance and prevent injuries. The process wakes up and alerts the body for the activity. Individuals are recommended before beginning a training session, to communicate to the body about the physical stress it is about to endure and to prepare for the work ahead. This is a concept known as post-activation potentiation/PAP. (Anthony J Blazevich, Nicolas Babault. 2019) PAP helps increase force and power production, which enhances physical performance.
The first step is a general warm-up that should use large muscle groups and be of low intensity so as not to exhaust the body before beginning the actual training. General warm-up benefits central nervous system activation and the entire body include: (Pedro P. Neves, et al., 2021) (D C. Andrade, et al., 2015)
A general warm-up can be simple as any aerobic activity will work. This can include:
It is recommended to use the rating perceived exertion scale/RPE to determine the general warm-up effort. An exertion rating of between 5 to 6 is equivalent to moderate walking or a slow jog. Individuals should be able to speak clearly without taking a pause.
Try this strategy before the next workout to see increased performance and reduced injury risks.
The nervous system. Berkeley University.
Cleveland Clinic. Nervous system: What it is, types, symptoms.
Bankenahally R, Krovvidi H. (2016) Autonomic nervous system: anatomy, physiology, and relevance in anesthesia and critical care medicine. BJA Education. 16(11):381-387. doi:10.1093/bjaed/mkw011
National Academy of Sports Medicine. Sympathetic vs. parasympathetic overtraining.
Blazevich, A. J., & Babault, N. (2019). Post-activation Potentiation Versus Post-activation Performance Enhancement in Humans: Historical Perspective, Underlying Mechanisms, and Current Issues. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 1359. doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.01359
Hughes, D. C., Ellefsen, S., & Baar, K. (2018). Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine, 8(6), a029769. doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a029769
Walker S. (2021). Evidence of resistance training-induced neural adaptation in older adults. Experimental gerontology, 151, 111408. doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2021.111408
P. Neves, P., R. Alves, A., A. Marinho, D., & P. Neiva, H. (2021). Warming-Up for Resistance Training and Muscular Performance: A Narrative Review. IntechOpen. doi: 10.5772/intechopen.96075
Andrade, D. C., Henriquez-Olguín, C., Beltrán, A. R., Ramírez, M. A., Labarca, C., Cornejo, M., Álvarez, C., & Ramírez-Campillo, R. (2015). Effects of general, specific, and combined warm-up on explosive muscular performance. Biology of sport, 32(2), 123–128. doi.org/10.5604/20831862.1140426
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