he benefits of a quality warm-up are widely understood and agreed upon in the athletic community – they reduce your risk for injury and help improve performance.
But, that’s just about where the agreement ends among researchers and coaches. Each coach holds a slightly different belief as to what type of warm-up is best, and researchers can’t seem to find a definitive answer.
Ask any coach what the best warm-up is and you’ll get a different answer every time. This makes determining exactly what to do before a session difficult for athletes and recreationally active individuals alike.
But what IS a warm-up?
What does it actually do to your body that results in fewer injuries and better performance?
Well, a proper warm-up should have a multi-dimensional effect on your body to properly prepare you for exercise. Athletes get the best performance outcomes when their warm-up increases body core temperature, nerve impulse transmission, blood flow, and metabolic activity, while decreasing joint and muscle stiffness.1
If you address all these factors, the body will be prepped and ready to go for your workout. You’ll move better, react faster, and get tired slower.
How do you accomplish this? Well, that depends.
Similar to most other aspects of sport, outcome is the most important variable of a warm-up. As long as you get the right results, does it matter how you got there? Example, no one cares if a pitcher has strange mechanics if they just threw a no-hitter. No one cares that a soccer player only takes one step before hitting a 30-yard free kick, as long as they make the shot.
Apply the same thought process to a warm-up. Every person may find that they prefer a particular warm-up style. You might choose shorter, more intense warm-ups, while others will opt for less intensity and longer duration. This is perfectly fine; as long you’re reaching the endpoints you need to.
There’s little debate regarding whether a warm-up is beneficial, it is. Rather, scientists have yet to draw conclusions as to what type of warm-up is best.
As the most common component of a warm-up, stretching is a hot topic in the athletic community. There are many varieties of stretching, but the two receiving the most focus are dynamic and static.
So, is dynamic stretching better than static stretching before exercise?
Studies done comparing the effects of static and dynamic stretching have produced mixed results, some showing advantages of dynamic stretching and others saying there is no difference.
Some research suggests that individuals engaging in dynamic stretching out performed and stayed healthier compared to their non-dynamic counterparts.
Also, when examining professional soccer players, those engaging in dynamic stretching sprinted significantly faster compared to when they performed static stretching.2 Not to say static stretching is useless, but when used in isolation it may only provide limited benefit.
In the studies showing limited differences between the two, both dynamic and static stretching were combined with other movements3. This may have masked the negative effects of static stretching and the positive effects of dynamic stretching.
This suggests that as long as you move before the main part of your workout, the stretching you elect to do may not have that much of an impact on performance or risk of injury.
So as the season’s change and winter sets in, be sure to perform a proper warm-up before any and all activity, especially if you’re doing it outside. Remember, find a warm-up routine you enjoy, is safe, comfortable, and promotes the changes mentioned earlier. If you do that, you’ll be happier, healthier, and performing better than ever.
- Kendall, B J. “The Acute Effects of Static Stretching Compared to Dynamic Stretching with and without an Active Warm up on Anaerobic Performance.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28479947/.
- Little, T, and A G Williams. “Effects of Differential Stretching Protocols during Warm-Ups on High-Speed Motor Capacities in Professional Soccer Players.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16503682.
- Effects of Dynamic and Static Stretching Within General and Activity Specific Warm-Up Protocols. Michael Samson, Duane C. Button, Anis Chaouachi, David G. Behm J. Sports Sci Med. 2012 Jun; 11(2): 279–285. Published online 2012 Jun 1.