The Importance of Warm-Ups

Since we were kids, we have been taught that we have to warm up before we exercise or play our favourite sport. These warm-ups would vary from drawing circles with our arms, stretching out hamstrings, or just doing jumping jacks. Most of us were never really told why we had to warm up, only that we had to. As we got older, some of us would continue to do it as some form of physical and mental ritual before we train, while the rest would skip warming up entirely and jump right into the game. But what do warm-ups do to our body and why are they so important?

Benefits of doing warm-up

Warming up has been shown to reduce the risk of injury as well as increase performance.

When done correctly, warming up helps to prepare your body (and mind) for the actual training or game ahead.

So what does an optimal warm-up consist of?

 1. General warm-up – Getting the body all warmed up

The first step is to engage in light activity that raises your heart rate and body temperature. Increasing your heart rate is particularly important for those engaging in cardiovascular activities, e.g. running, swimming.

While there are many ways to increase your heart rate and get your blood flowing, you should focus on activities that will utilise the same muscles as your actual activity. So if you are going to play badminton, spending time on a stationary bike may not be the best choice for you.

Here are a few common general warm-ups that you can choose depending on your needs:

  1. General lower-body warm-up: Slow jog / Stationary cycling / Elliptical machine / Stair climbing
  2. General full-body warm-up: Seated rowing machine
  3. For running/jumping based activities: Jumping jacks/skipping
  4. For sports like soccer, floorball: Change in direction sprints

2. Dynamic Stretching – Working muscles and joints through the required range of motion

With dynamic stretching, the goal is to get your muscles to move through their maximum active range of motion. This tells your muscles and joints that this is the range of movement they will need to have and need to perform in. If you don’t do any form of dynamic stretching, at best your muscles may feel stiff, and at worst, they may get injured when they are forced into ranges they are not comfortable with.

To perform a dynamic stretch specific to your activity/sport, first, identify the most common movements. It may be a lunge position in badminton and tennis or torso rotation in golf. Next, in a slow and controlled manner, move your joints through their active range of motion. If it’s a stretch, hold the stretch for 5-10s and then ease out of the stretch. Repeat it about 10 times before moving on to the next movement.

Static Stretching: Can I hold the stretch for 45-60s instead?

Holding a stretch for more than 45 seconds would be considered static stretching, not dynamic stretching.

Some of us were taught that static stretching before exercise helps to prevent injury. However, research has shown that that may not be the case. Reviews exploring the effects of static stretching have shown that static stretching before an activity does not prevent injury and actually decreases physical performance.

There are some ways static stretching have been theorised to reduce performance output and increase injury risk:

  • Static stretching decreases the muscle’s sensitivity and ability to contract effectively, which is how muscles produce force.
  • Static stretching decreases the sensitivity of joint and pain receptors, which can potentially increase our risk of injury.

While these effects of static stretching on performance are temporary, we recommend that if you do still enjoy static stretching, perform them in a separate session, or perform dynamic stretching right after static stretching.

 

3.  Activity-specific warm-up – Preparing the mind and body for the coming demands

Now that you have performed a light warm-up to increase your heart rate and dynamic stretches to improve your mobility, the activity-specific warm-up is a final warm-up you should do to get your muscles ready for more intensive activity.

An activity-specific warm-up acts like a physical rehearsal, preparing the body (and mind) for the specific intensity and movements of the required activity. This may include movement drills, light sparring, or interval sprints. If you participate in weight training, an activity-specific warm-up before your barbell back squat will be squatting with an empty barbell or with lighter weights.

For a rugby player who needs to be able to change directions quickly and have explosive strength, an activity-specific warm-up may include explosive tuck jumps, sled pushes and interval sprints.

Since activity-specific warm-ups have to be specific to mimic actual movements in training or sport, you will likely spend the most time in this segment compared to the general warm-up and dynamic stretching. If you are working on different exercises, each exercise should have warm-up sets consisting of lighter weights. This will allow the body to gradually work up towards much heavier weights and reduce the risk of injury.

If you’re interested in learning what specific exercises you should do for your sports activity, feel free to

Whether you are trying to improve your performance, prevent injury or simply to move without pain, we as exercise specialists will create customised warm-up routines and training programmes specific to your activity requirements.

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