Warming up: Benefits, risk factors, research and recommendations

What is warming up? Warming up is simply a short physical activity that prepares your body before doing an exercise or workout.

It essentially warms your body by executing activities at a slower pace with reduced intensity. The purpose of a warm-up is to increase the body temperature, particularly the muscles. 

When you warm up, your blood flow and flexibility may improve. Also, doing warm-ups may cause mild sweating generally; however, it should not make you feel tired or fatigued. 

Moreover, you may experience an increased heart rate and faster breathing, promoting blood flow to the muscles and providing them with more oxygen and nutrients to prevent fatigue. 

As you prepare the muscles for exercise or a workout, your reaction time may also improve, and your nerve pathways will be ready for exercise. 

Aside from the physical benefits of warming up, this short physical activity prepares you mentally for the upcoming exercises. Warming up may encompass a variety of exercises and stretches. 

Movements in warming up

However, contrary to common beliefs, stretching as a warm-up may not warm you up properly. Instead, a dynamic warm-up also called dynamic stretching, is considered more effective. 

Dynamic warm-up allows you to move multiple muscles and joints, which is better than the common stretching called static stretching, where your body holds still. 

movements in warming up

Ideally, a warm-up session should last about five to ten minutes. Selecting a type of warm-up that mimics the exercises you will be executing is also advisable. 

For instance, if you are about to do weight-lifting exercises, you are advised to do similar movements but without the weights. Some other kinds of warm-up exercises include the following:

  • Leg bends
  • Leg swings
  • Shoulder or arm circles 
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jumping rope
  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Walking or a slow jog
  • Yoga
  • Torso twists
  • Sanding side bends
  • Lateral shuffle
  • Butt kickers
  • Knee bends
  • Ankle circles

Types of warm-up exercises

Warming up has several types that you can choose from depending on your physical condition, chosen physical activity, fitness goal and some other health factors.

You can choose whether you will have an active or passive warm-up; similar routines also include stretching that can be categorized into dynamic and static.

Active warm-ups

Among the most popular warm-up exercises are the active ones. Health researchers have suggested that doing active warm-ups may improve physical performance as long as they are not too intense [1]. 

Moreover, an appropriate warm-up routine can potentially improve the way your body uses oxygen without depleting its energy stores. Most of the time, health experts advise doing a general aerobic-type warm-up with a sports-specific one. 

Passive warm-ups

In doing passive warm-ups, the body temperature gets high because of some external means, like a hot bath or sauna. 

The warm-up method achieves many similar results as active warm-ups, but the good thing is that you don’t get much fatigue compared to active warm-ups. 

On the negative side, passive warm-ups may not provide all the good benefits provided by doing an active warm-up. The majority of the time, a passive warm-up is used to keep the body temperature between an active warm-up and an athletic performance.

Static stretching

You can achieve static stretching by simply holding a position for 30 to 90 seconds; in fact, this warm-up was once a part of most routines. Research suggests that static stretching may hurt performance [2]. 

Furthermore, static stretches are found to be used to loosen a joint, but health experts argue that they are more suitable as a post-workout warm-up. Also, bouncing during a stretch called ballistic stretching, is not advisable as it can cause injuries.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching promotes body movements that mimic the coming activity. For instance, runners do walking lunges to warm up before their race. 

Meanwhile, swimmers are most likely to do shoulder rolls and arm circles because of the nature of their sport. The dynamic stretches are repeated 10 to 12 times without bouncing.

Why do you need to warm up? 

Performing a proper warm-up before any type of physical activity is extremely advisable and necessary.

The main purpose of warming up is to help your body prevent any minor or major injuries by increasing the body’s core and muscle temperature.

Warming up the muscles can increase the rate of energy production as well, which then increases reflexes and decreases the time it takes to contract a single muscle. 

An effective warm-up must increase your range of motion and mentally prepare you for exercise. Also, the kind of warm-up routine you will do should be based on the specific type of exercise you will perform. 

However, your warm-up should be a full body despite only planning to work out a few muscle groups.

For instance, performing a leg workout requires you to do a set of warm-up movements involving lower-body exercises, but it should also include a few upper-body or full-body exercises. 

Warming up and dynamic exercises

A warm-up must include multiple dynamic exercises, which should continuously increase in intensity when you get closer to the workout. 

Dynamic exercises allow you to stretch through a full range of motion, but the stretch is not held in the ending position. 

Meanwhile, the static stretches or the typical stretching warm-up are held in the ending position; hence, they are not ideal for an effective warm-up because they limit the blood flow to the muscle.

Additionally, static stretches are much advisable to be performed after a workout as part of your body’s cool down. They are great for increasing flexibility but are not very supportive of the meaning of a warm-up.

Warming up must begin with simple, gentle exercises that can increase your body’s core and muscle temperature but still can progress to dynamic stretches, causing an increase in your end range of motion.

Throughout a warm up, your heart rate should also be increasingly elevating to prepare you for exercise. For example, start with walking for a few minutes and then progress to a jog. 

For example, after jogging, your heart rate is expected to elevate and muscle temperature rise within only a few minutes.

Then, you can begin performing dynamic stretches, like knee hugs, Frankensteins, walking quad stretches or lunge and twist. 

After dynamic stretches, your body muscles are then moving freely through your full range–this is the period to increase the intensity. 

You can add in a few faster dynamic movements or more multi-body part exercises, including high knees, butt kickers and even side shuffles or sprints.  

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Benefits of warming up 

1 . Help increase body and muscle temperature 

A beneficial warm-up may raise your body temperature, which particularly helps your muscles. 

When your muscle temperature increases, oxygen becomes more useful to your muscles. The oxygen for muscles allows them to contract and relax more freely. 

As a result, you can perform more strenuous physical activity with ease. Plus, your heart is then given a chance to prepare, which means that it will not be that strained during your exercise or workout. 

2 . Reduce the risk of having any injuries

Attending the gym and performing exercises or workout routines are all for the good of your body. Hence, the last thing you want is to get injuries. 

Warming up is particularly designed and developed to pair with your workout. It helps improve muscle elasticity and allows your muscle to have an efficient cooling, which means less chance of accidentally hurting yourself or overheating while you are working out. 

Reduce the risk of having any injuries

3. Help to mentally prepare before exercise or workout routine

Jumping straight to working out without having adequate time to prepare yourself can throw you off completely, particularly if the needed preparation is more mental rather than physical.

Without warming up, you may find yourself having less motivation and easy to give up when the workout sets become challenging. 

You can ultimately extend your workout performance by warming up your body, especially muscles and joints, before carrying heavy weights or doing intense physical activity. 

You can use your time warming up and, at the same time, think about your workout plans and guarantee that both your body and mind are ready to achieve your fitness goals. 

4. Boost flexibility and help with other exercises 

Stretching, which is often associated with enhanced flexibility, is part of the ideal warm-up routine.

When you stretch your body, you allow an increase of blood flow to your muscles and body flexibility in both the short and long term. 

Also, there is always a plus when it comes to properly performing an exercise or workout. Stretching after you have already executed your warm-up is not advisable. When you do stretching and your muscles are not properly warmed up, you are at a high risk of several injuries.

5. Prepare to tackle the heavy-duty machines at the gym 

If you aim to build more muscles, using machines at the gym may help; however, you must do that after you loosen up your joints. 

Warming up ensures your body and mind are in sync and in the right state to handle gym equipment and workout routines; again this may reduce your risk of injury.  

Similar to an ideal warm-up, your preparation for a workout should also involve securing to use suitable equipment for the sets you plan to perform.

The common warm-up exercises you may follow, as recommended by many health experts, include the following: 

  • Jogging on the spot for several minutes or running on the treadmill
  • Cycling, whether at the gym or outside
  • Fast-paced walking 
  • Walking up and down the stairs 
  • Fast-paced side stepping 
  • Arm swings
  • Lunges 
  • Squats

You can simply perform your workout at a much slower pace to ready your body [3]. 

The benefits of warming up before exercising or working out are evident. Warming up can help you achieve fitness goals at the gym.

It is clear that fitness gurus, gym rats or those simply trying to enhance their health should not overlook warming up. 

Risk factors of warming up 

If you are not warming up properly or do not actually perform it before exercising, there are several risk factors that you may put yourself on, such as the following:

Increases the risk of injury

The major risk factor when you do not warm up properly before exercise is an increased risk of injury.

A body that is cold and stiff is more prone to strains, sprains and tears, as cold muscles are less pliable and more likely to experience tears when under stress. 

Warming up allows you to have an increased blood flow to the muscles, which results in increased temperature.

The increased blood flow and temperature support your muscles to become more pliable, reducing the risk of injury.

Many scientists have deeply studied the benefits of warming up protocols concerning injury risk.

Experiencing injuries is one big risk factor in both general fitness and athletics; hence, any means of reducing injury risk is highly valuable.

In a 2022 study using meta-analysis, the researchers found that warming-up programs can reduce the incidents of sports injuries [4]. An earlier study suggests the same conclusions [5]. 

Although some studies did not derive the same findings, there is still overwhelming evidence from published studies supporting the use of warm-ups to reduce injury risk during physical activity. Given this, when you skip, warming up can increase the risk of injury.

Lowers physical performance

You may lower your physical performance when you do not warm up properly. A cold body is less efficient at producing energy.

This means you may have less energy to use during your workout, which can result in lowered physical performance.

Warming up may aid in increasing blood flow to the muscles, which in turn helps to increase the body’s temperature. 

Warm-ups can increase blood flow and temperature and aid in improving the efficiency of the muscles, allowing you to perform at your best.

Aside from preventing you from injury, warming up before your workout or activity plays a direct role in increasing your performance. 

With the substantial interest in maximizing athletic performance, many studies have certainly looked into the matter.

One of them is a 2010 meta-analysis which found out that over 79 per cent of studies on the relationship between warming up and physical performance revealed that warming up may lead to improved performance in various activities [6]. 

Consequently, skipping warm-ups may reduce your performance.

Increases the risk of muscle soreness

Muscle soreness after a workout routine is a common indication of making progress in fitness. However, there is no harm in lessening soreness and its corresponding discomfort by performing side-effect-free methods, like warming up.

When you don’t warm up properly, you are at a high risk of experiencing muscle soreness after a workout.

It happens due to unprepared muscles that can’t meet the demands of certain physical activities, making it easier for them to be damaged. 

As mentioned, warming up increases blood flow to the muscles, and the body temperature can reduce muscle soreness.

While you can’t fully remove soreness by doing a warm-up, a 2012 study suggests that an aerobic warm-up may help in reducing muscle soreness, particularly in areas of each muscle that are closer to your body [7]. 

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Easily gets you tired

Skipping warm-ups before exercise may also lead to fatigue. Having a cold and stiff body may not give you the boost you need to complete your sets. Putting soothing heat on your muscles can help them jumpstart as you start your intense workout.

Research about warming up

There are many studies investigating the effects and benefits of warming up to certain conditions or physical training, such as the following: 

Warming up with stretching on isokinetic 

A study was conducted aiming to determine the effects of warm-ups with stretching on the isokinetic moments of collegiate men. 

The research wants to further clarify the real effect of stretching during warm-ups, specifically on muscle strength, muscle power and muscle endurance in a nonathletic population.

Hence, the subjects of the study involved 13 physically active male collegiate students with no medical conditions. 

The researchers found that simple stretching in warm-ups may have no effect on variables of exercise physiology in nonathletes who participate in routine recreational sports activities. 

Nonetheless, warm-ups with stretching may seem to have a significant effect on exercise performance by attaining psychological stability, preparation and confidence in exercise performance [8]. 

Warm-up for resistance training

In another study in 2021 angled from a different perspective, the researchers analyzed and discussed the main results of the compiled literature regarding the effects of warming up on force production. They also further analyze the responses during resistance training and maximal strength assessments. 

The analysis included a search of four databases, such as Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed and ScienceDirect, particularly those for original research published until November 2020. Then, the study outcomes were critically analyzed. 

In the end, experts found that the literature proved that there is still little agreement on what must be the best warm-up to be used for strength performance and training. 

Given this, the researchers concluded that more research should be conducted and new research methods and approaches must be taken to clarify this issue [9]. 

Short-time high-intensity warm-up

Short-time high-intensity warm-up

Moreover, a study aiming to find the effects of an experimental short-time high-intensity warm-up on explosive muscle strength performance was conducted among soccer players. 

The research involved 20 male soccer players who were given the following tests: 

  • The counter-movement jump (CMJ) test with the Microgate system
  • The counter-movement jump (CMJ) test with the MyJump smartphone app
  • The handgrip strength test

This experimental short-time high-intensity warm-up was carried out for one week after test administration. The warm-up included three maximum sprints over 60 m with 120 s of muscle recovery between sprints. 

Then, the study tests were administered again: 

  • The vertical jump height (VJH) performances were administered within five trials and were measured 90 s after the last sprint. 
  • The handgrip strength performances were administered within three trials and were measured 120 s after the last vertical jump test.

The research concluded that the experimental short-time warm-up of high-intensity intermittent sprints is a simple, quick and efficient activity to accelerate the optimal performance of soccer players [10]. 

Recommendations 

As reiterated many times, warming up is extremely important to achieve your fitness goals, and every kind of workout should incorporate one. 

There are three (3) main functions of an effective warm-up: 

  • First, warming up should raise the temperature of the body and increase blood flow through muscles. This way, you prevent yourself from getting an injury and allow your muscles to work optimally.
  • Secondly, performing a warm-up prime the muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons for the forces and ranges of motion experienced in the workout.
  • Lastly, warming up can stimulate your nervous system and prepare the body for competition-specific activities.

Two kinds of warming up

The general warm-up

This warm-up should be completed before doing any weight training or cardiovascular workout. The general warm-up must only be taken no more than 15 minutes. Some examples you may follow are: 

  • Jumping jacks
  • Lateral jumps
  • Lunges
  • Jogging
  • Brisk walking

You can try doing a warm-up with a sweatshirt in order to help raise your body temperature. Take note, though, that you should break into a light sweat while warming up. 

Plus, you can do a general warm-up without sneakers to aid in strengthening the muscles of the foot and ankle–keep in mind and consider this part of your workout so you will never go wrong. 

The specific warm-up

This warm-up may vary based on the particular exercise you plan to do. Warming up with lower weights can benefit in grooving the correct movement patterns related to muscle memory. Plus, it also helps prepare the central nervous system and muscles for a maximal effort lift.

Some lower body-specific moves include: 

  • Quadruped hip circles
  • Body squats
  • Light sets of lower body lifts, such as deadlifts, squats and short sprints
  • Upper body-specific moves, including pushups, arm circles, “No Moneys,” band pull-aparts, light bench pressing or military pressing [11].

Examples of warm-up routines 

Squats

Squats are quite a versatile exercise that targets various muscles specific to the lower body. Some warm-up movements may include: 

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

You can try to make your first few squats easier by going down halfway. From there, you can slowly increase the difficulty and make it more challenging, making the last few repetitions to be full squats.

Once you complete your warm-up and feel the heat in your muscles, you can then eventually increase the intensity by holding weights when you do your squats.

Planks

Another great warm-up movement to add to your routine is planks. Planking is an excellent warm-up movement to build stronger core and back strength, as well as improve balance and posture.

Once you complete your warm-up and feel the heat in your muscles, you can further challenge yourself by performing planking variations, such as the forearm plank and side plank.

Side lunges

Side lunge exercise works better on your lower body and can help strengthen your legs, glutes and hips.

On your first try, you can make the first few lunges easier by only going halfway down and then progressing to the full lunge.

Once you complete your warm-up and feel the heat in your muscles, you can increase its difficulty by executing a set using dumbbells or opposite hand reaches.

Pushups

Pushups are a classic exercise that works perfectly on your upper body, core and glutes. If you are a starter, you can make it less challenging by doing pushups on your knees.

Once you completed your warm-up and feel the heat in your muscles, you can increase its difficulty by pausing in the lower position for a few seconds.

Triceps warm-up

Triceps warm-up exercise involves a few movements that can help loosen up and warm up your triceps. Doing a triceps warm-up may improve flexibility, lengthen muscles and boost your range of motion. 

Also, triceps warm-up can help in preventing tight muscles, loosening connective tissues and promoting circulation–all while using no or minimal equipment.

Jogging leg lifts 

Jogging leg lifts may help in getting your heart pumping and improve circulation throughout the body.

Depending on the space you have for the exercise of a workout, you should jog in place or run back and forth. 

Perform jogging leg lifts for each segment within 30 seconds to 1 minute. You may reduce the intensity of jogging leg lifts by doing it at a walking pace.

Although a challenging exercise, jogging leg lifts are specifically designed to target the lower and upper abdominal muscles.

The exercise also builds strength in the lower and upper abdominal regions–think of them as a straight-leg reverse crunch.

 Above all these, jogging leg lifts are also a superlative workout to enhance flexibility across the back extensors and hip flexors.

Takeaways

It is recommended to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes warming up, and you should take note that the more intense your workout is going to be, the longer your warm-up must be. 

You are advised to focus first on large muscle groups and then perform warm-ups that imitate some of the movements you plan to perform.

Although many times overlooked, warm-up exercises are a significant part of any exercise or workout routine. Similar to eating where you need appetizers, your body needs warm-up to stimulate your muscles to prepare.

Overall, warming up can help in boosting your flexibility and athletic performance and also reduce your chance of injury.

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[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19996770/ 
[2] https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/static-stretching-and-performance/ 
[3] https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/keeping-active/before-and-after-exercise/warm-up-and-cool-down 
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9140806/ 
[5] http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK72912/ 
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19996770/ 
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3588693/ 
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5833972/ 
[9] https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/75109 
[10] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2022.984305/full 
[11] https://www1.villanova.edu/content/dam/villanova/studentlife/documents/healthpromotion/WarmupGuidelines.pdf

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