You’ve been excited all day.

You arrive at class, all the equipment is out and it’s practically winking at you “come and play with me……” You’re just about to launch yourself onto your favourite piece when the instructor calls you over, it’s time to warm up......BORING!

*Flashback* to high school and jogging round a frozen football field in the middle of winter wearing nothing but a pair of short shorts and a t-shirt with the teacher shouting at you to stop complaining from the comfort of their thermal ski suit.

So why do they make you warm up? Warming up properly can actually enhance performance and prevent injury. Here's the science bit........

1. Mentally focus and prepare for the tasks ahead.

• Ever been fast asleep and woken up to the doorbell going? You jump out of bed and run down the stairs, you probably bash in to things or maybe even fall over. The mind/body connection is not yet firing on all cylinders. Your proprioception (how your brain knows what your limbs are doing) hasn't quite woken up yet. When you arrive at class or start you training session hopefully you've been out of bed for a while but the activities you are going to be doing are far more strenuous than just walking around so you need a bit of time get everything fired up.

• Take time to get in the moment, switch off the day, forget about your troubles at home/work and focus on the present, on what you're about to do.

• Have a mental run through of what you’re about the do. Studies have shown that visualising an activity before you do it can not only improve performance, but help improve confidence and motivation. This is especially important with activities such as aerial because of the risk of falling and injuring yourself when attempting a new move is higher than ground based activities.

2. Prepare your body.

• At rest the blood flow to your muscles is relatively low, most of the small blood vessels within those muscles are closed. When you start to exercise these blood vessels start to open and vasodilate so more oxygen and nutrients can get to your skeletal muscles.

• Dilated blood vessels also means that your heart doesn't have to work so hard to pump blood round your body.

• Increase your body temperature – literally warming up – this is thought to help prevent muscle and connective tissue injuries (although there is limited research on humans to back this up).

• The haemoglobin in your blood releases oxygen quicker at higher temperatures, more available oxygen means the muscles can work harder.

• Muscles contract and relax at a faster pace when they are warm and warm muscles are more flexible muscles.

• You start to sweat which helps to prevent you from over heating, a lot of energy gets expended cooling your body down during exercise, energy better spent on the task in hand.

• Your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks in, taking blood away from non essential organs like the stomach (ever thrown up after exercising too hard after eating!?) and sending blood to the muscles.

• Increase cardiovascular output. Your heart is a muscle and needs to be trained and looked after in the same way as your skeletal muscles. One study took 44 men without heart problems and had them run at pace for 15 seconds without any prior warm up. ECG data collected after the run showed that 70% of the men had abnormal ECG's that were attributed to low blood supply to the heart. 22 of the men who showed abnormal results were retested, this time they were asked to do a two minute warmup before repeating the test. The post ECG's this time showed that 10 of the men now had normal ECG's and 10 showed improvement on their last one, only two of the men still showed significant abnormalities.

Warming up prepares body and mind, helps prevent injury and improves performance, none of which sound like a waste of time to me.

In follow up articles we'll be talking about how to make warmups fun and ideas on how to structure an aerial warm up.

Author: Jemma FordhamJemma Fordham

Jemma Fordham is a massage therapist specialising in clinical massage for the treatment of chronic pain conditions.

Jemma uses a wide range of techniques including trigger point therapy, myofascial release, advanced stretching and Swedish massage techniques to create bespoke treatment plans for her clients.

Jemma works out of two clinics, Natural Balance in Hove and Brighton and Hove Therapies in central Brighton. If you would like any information or an appointment she can be contacted directly.

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