Warm up is an essential part of training. There is no doubt that time spent on warming up will improve your level of performance and accelerate the recovery process, plus what I have experienced on a mental level is that when you allow your body to take its time to cozy up to the idea of the fact its has to perform "i.e." get off the couch or get away from the computer you will enjoy your workout much more and feel more motivated to do it. Know that the warm up is not only a physiological adjustment but a mental one too.
What are the benefits of a warm up?
- Reduce the occurrence of injury because you have increased the blood flow through active muscles, tendons and ligaments by way of vascular dilation.
- Allows the heart rate to get up to the working rate we call steady state and that is where you find that "comfortable" heart rate.
- Recovery rate is improved
- You will enjoy your work out more
Here are my thoughts on the proper warm up:
I say "do not stretch", save that for the warm down process, which by the way is also a very important part of training and often gets ignored. I am guilty of that myself. But stretching cold muscles, tendons and ligaments is a good way to get injured and well it just doesn't feel that good either, much nicer after the body's core temperature is up.
If you are going to do a cardiovascular workout, your warm up should slightly increase your heart rate but not to the level you are going to be during the actually workout, do this ideally for about 7 to 15 minutes. That is how long it takes for your body to adapt and prepare for the workout.
You will also want to pay attention to the specific muscle groups involved in your exercise. For example if you are riding a bike than your thigh muscles, (quadriceps) and your knees are going to be important, if your swimming then your shoulders might need a bit more focus.
For strength training then I think its important to do at least 10 minutes of warm up cardio exercise, then I do a variety of movements that stimulate and increase blood flow to the muscle groups I am going to be working on that day. For example and upper body workout might include some push ups against the wall and other light weight resistance movements. You can get creative with this and its also a good time to do some abdominal exercises and core movements.
Just think of your warm up as at time to mentally adjust to the idea that you are about to embark on another wonderful, loved workout and its time to heat up the system and get blood flowing to all those important parts.