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Warm-Up That Workout

Posted Apr 27 2012 11:02am

Here I am warming up for a morning workout!

How long should my warm-up take?

It would be a nightmare reciting an important speech without reviewing it beforehand, or a disaster popping those famous oatmeal raisin cookies in the oven without preheating to the proper temperature, but how many are guilty of skipping that all-so-important pre-workout warm-up? Could those fifteen minutes we think we’re saving put us on the sidelines in the long run? A warm-up is a chance to prepare our bodies for what is to come and is crucial in preventing injury. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, it just has to be done right. Nobody likes a crumbling cookie, or a crumbling body, so make sure to warm up correctly before it’s burnt out and begging for mercy!

Benefits for the Body:

Making it all the way to the gym is a great start. Once we’re there, we’re faced with two choices. To use the first fifteen minutes to prepare our bodies for a crowning performance, or to put them in jeopardy of becoming injury-prone and fragile. Understanding the advantages of a comprehensive warm-up routine will help us make the right choice! (hmm, I wonder which one…)

A thorough warm-up will improve muscle elasticity, reduce the risk of strains and pulls, and activate the body’s cooling system (read: sweating) for optimal performance during the actual workout. A dynamic warm-up consisting of strength and flexibility exercises will improve the range of motion around the joints, and may increase overall performance [3]. While most studies agree that a warm-up can produce incalculable benefits, they also agree that the type of warm-up determines how significant those benefits can be. Exercises that involve ballistic, bouncy stretching movements have been studied to produce significantly more injuries than fluid, static stretching routines, and can inhibit the productivity of a workout [4]. Another study found that the type of athlete and type of exercises being performed might also impact the effectiveness of a warm-up. Trained athletes might see an increase in performance and experience a decreased amount of stiffness in muscles and joints if their warm-up is specific to their sport and performed 3-5 minutes prior to their event [1][2].

Regardless of training or skills, anyone can benefit from cardiovascular preparation and stretching before engaging in physical activity. But (shocker), just like too many homemade oatmeal raisin cookies are bad, so is too much warming up. Over stretching and overuse can produce unstable, loose joints, which can increase risk of injury and lead to joint dislocation and serious injury [3].

Plan of Action: 

So what’s the best and most effective warm-up method? While individual needs must be considered, most researchers have reached a general consensus that a 15-minute warm-up is sufficient for most (not too bad) [2][3][4]. The intensity of a warm-up should also be taken into consideration when determining the duration [2]. A warm-up shouldn’t need a cool down, so allow a sweat-soaked shirt to be a good indicator of when it’s time to tone it down a notch.

A good warm-up consists of two parts, cardiovascular exercise as well as a stretching routine. Gradually increasing the intensity of a warm-up and stretching routine will ensure that injury does not occur. Start the warm up with light cardiovascular activity like jogging or biking. This activity should last about 10 minutes and cause some sweating, indicating that oxygen and blood is traveling to the muscles and preparing them for more intense movement. Fill the remainder of the warm-up with a gentle stretching routine, lasting about 5 minutes total.

For the cardiovascular routine, completing a lighter variation of the target exercise is a good way to begin. If the target exercise is a 3-mile run, light jogging will ensure that the muscles to be worked will be ready to perform. For strength training, a general cardiovascular warm-up on a bike, elliptical, or a routine that mimics the exercises being used during your workout are practical for warming-up [1].

When moving on to the stretching portion of the warm-up, it is important to keep proper technique in mind. No stretch should be pushed past a point of mild discomfort. Feeling any sort of pain means that the load on the muscles is too high and may result in an increased risk for injury [3]. It is recommended that a minimum of four reps be performed for each stretching exercise, and that each one be held for 15-60 seconds. Data indicates that stretching for 15-60 seconds is better to increase range of motion than stretching for shorter periods of time and is just as effective in increasing range of motion as stretching for longer durations of time [3].

Remember to always schedule in a little extra time for a proper warm-up and cool down. This will prevent injury as well as increase flexibility for a better overall sense of well-being. If there is any for of uncertainty about how to properly perform a stretch or work a machine, consult a fitness professional immediately before risking injury.

The Takeaway: 

  • A warm-up is a vital part of every exercise routine that prepares the body for the planned activity, reducing risk of injury and increasing range of motion for a more comfortable workout.
  • Over stretching can be more harmful than not stretching at all, leading to painful dislocations and loose joints.
  • An effective warm-up should be about 15 minutes long and combine both cardiovascular activity as well as a stretching routine.
  • Each stretch should be held from 15-60 seconds for most effective expansion of range of motion.

Further Resources:

The New York Times- The Right Ways to Warm-Up

A refreshing view on a complicated topic

 Huffington Post- The Importance of Stretching

A review on why stretching is so crucial

 Runners World- Warming up Properly for a Run

Reviews the appropriate techniques for a pre-run warm-up

 Salt Lake City Weekly- How to Stretch

Answers questions about stretching before an exercise routine

Works Cited

1. Murphy J, Di Santo M, Alkanani T, Behm D. Aerobic activity before and following short-duration static stretching improves range of motion and performance vs. a traditional warm-up. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism. October 2010; 35(5):679-600. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 11, 2012

2. Bishop D. Warm up II: performance changes following active warm up and how to structure the warm up. Sports Medicine. 2003;33(7):483-498. Available from: SPORTDiscus, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April

3. Hoeger, Werner W, and Sharon A. Hoeger. Lifetime Physical Fitness & Wellness. Twelfth ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011. 271-88. Print.

4. Malliou, P., Rokka, S., Beneka, A., Mavridis, G., & Godolias, G. (2007). Reducing risk of injury due to warm up and cool down in dance aerobic instructors. Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 20(1), 29-35. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 11, 2012

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