The difference between warming up and fatiguing – why you might be warming up wrong

Warming up is one of the most important parts of your workout. You can’t just jump into heavy lifting, tough and complex exercises without a warm up, and not expect to get injured. However there is a big difference between effectively warming up and actually fatiguing your muscles. One will put you in a good place for your workout, the other can significantly increase your risk of injury. Let’s take a look at the key difference, and why you might need to change your warm up strategy.

We have already covered training and staying injury free for general tips, so read that to understand more on the topic.

What is the point of warming up?

It serves to prepare the body (muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments) for the exercise ahead. Warming up should be specific to the exercise you are going to do. Whilst cardio is a good way to get the blood pumping generally, unless you are training legs, you should also include more specific exercises for the target muscles.

A proper warm up helps pump blood into the targeted muscles to heat them up, and move the joint throughout its range of motion to loosen the ligaments and tendons. This gets synovial fluid moving around the joint to help keep it lubricated.

This is also your chance to tell if what you had planned for your workout is still on track. If you feel really tight and sore, perhaps it’s best to change the plan.

Warming up vs fatiguing – the important difference

We will use the Shoulder joint as an example, as it is a complex joint that is involved in all upper body exercises, and many lower body movements. We have already looked at the anatomy in depth, but for now we will recap the important Rotator Cuff muscles: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and the Subscapularis. These are primarily used to secure the joint, and to stabilise and rotate the shoulder.

It is very important to warm up the Rotator Cuff muscles, especially before shoulder and chest exercises. This ensures the stability and security of the arm in the shoulder joint, and sufficient synovial fluid keeps the joint healthy and lubricated.

This is where you must be careful.

By over warming-up the small muscles, you will begin to fatigue them. This will increase your risk of injury during the bigger movements.

Studies have shown that improper form and joint/muscular imbalances and instability cause injuries. 36% of which documented are in the shoulder complex. So it is an extremely important joint to warm up properly and effectively.

The solution

When warming up, make sure you are not struggling with the exercise. You should be able to perform many reps (10+) with ease for a few sets. If you are exerting yourself and really working hard to complete the reps, then the resistance is too heavy. Lower the weight and perform lots of good, controlled reps.

Wearing additional clothing layers is a great way of insulating your body, increasing your skin temperature rapidly. This helps heat you up and bring blood towards the surface of the body.

Self moving the muscle will always be the best way to warm up ahead of exercise. However to quickly warm up tight areas there are a variety of tools out there that can help, but are often highly expensive.


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