Most athletes perform some type of warm-up before their training or competitions. Warm-ups come in all shapes and sizes, and some are more effective than others.
The science of warm-ups has changed over the years, both in the best methods for performing a warm-up, and the assumed physiological effects of this pre-exercise staple.
This article will explain the benefits of a good warm-up, the risks of not warming properly (we’re looking at you weekend warriors), and the best ways to warm up for different modes of exercise.
The Benefits of Warming Up
Why do you need to warm up in sports? As the name suggests, the main aims of a warm-up are to increase the temperature of the muscles, build up the heart rate, and therefore the blood flow to the working muscles.
Warming the muscles and joints decreases stiffness and makes the soft tissues more pliable, enhancing the free, coordinated movement that sports performance requires.
In addition to significantly elevated muscle temperatures, a proper warm-up can markedly improve total oxygen consumption during maximal exercise, and blunt the blood lactate response during high-intensity performance.
Warming up also enhances the neuromuscular relationship, increasing the transmission rate of nerve impulses and improving the position sensors in the joints.
Now you know some of the many benefits of warming up properly, what are some of the risks for the athletes who might skip this critical part of a training session or competition?
The Risks of Not Warming Up Properly
The ability of a properly warmed up muscle to better absorb impacts placed on it means that it has a positive chance to deter injury, as skeletal muscle injury represents over 30% of injuries seen by sports medicine specialists.
An appropriate warm-up also prepares the muscles to absorb more load, thus diverting tension away from the ligaments and tendons.
Other studies have shown that various athletic warm-up drills significantly reduced the risk of non-contact injuries and overuse injuries in athletes from a range of different sports.
Although warm-ups are a critical tool for the athlete, not all warm-ups are created equal…
Dynamic vs Static Warm-Ups
A major component of a warm-up for many years was static stretching. Although still recommended for increasing range-of-motion in the muscles and joints, a growing body of evidence has emerged that suggests that this type of stretching inhibits maximal power output, and therefore should be performed post-exercise rather than as a warm-up method.
The research shows that these decreases in force production are due to several mechanisms, such as inhibited neural motor-unit recruitment, and an altered response from the muscle proprioceptors.
The recent evidence also pointed out that passive, static warm-up modalities do not meaningfully reduce injury risk as once thought.
For these reasons, static warm-ups have been replaced in recent years by more active and dynamic warm-ups, which are producing better performance scores than static warm-ups, across multiple exercise performance testing scenarios.
A dynamic warm-up is made up of exercises and intensities that build up gradually to replicate performance conditions. The next section will explain the progression and types of exercises you can use to properly warm-up before your next training session or event.
12 Warm-Up Exercises For Every Part of Your Body
The first 5-10 minutes of any warm-up should consist of low intensity, full-body activity. Some examples include a light jog, an easy few laps of the pool in various strokes, or jumping jacks.
The goal here is simply to get the blood flowing to your muscles and to shake out any stiffness in your joints for the work ahead.
Next, we move into some exercises that put the muscles and joints through a full range of motion under increasing load. These can be performed over a distance of 10 meters back and forth, repeated two to three times each.
1. Walking Lunges
2. High Knees
3. Butt Kicks
4. Front Kicks
5. Side Shuffles
The successor to the previously used static stretches, these movements achieve an increased range of motion without sacrificing power output. Perform each of the relevant exercises for 10 repetitions on each side.
7. Front & Lateral Leg Swings
8. Arm Circles
9. Trunk Twists
Specific Sports Warm-Ups
Now that the muscles are warmed and the joints moving, it’s time to build the specificity and intensity of the movements closer to your full performance levels. Here are a few examples:
3 rounds of 10-20 meters run @ 70%, 80%, and 90% of maximal sprint; walking back to start between sprints.
3 rounds of 50 meters swim in chosen stroke @ 70%, 80%, and 90% of race / maximal training pace; swim slowly back to the starting end of the pool between laps.
For each exercise targeting a new muscle group, perform 2-3 warm-up sets for several repetitions (depending on the number of reps in your working sets) @ 60%, 70%, and 85% of working weight.
Example: For 100kg Bench Press 3 sets of 3 reps: Warm up with 5 x 60kg, 4 x 70kg, and 2-3 x 85kg.
13. Respiratory System Warm-Up
While the purpose of a good warm-up is to get blood flowing to the muscles, it’s the oxygen that blood is carrying that’s of the most value in athletic performance.
Training your breathing can help increase the strength and endurance of your respiratory muscles to get more oxygen to your muscles with each breath.
While breathing training devices such as the Airofit are an excellent addition to your training regimen to boost your oxygen consumption, this type of training fatigues the respiratory muscles, which is best left to after your performance.
For some good warm-up breathing exercises, check out our article on breathing exercises and take a look at the ‘Power Breathing’ and ‘Breath of Fire’ techniques.
Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas for your warm-up routine; be sure to let us know your favorite warm-up exercises below!