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I've heard many times that warming up lower the risk for injury, but I have no idea why that is.

From the tag

A warm-up is light exercise usually performed before participating in technical sports or exercising. Warm-ups are intended to to get blood flowing to relevant muscles and to "prime" muscle memory for technical movements.

I'm wondering in more detail what it means to warm up. Surely blow is already flowing into all my body parts at any one time, or cells would quickly die from hypoxia. And "priming" muscles doesn't mean anything to me.

So, what does warming up actually mean? How does one know if one warms up correctly?

  • It is thought that a lot of the CNS type gains come from learning to lift weights better (more efficient form/recruitment of muscle fibers). The idea of priming muscle memory is to get your brain to have all of it's techniques of lifting ready to go when you lift with weight. Think of it like how a specific action from any sport feels a little awkward the first time you do it if you've been out of the sport for a while. (Sorry this seems so lifting specific. I just noticed you didn't mention what the warm up is for. But the general case is still true, just replace lifting with whatever.) – Tyler Oct 10 '14 at 5:27
  • You might be interested in this answer, which addresses some misconceptions about warming up. – Daniel Oct 10 '14 at 15:45
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A warm up is often dependent on the sport. For instance, before I play soccer,i specifically warm up my legs because I know I will be using them the most. I wouldn't warm up my arms. As you stated, warming up is getting the blood flowing, and this is exactly right. Your muscles do not receive as much blood flow when they are not in extreme use, so doing some light exercises such as jogging or lunges would help to "prime" your muscles. This light activity raises the athletes pulse, which pumps more blood to the target area and helps it to sustain physical activity for longer.

When you perform physical activity, your cells require more oxygen to keep going, and this is why you warm up. It prepares your system for the intense activity you are about to perform.

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  • The only thing I'd add is that you should warm up specific to the activity as much as possible. Jogging before doing weighted pullups, although better than nothing, isn't ideal. In the strength training world the rowing machine gets a lot of deserved love. Personally I like doing some turkish getups as well, and any lift starts with an empty bar. – Eric Oct 8 '14 at 15:52
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If you've watched track competitions, you would have noticed that the athletes jump around, run a few steps forth and back before their actual races.

You've probably seen swimmers flapping their arms around their bodies, rotating them above their heads, etc before a big competition.

You've seen soccer players jog near the field, tossing balls around, etc right before they get into the game.

You've seen people stretch their bodies, legs, arms, etc before jogging or running.

Those are examples of warming up.

Why do them?

  • To prepare the muscles for the intense activities they're about to undergo. Without these preparations, the muscles' performance will be lower, which will reduce the athletes' performances.
  • To prevent/reduce injuries. If you lift weights without warming up your muscles, your chance of injuring yourself is much greater. Without warming up, you're more likely to pull a muscle, develop cramps, over-extend your limbs, strain/sprain your joints, etc.

Although all muscles constantly receive blood, they're rarely active unless they're used. So, warming up is like sending a message to the muscles: Get ready to work hard!

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Warming up has many benefits. The main benefit to warming up is injury prevention because the blood will be pumping to an area, lowering the chance of a muscle pull or joint injury.

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