Author: Bridget Davidson
Anyone who has ever played a sport has done hundreds of warm-ups in their lifetime. We have been taught a wide variety of warm-ups routines by our coaches, told to do this but not to do that. We do different warm-ups for different sports, different ages, and different competition levels. As an athlete, you are constantly told that your warm-up is extremely important for your performance. I have even been told by coaches that the warm-up is the most important part of the workout or training session. But why exactly is your warm-up important? What are the benefits of warming up? Are there “good” and “bad” ways to warm-up? These are just a few of the questions that many of us have regarding our warm-ups that we will try to answer today.
When should you warm-up?
Obviously, warm-ups should be performed directly before exercise, but how much time should you leave for rest between your warm-up and exercise? There is not an optimal amount of time to have between warm-up and competition. However, it is suggested that longer breaks or recovery periods between warm-up and exercise are linked to decreased performance. In fact, it has been found that resting for too long after warming-up can eliminate the benefits of performing the warm-up in the first place. Because of this, it is recommended that you only rest for five to ten minutes between warm-up and competition .
Effects of cold temperatures on warm-ups
When doing a warm-up before exercise, it is important to account for the environment in which you will be exercising. When exercising or playing sports outside or in colder environments, warming-up properly is even more important. When in a cold environment, the benefits of the warm-up can be negated quicker than they are normally during rest between warm-up and exercise. Cold temperatures can negate warm-up benefits because they are associated with increased muscle stiffness, decreased neuromuscular activity, inhibition of the stretch reflex pathway, and peripheral vasoconstriction, all of which can impair blood flow and oxygen delivery to exercising muscles, which ultimately can affect exercise performance . Because of this, it is important to remember that you should plan your warm-up out so that you have as little rest as possible before performing in outdoor competitions or exercise when it is cold . Additionally, since cold temperatures can negate warm-up benefits, it is important to note that after resting for a significant amount of time during a sporting event (i.e. sitting on the bench as a substitute), you should highly consider doing another warm-up before participating in the competition. In general, it is important to carefully consider your warm-up routine when exercising in a cold environment because your warm-up planning and execution can significantly impact your exercise performance.
Warm-ups and exercise-induced asthma
Other than just preparing your body for exercise, warm-ups can be beneficial for individuals with exercise-induced asthma. Certain kinds of warm-ups have been shown to reduce symptoms of exercise-induced asthma such as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). EIB is a symptom of asthma where intense bouts of exercise induce the constriction of the bronchioles, or airways in the lungs. Studies have shown that warm-up protocols that incorporate short intervals of high intensity exercise can prevent and reduce the severity of EIB , . More specifically it is suggested that in order to most effectively reduce EIB symptoms, your warm-up should be done in an intensity range of 60-80% of your maximal heart rate (HRmax) .
How to calculate HRmax:
HRmax = 220 – age
Example: If you were 25 years old, your age-predicted HRmax would be 220 – 25 = 195 beats per minute.
In this example, to warm-up at 60-80% of your HRmax, you would need to exercise at an intensity that gets your heart rate between 117 and 156 beats per minutes.
General vs. specific warm-ups – which is better?
There are many kinds of warm-up protocols, but most can be categorized as general or specific. General warm-ups typically consist of moderate intensity aerobic exercise like jogging or cycling. Specific warm-ups typically involve movements that are closely related to the movements of the exercise or workout that is going to be performed. But are general or specific warm-ups better? Research has shown that it is best to do a combination of a general and specific warm-up.
This mixture of a general and specific warm-up is especially important when warming up for maximum strength tests. It has been shown that performing a moderate intensity general warm-up of about 20-minutes in length and an exercise-specific warm-up can increase one repetition maximum performance . Therefore, it is important to remember to incorporate both a general and specific warm-up if you are performing maximum strength exercises or tests. Additionally, it has been shown that performing activity specific warm-ups are best for speed training and improving sprint performance. It has also been shown that the addition of short period static stretching within an activity-specific warm-up can help increase range of motion and flexibility . For sports like soccer that can be both high intensity and endurance activities, combination warm-ups have been shown to acutely improve sport-specific performance. These combination warm-ups include general dynamic stretching and high-intensity exercise intervals with sport-specific heavy resistance bouts (i.e. weighted squats) . In sports like baseball, it has been found that a generalized, dynamic warm-up increases lower body explosiveness , which can lead to an improvement in sport-specific performance. However, this isn’t to say that a generalized, dynamic warm-up is the only way to see performance improvements, as further improvements would most likely be seen if a combination warm-up routine was performed.
Overall, general and specific warm-ups are both effective warm-up protocols. They both have benefits to offer depending on what kind of exercise you are performing, but most often, it is to your benefit to do a combination warm-up that is both generalized and activity specific.
With warm-ups, less is more
Lastly, when doing a pre-exercise warm-up, it is important to remember that less truly is more. Studies have shown that warm-ups that are too intense can cause fatigue, which can impair exercise performance. Warm-ups need to be intense enough and long enough in duration to be effective at preparing the body for exercise, but doing too much can be more harmful than helpful . So how long should your warm-up actually be? In general, it is best to aim for a warm-up of five to ten minutes in length, with five minutes being a bare minimum . The duration of your warm-up routine can vary day-to-day based on a lot of factors such as muscle soreness, current fitness level, current health status, etc. Overall, it is best to listen to your body and adjust your warm-up accordingly to your needs.
So, does your warm-up actually matter? In short, yes. Warm-ups are important for a laundry-list of reasons, including but not limited to: preparing your body for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, improving performance in cold temperatures , reducing symptoms of exercise-induced asthma such as EIB , , improving sport-specific and exercise performance , , , , increasing flexibility and range of motion , and reducing risk of injury.
Maybe our coaches over the years have been telling the truth when saying that our warm-up is extremely important for our performance. Even though we can agree that pre-exercise warm-ups are necessary, we cannot say that there is one absolutely “right” way to do a warm-up. This is because warm-ups vary greatly on an individual basis; they depend on the individual’s abilities, the type of exercise or competition, and the exercise goals of the individual. Therefore, every individual’s warm-up won’t look the same, but they are all just as beneficial.
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