You have probably heard that completing a warm-up is important before playing sports and engaging in physical activity to prevent injuries, but what does a proper warm-up actually look like? In short, a warm-up serves to increase muscle dynamics and raise the temperature and flexibility of your muscles so that it becomes less injury-prone. Research has also shown that a proper warm-up has physiological benefits such as increased blood flow to tissues and increased speed of muscular contractions. Generally, warm-ups prepare you for the demands of the exercise you are about to engage in. That means that it is super important to start activating the muscles that you will be using in the specific movement pattern for the activity you will be doing. To illustrate, if you were warming-up before going for a run, you would want to engage the main running muscles such as quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and calves. You would also want to start using motions similar to running by doing exercises such as leg swings, high knee raises and lunges.
The intensity of the warm-up is specific to you as the individual, because it varies from person to person, dependant on your fitness level and the level of intensity of the activity you are preparing for. Mainly, the warm-up should serve to raise your heart rate, warm-up your muscles, but not tire you out by using up all your energy. That’s why you should be working at around 40-60% aerobic intensity, or in other words, break a light/mild sweat without being fatigued. Lastly, dynamic stretching, also called active stretching, involves performing a movement while concurrently doing a stretch. The picture below shows a woman doing a walking lunge, which is a great example of a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretching is the way to go for injury prevention because it improves range of motion while maintaining that active state of muscle warming. Again, dynamic stretches should be specific to the activity and the movements it involves. The stretching portion of your warm-up should be completed within 15 mins prior to your activity. Overall, using this rough guideline will ensure that you are getting the most benefit from your warm-up.
The Main Takeaways!
- Get moving and mimic movement patterns you would use during your activity
- Your warm-up should be somewhere around 40-60% aerobic intensity and not tire you out completely
- Target muscles groups you will be using, specific to your activity
- Include dynamic stretches of those specific muscles into your warm-up
- Conduct dynamic stretching within the 15 mins right before your activity
Woods, K., Bishop, P., & Jones, E. (2007). Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine, 37(12), 1089-1099.