Warming Up Heart, Mind, and Muscles in Fitness Walking

When you begin  a workout, every part of your needs to ease into it—certainly your muscles—but also your heart and your mind. A muscle after a day at work or a night’s  sleep is like cold  taffy: Bend it, and  it cracks, splinters, or snaps. When it’s warm,  it’s soft and  pliable.

A warm-up prepares your  muscles for  the  activity to  come, letting them rehearse in slow  motion the  way they’ll  move  later. A warm-up for a walking workout can simply  be walking slowly for about 5 minutes.

Warming Up Heart, Mind, and Muscles in Fitness WalkingPeople sometimes talk about warm-up stretches. Actually,  there’s no such thing.  There’s a warm-up, and  there are  stretches. A warm-up should come first. Both are important when done at the right time, but the two in one breath contradict each other. The  deepest of stretches—those aiming  to improve flexibility  and  not  just  loosen muscles—come after  your  workout as  part of the  cool-down. I discuss these in the  next  section.

The warm-up itself should target your muscles, and that includes your heart, because it’s a muscle too and also needs warming up. Those first 5 minutes of easy  walking coax it into working  a little harder. You wouldn’t start your  car’s engine after  it has  sat in the cold overnight, throw the pedal to the metal, and roar down  the street. You know that you have  to give the engine time to warm up, allowing  the  fluids and  gears to move  freely  as you slowly  pick up speed. The same goes  for your  body’s engine, the  heart.

Then  there’s your  mind,  an important element in workout success. When you crawl  out of bed  or away from your  desk  after  eight  hours (or more), you probably don’t  feel like exercising vigorously or, for that matter, even  moderately. Promise yourself at least 5 minutes. Give yourself permission to quit after 5 minutes if you  don’t  feel like going  on. Most  likely, those first  few minutes will change your  mind,  convincing you  that the  workout will feel good,  and you’ll keep  going.  That’s one  benefit of a warm-up right  there: motivation to keep  going. The warm-up also  lets  you tune in to twinges or aches. If you still feel them after the warm-up, take a cue and skip this workout. If it’s not so bad after  all, continue the  workout but  not  so intensely. Listen  to your  body.

While you’re striding through the active warm-up—the easy movement that comes before the stretches—take the time to roll your shoulders forward and backward, lift them to your  ears and  pull them down,  drop your  chin  to your chest, move  your  head from side  to side,  flex your  hands and  shake out  your arms. Next,  especially for  more intense walks,  take  a few minutes for  light stretches to loosen your  muscles. For easier walks, stretches after  the  warm- up are optional. Remember, the  deep stretching happens after  your  workout. Loosening muscles before activity can include some of the same stretches you’ll do later, but  don’t  push the  stretch to the  point of tension or mild discomfort that I describe in the next section. There should be no pain or discomfort when you loosen up before a walk.

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