The Warm Up: What It Should (& shouldn’t) Include

The goal of the warm-up is simple enough, we want to prepare the body to perform dynamic, ideally explosive, powerful movements without injury.
In the past, this has involved warming up with light aerobic exercise followed by lots of passive stretching to loosen up tight muscles and increase range of movement while we were warned to avoid bouncy movement for fear of tearing something.
Most of us have grow up doing the same thing and have never questioned what we were doing or why.
More recently physio’s and coaching staff involved in sport have started to think about the traditional approach and asked the question, does it actually achieve what we’re after? Let’s start by taking a look at what the traditional approach achieves….
Stretching, Move Clinics in London, Chiswick. Move Sports Med, movesportsmed

Low Intensity Aerobic Activity

Often this consisted of a light jog around the field or track and was as short as the players/athletes could get away with. Provided you build up a light swear this has the benefits of increasing tissue temperature in a safe gradual way and it gives the team a chance to get the chat going and switch onto the task ahead which are both important aspects of the warm up.

The Effects of Traditional Static Stretching

The two main effects of static stretching are:
• Relaxation (reduction of muscle tone)
• Lengthening (usually temporary)
The relaxation of muscle related to long steady holds result the muscle becomes less responsive in a similar way to a deep massage or a hot bath which can help with that common feeling of tightness but isn’t the end goal for our warmup.
The effect of increasing range of movement in the short term, without an associated increase in strength in the new range, has to potential to leave the joint unprotected in the new range, increasing the risk of injury.
The exception to this is if you are too tight (high tone) in which case, stretching will bring you back to a more normal level of tension but increasing range should be less of a focus.
The effects of static stretching are more useful as part of a controlled and predictable pre-hab program or regular mobility and conditioning sessions rather than part of the warm up. Performing static stretching prior to resistance training that involves strengthening through the full range of movement can act to maintain the changes in range of movement to increase usable, or functional, range of movement.
See our extended post on the effects of stretching:
Stretching: the what, the when and the why of stretching

What we want from the Warm Up

  • Increased mobility
  • Building muscle tone to ensure the muscles are ready to control movement and generate force quickly to accelerate, decelerate and change direction.
From this we can see that light aerobic exercise and even static stretching can achieve some of our warm up goals but to prepare for high intensity we need to take it further and to prepare for a particular sport with unique skills we need to be more specific.

Structure of a Dynamic Warm Up

  • Starting with general, low intensity activity to warm the muscles, tendons and ligaments such as an easy jog to get a light sweat.
  • Progress to include side-ways and rotation movements using drills and exercises.
  • As you progress, exercises become gradually faster, joints and muscles are taken through greater ranges of movement, involving higher loads and include sports specific skills and a controlled number of plyometric impacts.
By going through this process you have prepared the body for the specific movements, speeds and forces that will be required and give yourself the best chance of performing at a high level while reducing the risk of injury.

Key Points of the Warm Up

  • Increase tissue temperature
  • Increase mobility (gradually)
  • Increase load and speed (progressively)
  • Incorporate functional movements and skills such as twisting, cutting, jumping/landing and contested situations.
Static stretching does have its place but that would be after activity, in the warm down, where recovery and relaxation is desirable and as part of a mobility program that includes strengthening through a full range of movement so that when you get to the game you don’t feel tight before you start.
If you would like more advice related to structuring a warm up specific to your sport or if you would like more information on how we can help to reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance or that of teams you’re involved with, send us a message or give us a call 0208 9948328.