Ah the good old days. Back in my twenties, my personal energy was always at a surplus and good thing too. You needed a lot of energy to practice spinning hook kicks, jumping side kicks, and other feats of physical prowess. My martial arts style at that time encouraged these techniques and every class began with lengthy warm-ups and stretches to prepare us for the work ahead. Warming up was a necessity but it became a habit, and today it helps me in a whole different way.

Many things have changed since those early days. I now study a style that requires less overt strength or extreme flexibility. It is grounded in good technique and focused on useful applicable life-protection skills. Jumping kicks are rarely on the menu. And now that I am older, my energy is not always what it once was. A late night, or light breakfast, or even stress from work can affect my ability to get motivated for a good workout. Even though I no longer need the warm-ups for physical safety, I still do them religiously because of how they energize me.

In fact, for me warm-ups have almost become a form of meditation. Once the real training begins, I am often slowing down movements or speeding them up in order to better understand how to use them. The exercise sometimes ends in sweat but the mind is engaged throughout. I do the same warm-up routine every time and it helps set my mind on what is to come, work out body kinks, and get my heart rate up. Warm-ups are like getting the car started, on the road, and moving at 25 miles per/hour. My car doesn’t do “0–60” very well or very fast, but “25–60” isn’t hard at all. My body seems to work the same way. Once I am going, it is a lot easier to jump into the deeper aspects of training.

But of course, there is a voice in my head pointing out the glaring problem how I get started. Real self-defense scenarios do not allow for warming up. They demand you go from 0-60 or you may not survive. Keep this in mind. Warming up, like any habit can become a liability if you are not aware of its drawbacks. Occasionally you should test yourself. Don’t just skip the warm-up; jump in to the toughest practice first. Practice in odd places and at odd times. How quickly do you run out of breath? How fast does your heart beat? These are good things to know.

In the end, the key is always to keep training, and whatever you need to get your mind and body ready, do it. For me the warm-ups have functioned to do both these things over the years even if the focus has changed from the physical to mental preparation. I have blogged about location, music, and many other motivational concepts. There are no wrong answers here. Your style may demand you practice technique a certain way, but how you get and stay in the zone by yourself is entirely up to you.