In a couple of weeks, some of the most athletic bodies in the western hemisphere will be on display at the 2015 Pan Am games. These elite athletes, competing in a variety of sports requiring a diverse range of skills all have one thing in common; they warm up before practicing or competing.
Most people understand the need to warm up before intense physical exercise, but not everybody understands why.
Warming up is aptly named. Warm-ups literally increase the temperature of the affected muscles, which helps them to contract more forcefully and relax faster, improving speed and strength. Warmer muscles also have greater elasticity, which reduces the risk of strains and pulls.
Warming up properly also increases blood temperature, which reduces the strength of the oxygen to hemoglobin bond, making oxygen more readily available to the muscles. This allows your muscles to work longer and harder, and prompts hormonal changes in the body responsible for regulating energy production. So not only does warming up help to prevent injury, it also increases performance.
The most common way to warm up is to start with light physical activity that gradually increases in intensity; jogging on the spot before a race, or doing a few slow-paced downward dogs and sun salutations before intense yoga. The important thing is to make sure that before any intense physical activity is performed that muscles are good and warm. The warm up should last between 15 and 30 minutes, and should be done without too much rest before engaging in the main activity. The benefits of a warm-up are lost after about 30 minutes of inactivity. Warm-ups should include activities to raise the pulse, light dynamic stretches to increase the range of motion at joints, and activity-specific exercises that will moderately work the target muscles.
After the intense activity, cooling down is just as important as warming up. During cool-down you want to gradually lower your heart rate by slowly easing off your physical intensity; light jogging after a run or less intense poses after yoga. The idea is to promote circulation so that the muscles can enjoy the extra oxygen and nutrients their increased temperature has demanded, while their energy requirements gradually decrease. Cool-downs will also help to remove waste products such as lactic acid, which will reduce the risk and intensity of muscle soreness.
The final piece of this performance-enhancing, injury-reducing puzzle is massage, or more specifically, soft tissue manipulation. Soft tissue manipulation is a form of massage designed to restore the full function and length of a muscle. It works out ‘kinks’ in the muscle (adhesions in connective tissues which could bind), and increases blood flow to promote healing and cellular respiration. It also stimulates nerve axons to relax. How effective is massage at improving muscle health? Men’s Fitness looked at a study comparing strenuous workout recovery biology with and without soft tissue manipulation;
In a recent study, researchers put 11 young, healthy men through a strenuous workout—the kind that’s almost too hard to finish. To see the effects of massage on muscles, they took muscle biopsies of both legs—before and after exercise, and after 10 minutes of Swedish-style massage. The massage was given right after the workout. The brief massage affected two specific genes in the muscle cells. The first gene decreases inflammation caused by exercise, similar to the relief you get from certain pain medications. The second gene turned up production of mitochondria in the muscles. These are the power houses of cells. They use oxygen and the broken down products of food to generate energy needed by the cells. As muscle cells become adapted to endurance exercise, the number of mitochondria increases. Massage seems to help this process along (www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/massage-improves-post-workout-recovery)
So if you want a hot-looking body like a professional athlete, warm it up before exercising, cool it down when you’re done, and take advantage of the restorative benefits of a good post-workout rubdown.
To book a massage with one of BodyMend’s Registered Massage Therapists, who are training in a variety of massage techniques specific to sports recovery, contact us at email@example.com
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