The Warm Up: It’s not Sexy but I am Finding it is Necessary

Over the past month or so, while I’m between official “training seasons” and just trying to maintain a base level of fitness and stamina, one of the habits I have been working on is warming up and cooling down before and after each workout. I will admit that adding the cool down came pretty naturally to me. I can immediately feel the difference between when I bring my heart rate down gradually vs. coming to a dead stop. I also happen to really enjoy stretching and giving myself the excuse to do a post-run or post-strength stretch feels marvelous. It is also a time when my brain is riding high on endorphins and I can decompress and think about the work I just did. The warm up though? That is a totally different story…

My brain STRUGGLES with adding in time to warm up. When I hold myself accountable and do the 5-10 minute warm up, it can feel like an eternity and I often don’t give my warm up the credit it deserves if I have a good workout afterward and roll my eyes about how warm ups are useless if I have a rough run afterward. I have been working really hard to keep this attitude in check.

Here’s the thing, I don’t just mean running warm ups either. I feel/have felt for most of my life similarly about warming up for music and for performing in general- often for the same reasons I struggle with warming up before runs.

Whereas I strongly feel that modifications are sexy, it feels like the warm up is anything but sexy. Warm ups are often repetitive. In running, you don’t cover much ground. In music the scales end right back where you started before progressing just one little note higher. They can also look and feel incredibly silly. So many of the most ridiculous stereotypes of both runners and actors come from images of the warm ups they do- the overemphasized tongue twisters and weird pitches actors make or the running in place butt kicks of an overenthusiastic runner (or the shake out of almost every body part that seems to be shared by both!) You know what will never appear on my list of things I think are sexy? Hearing someone say “Topeka Bodega” or seeing a group of runners trying to do “toy soldier” or “tin man” walks back and forth.

Even in sleek silhouette form… just… not sexy…

On top of that, warm ups are where I encounter a lot of anxiety. I don’t like knowing something is about to happen but has not actually begun. This was something that was REALLY hard for me each time I was pregnant. Waiting at the end for labor to stat and feeling like a ticking time bomb. And while I don’t usually have too much stage fright before a performance, warming up before auditions STILL makes my anxiety inescapable and often leaves me shaking or feeling worse than if I just try to “surprise” my brain and go into an audition cold. (Which is extra strange having auditioned for so many years and having been on the other side of the audition table which I really thought would help!)

Sometimes you run the Rock N Roll Vegas Race and get to warm up with the assistance of some giant dice…

But for all this hating on warm ups, I am still trying to learn to love them. Why? Because they may not be sexy but they are very necessary for improvement, for best performance, and to avoid injury. I am making myself practice chord progressions and rolls on the banjo instead of just working on a trouble spot in the song I want to learn how to play because I want to learn to play more than just one song in my life and know that those skills will serve me far better than learning one part of one song perfectly- even if that is the more impressive end result that might be easier to showcase right away. I am asking my running community to help cheer me on and hold me accountable when I do my warming up because I want to lower my chance of injury and dynamic stretches and slowly raising my heart rate instead of suddenly sprinting off to do my assigned mileage is objectively better for my long term health. I warm up when I have shows to do so that I don’t strain my voice or body and so that my articulation is primed so that the audience gets my best performance the minute my part starts, not ten minutes in.

I find that when I remember the intention behind the warm up, or behind any other unsexy “grunt work” that it becomes just a little easier than it would otherwise. The barrier to entry drops a little and I am less likely to skip it.

I’m not saying I have to always ENJOY the warm up, or even do it PUBLICLY. Unless I am in a show that requires warming up in a group, I do as many warm ups as possible in my car or another private space. If I am going for a run in my neighborhood I warm up inside, not out on the street, etc. but I am trying to shift my mindset to prioritize the warm up and be grateful for what it does for me. And if I can’t warm up privately, such as at a big race, I am gaining the confidence to just do it anyway because it is important.

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