All About Warming Up

by Ryan
Andrews
, June 7th, 2010.
Most people have an idea about how to “warm up.”
  1. Touch toes.
  2. Swing arms.
  3. Bounce pecs.
  4. Put on sweatband.
But is this the optimal way? And what is a warm-up really supposed to
accomplish?

Homer shows us how not to warm up

What is warming up?

Warming up prepares the body for more intense movement and activity. It
literally “warms up” the body by increasing core temperature.
A proper warm-up consists of movements that:
  • Move joints through their ranges of motion (ROM) — and enhance this ROM
  • Enhance mobility
  • Release connective tissue bonds
  • Distribute fluid in the joint space
  • Boost speed/force of muscle contractions
  • Amplify nerve impulse transmission
  • Promote oxygen uptake
  • Keep you out of the whirlpool
Bz Whirlpool Therapy 1993

Movement types

Movements used during a warm-up might include:
  • Movements intended to get the core temperature up and the whole body moving,
    e.g. brisk walking or light jogging while swinging the arms
  • Static movements (moving into a position and briefly holding it) — the
    classic “stretch and hold”, e.g. touching your toes for 30 seconds.
  • Dynamic movements such as:
    • stretching while moving (e.g. walking lunges for hip flexibility, or tipping
      your head side to side for neck mobility)
    • moving against light resistance (e.g. a few single-legged Romanian deadlifts
      with light or no weight, or jumping)

Why warming up is important

What do athletes, exercisers and old folks complain about? Well, lots of
things. But I’m constantly hearing about stiffness, injuries and poor
flexibility.
While age-related connective tissue changes and water loss can contribute to
inflexibility, most of it comes down to “use it or lose it.” A proper warm-up
helps to counteract negative effects of aging while enhancing performance.
Not warming up can lead to poor mobility/flexibility, injuries and stiffness.
These are the people at the senior center, on a basketball court or at the
family reunion who can’t move, pick up kids, play sports, exercise to their full
capacity, or clean up spilled hemp seeds. In all cases, life sucks for them.
major components of an effective warm up before exercise
Major components of an effective warm up before
exercise. Click to enlarge. (Source: Vandervoort AA. Potential benefits of
warm-up for neuromuscular performance of older adults. Exerc Sport Sci Rev
2009;37:60-65.)

Flexibility, mobility, and injury

Some consider the warm-up a time to build flexibility and mobility.
Flexibility is the capacity of a joint to move freely through a full range of
motion. Mobility is our ability to produce a desired movement. Both are based on
the elasticity of muscle, ligaments, and connective tissues, but while poor
mobility is correlated with injury, poor flexibility is not
necessarily.
We want some areas to be more mobile but other areas to be more stable and
strong. For most folks, this means it’s important to mobilize:
  • front of shoulders
  • ankles
  • front of hips and IT band
  • hamstrings
  • thoracic spine
Tightness in these areas can contribute to tears and impingements.
For instance, nearly 70% of the population will suffer from a shoulder
disorder at some point in their lifetime — largely due to the inherent
instability of the joint combined with our modern “desk monkey” posture that
pulls the shoulders forward and hunches the upper back.
While minimal flexibility is related to injury, performing static stretching
(exclusively) during a warm-up doesn’t seem to decrease injuries. And too much
stretching and flexibility may even increase the rate of injury. Many
people, in fact, suffer from injuries caused by excessive movement and
flexibility in the:
  • shoulder joint
  • knees (especially women)
  • cervical and lumbar spines

Motor learning

Beyond the physiological benefits of warming up, engaging in movements you’re
about to execute during exercise/sport allows for visualization of positive
motor outcomes. In plain language, that means you practice the movement pattern
so that your body knows what it’s about to do.

Muscle soreness

Despite the many benefits of warming up, it will not prevent muscle soreness
— no matter what type of warmup  you choose.

What you should know

Static exercises

Warming up with static movements has pluses and minuses.
Static stretching can improve flexibility at a given range of motion. It can
also improve balance — a bonus for yogis and gymnasts.
However, static stretching can create a temporary strength deficit, diminish
jump performance and decrease running economy for up to 1 hour, since the
sensitivity of tension receptors in muscle is decreased. On the other hand,
physiotherapists and strength coaches can actually use this strength inhibition
to their advantage, by stretching areas that commonly tighten up and contribute
too much to a movement (for example, stretching the front of the hips before
running to weaken the involvement of the hip flexors, which tend to be
over-strong and tight).
Static exercise examples

Dynamic exercises

A dynamic warm-up can improve nervous system activation, power, and range of
motion at the joint. Dynamic exercises performed before exercise/sport that
requires high muscular forces can increase blood flow, metabolic activity,
temperature, oxygen uptake, muscle compliance, nerve impulses, decrease
resistance of connective tissues and reduce muscle tension. This type of warm-up
creates minimal (to no) muscle damage, so it’s fine to do on a regular
basis.
When you have mobile soft tissue and a rapid response nervous system, you’ll
be able to move better and perform exercises that challenge your body. This
means more productive workouts and a healthier physique.
Adding static exercises to a dynamic warm-up may diminish the force increases
from a purely dynamic protocol.
Dynamic exercise examples

Dynamic exercises should not result in any sharp pains, but should feel
challenging and strangely pleasant, especially after you get done. Find the
edges of your range of motion, and work to gently expand these edges. If mild
discomfort felt during the exercise continues afterwards, find an
easier/modified version.
Foam rolling can be included as part of a warm-up since it helps with
mobility and breaks down scar tissue/adhesions. This relaxes the fascia and
makes muscle more pliable.
Foam rolling exercise examples

Summary and recommendations

Consider your warm-up period an essential part of the workout – not optional
free time. It’ll make you stronger and improve your body control, balance,
movement mechanics, and agility.
Warm-up with static exercises Warm-up with dynamic exercises
Useful for improving range of motion

Not ideal for a warm-up because they don’t appear to prevent injury and may
limit force production
Best performed after a workout, as a “warm-down”
Most benefits of a warm-up come from actually
warming up the body, which can be accomplished by 4 to 15 minutes of dynamic
movements

Seems to enhance performance and power output when compared to static
exercises
Find a warm-up that makes your body feel the best, and one that you can stick
with. The variation in responses to warming up emphasizes the unique nature of
individual reactions to different protocols. Targeting ankles, hips, back and
shoulders will likely result in the most benefit. See example warm-up protocols
below.

Extra credit

IT band pain

Iliotibial band (ITB) pain is one of the most common complaints among
exercisers/athletes. If your ITB hurts, you probably have poor adductor and ITB
flexibility along with weak abductors and glutes.
To remedy this, start including stretching exercises for the ITB (like in the
following table):
Stretching exercises for ITB. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lininger MR & Miller MG. Iliotibial band syndrome in the athletic population: strengthening and rehabilitation exercises. Strength & Cond J 2009;31:43-46.)
Stretching exercises for ITB. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Lininger MR & Miller MG. Iliotibial band syndrome in the athletic
population: strengthening and rehabilitation exercises. Strength & Cond J
2009;31:43-46.)
Then, you must strengthen the hips. This includes:
  • Hip hikes
  • Clams
  • Step downs
  • Lateral band walks
  • Straight leg & 45 degree exercises (with or without bands) that focus on
    the gluteus medius (straight leg abduction, bridge, monster walks, etc.)

Further resources

Partner relay warm-up ideas (Source: Swanson JR. A functional
approach to warm-up and flexibility. Strength & Cond J 2006;28:30-36.)
Movement chain warm-up ideas (Source: Swanson JR. A functional
approach to warm-up and flexibility. Strength & Cond J 2006;28:30-36.)
Dynamic warm-up PDF (Source: Carter Schoffer)
Guide to foam rolling
Performance
U: Warm-up Progressions

Assess & Correct,
Magnificent Mobility

References

Guidetti L, et al. Precompetition warm-up in elite and subelite rhythmic
gymnastics. J Strength Cond Res 2009;23:1877-1882.
Judge LW, et al. An examination of the stretching practices of Division I and
Division III college football programs in the Midwestern United States. J
Strength Cond Res 2009;1091-1096.
O’Sullivan K, et al. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic
stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC
Musculoskelet Disord 2009;10:37.
Costa PB, et al. The acute effects of different durations of static
stretching on dynamic balance performance. J Strength Cond Res
2009;23:141-147.
LaRoche DP, et al. Chronic stretching and voluntary muscle force. J Strength
Cond Res 2008;22:589-596.
Herman SL & Smith DT. Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention
elicits longer-term performance benefits. J Strength Cond Res
2008;22:1286-1297.
Hold BW & Lambourne K. The impact of different warm-up protocols on
vertical jump performance in male collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res
2008;22:226-229.
Fletcher IM & Anness R. The acute effects of combined static and dynamic
stretch protocols on fifty-meter sprint performance in track-and-field athletes.
J Strength Cond Res 2007;21:784-787.
Curry BS, et al. Acute effects of dynamic stretching, static stretching, and
light aerobic activity on muscular performance in women. J Strength Cond Res
2009;23:1811-1819.
Woods K, et al. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury.
Sports Med 2007;37:1089-1099.
Lai K, et al. Active isolation stretching does not improve hamstring
flexibility better than traditional stretching methods. Med Sci Sports Exerc
2003;35:S79 (Poster).
Vandervoort AA. Potential benefits of warm-up for neuromuscular performance
of older adults. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 2009;37:60-65.
Thacker SB, et al. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: A
systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004;36:371-378.
Kikkonen J. Chronic static stretching improves exercise performance. Med Sci
Sports Exerc 2007;39:1825-1831.
Corrao M, et al. Addressing posterior shoulder tightness in the athletic
population. Strength & Cond J 2009;31:61-65.
Lininger MR & Miller MG. Iliotibial band syndrome in the athletic
population: strengthening and rehabilitation exercises. Strength & Cond J
2009;31:43-46.
Swanson JR. A functional approach to warm-up and flexibility. Strength &
Cond J 2006;28:30-36.
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About dkpilates

Pilates Instructor, Yoga Instructor, Personnel trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Don teaches Contemporary and the Authentic forms of Pilates, in the later 90's, Don began his study of Yoga. His study of Yoga includes the Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, and Astanga disciplines. His other areas of interest in fitness include Martial Arts, Spin, Boot Camp Training, and Weight Training. Don has extensive training and certifications from AFFA, IDEA, MadDog, B-Fit and Polestar. Don Continues his of Pilates education with Michelle Larson in Santa Fe New Mexico. His personal philosophy related to fitness is to aid students in a personalized balance of strength, stamina and flexibility. He is dedicated to design a program specifically for his students independent of the season of their life to create functional movement and help them reach their fitness goals.
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