ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Dynamic Warm-ups for Sports Performance–Why and How

Performance

 / 

Safety and Injuries

 / 

Strength

Dynamic Warm-ups for Sports Performance–Why and How

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2022-06-24


Warming up before a sporting event or tough workout has important benefits, including performance and injury prevention. There is a lot of debate about what makes a warm-up effective, though. Not all warm-up routines are created equal. Some are ineffective, while others might actually be a detriment to performance. 

Before your next event, or a client’s, understand why you’re doing a warm-up and how to do it right to optimize performance. 

What Does it Mean to Warm up for Sports Performance and Exercise? 

The concept of warming up before a workout or athletic event is pretty simple. It becomes more complicated when you discuss the benefits, whether it’s really necessary, and how to do it. 

Warming up simply means getting blood flowing to the muscles you’re about to engage. By doing so, you literally warm them up, elevating the muscle temperature, loosening them, and increasing range of motion. A warm-up period is typically 5 to 15 minutes of light activity before the main event. 

What Are the Benefits of Warming up? 

For athletes, anything that can enhance performance before an event is important. But this isn’t the only reason you should be warming up, whether it’s before just another gym workout or a PR-busting 5k. 

Prepare to Be Active

Going from zero to sprinting isn’t easy, but why? Because your muscles, joints, and other tissues simply aren’t ready for it. The primary, underlying goal of a warm-up is to prepare your body to run, jump, swim, lift, cycle, or do any other rigorous activity. 

An effective warm-up raises the body temperature, increases range of motion in joints and muscles, encourages metabolic changes necessary for activity, and reduces stiffness in muscles. All of this gets you ready to engage in a sport or workout. 

Improve Performance

All of this preparation serves to help you perform better. Getting the oxygen flowing to your muscles, eliminating stiffness, and raising the temperature all make it easier for your body to get right into the exercise and to do it more effectively and efficiently. 

Many studies have proven this, including one that found warm-ups improve nearly 80% of performance measurements. Another study of baseball players looked at upper body warm-ups and at-bat performance. The researchers found that warm-up swings and other dynamic movement patterns improved power and speed. 

Prevent Injuries

All the preparation of the body for activity improves performance, but it also reduces the risk of sports injuries. A paper that reviewed studies of warm-ups found that several strategies used together can prevent injury in athletes: 

  • Stretching

  • Balance exercises

  • Jumping exercises

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Sports-specific agility drills

Jumping into physical activity, especially rigorous, difficult activity, can lead to painfully stretched or torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles. A warm-up session essentially increase the stretching threshold of these tissues before they get damaged. 

What if I Don’t Warm up for Sports Performance? 

Will your performance suffer? It might. Essentially, you won’t be preparing your body for the event. The worst case scenario is that going directly into intense exercise will cause an injury. The best case scenario is that you won’t fulfill your potential. 

Imagine you’re running a 10k race. You have been training to get a personal best time and feel really well prepared for it. Would you use the first mile of that competitive race to warm up your muscles? Of course not. You would be wasting that first mile. Warm up before the race so you’re ready to perform every mile of the 10k at your best. 

What you do after a workout or event matters too. Here’s a good plan for your post-workout routine

What is an Effective Warm-up?

That warming up is important and beneficial is not often debated. What exercise scientists, athletes, coaches, and amateurs often debate endlessly is how best to warm up before an event or workout. 

Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching

One of the more settled debates in warm-up strategies is about stretching. Gone are the days of doing a static stretch session before a workout or event. It’s not helpful, as it turns out. 

Static stretching is when you stretch to the furthest point you can reach—touching your toes, for instance—and holding it there for a period of time. 

A dynamic stretch is when you stretch the muscles while also going through a range of motion, like a twisting lunge or hip circles. 

For a pre-event or workout warm-up, choose dynamic stretching. Static stretching might have some benefits post workout or at other times, but before getting active, it’s much more beneficial to get moving. In fact, static stretches before an event can actually decrease athletic performance. 

Your dynamic warm up stretches should mimic the type of activity you’re about to do for the best results. If you’re getting ready for a race, warm up your hips, glutes, and legs with moving stretches. If you’re about to do some upper body strength training, focus on the arms, shoulders, chest, and back. 

Warm up, Rest, Re-Warm up

Here’s an interesting strategy to try:

  • Perform a 10 to 15 minute warm-up targeted to your event or workout

  • Rest for a few minutes

  • Perform a higher-intensity two minute warm-up just before the event begins

According to a study of several warm-up strategies, this one produced the most explosive power for the athletes during their event. 

Start Slow and Build Intensity 

Just as you wouldn’t jump right into your athletic event cold, you wouldn’t start out a warm-up at maximum intensity. Start slow and build up to more vigorous, challenging movements. This gives your muscles and joints a chance to get used to the movements. 

Don’t Overdo it

Of course, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Go too hard and too long, and you will wear yourself out before the event. You don’t want to get fatigued, just fired up. 

Other mistakes you can make when warming up for a workout include: 

  • Not matching the warm-up exercises to the activity you’re about to do

  • Not warming up for long enough or with enough intensity

  • Warming up too early before an event, which allows your muscles to cool down again

An Example of a Good General Warm-up

This session will get your client ready for a lot of different types of events or workouts. Adjust as necessary to hit the appropriate muscle groups. Aim for about 10 or 15 minutes for your warm-up. Spend the first few minutes doing the activity at a gentle pace and intensity. For instance, kick the soccer ball around before a game or jog slowly before a race. Then, move into dynamic movements and stretches: 

  • Leg swings. Open up, stretch, and mobilize the hips by swinging the legs front to back and then side to side. 

  • Arm circles. Swing the arms in large and small circles to warm up the shoulders. 

  • Walking lunges. Try walking lunges to fire up your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. 

  • Add a rotation. Add a core rotation to lunges to get your abs and back warmed up. 

  • Lateral and curtsy lunges. It’s important to change the plane of movement during a warm-up. Don’t just move forward and back. Add some lateral movement with lunges to the side. For a curtsy lunge, step back and place your foot halfway between the side lunge and the back lunge position. 

  • High knees and butt kicks. As you increase the intensity of your warm-up, do these moves with some speed and power. 

  • Sprints. Finally, do some short but high-intensity and fast movements. Resist the urge to go all out, but do put some intensity into these movements to fire up your muscles. 

As an athlete or a personal trainer working with athletes at every level, it’s important to understand the benefits of a warming up. If you want to boost performance and limit injuries, use effective, targeted, and dynamic warm-up routines for every game or training session. 

Love sports? Help athletes achieve their optimal performance! Learn everything you need to build the best strength, agility, and conditioning training that sports science has to offer with ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning Coach certification. 


Featured Course

Strength and Conditioning Coach

ISSA's Strength and Conditioning course bridges the gap between science and application by giving students the "how" of helping athletes achieve any sport-related goal. With this course, not only will you learn the exercise science behind strength and conditioning, but exactly how to create the perfect training program for any athlete. Further, it offers one of the only accredited exams in the strength and conditioning space, making you a hot commodity to any employer.


References

McGowan, C.J., Pyne, D.B., Thompson, K.G. et al. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med 45, 1523–1546 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

Fradkin, A. J., Zazryn, T. R., & Smoliga, J. M. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(1), 140–148. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c643a0

McCrary JM, Ackermann BJ, Halaki MA systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:935-942.

Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P. et al. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med 10, 75 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-10-75

Silva, L.M., Neiva, H.P., Marques, M.C. et al. Effects of Warm-Up, Post-Warm-Up, and Re-Warm-Up Strategies on Explosive Efforts in Team Sports: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 48, 2285–2299 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0958-5

Comments?
Sign up to Stay connected to all the ways ISSA can help you grow your career





I consent to being contacted by ISSA.
Learn More
ISSA — 11201 N. Tatum Blvd Ste 300 PMB 28058 — Phoenix AZ 85028-6039 — USA