Exercising: Warm ups – what, why & when!


Warm-ups: we all know we’re meant to do them, but who really wants to waste that valuable time when you could get stuck straight in to your training or game. Especially as the temperature drops, winter sets in and everyone wants to be back indoors as quickly as possible!

You might think of a warm-up as running a couple of low-intensity laps around the oval before a training session, or jumping on the bike or rower for 5 minutes before a gym session – basically anything to get the heart pumping a bit faster and the body feeling a bit warmer, but you should think about a warm-up as much more than that!

​Let’s look at what a warm-up can really offer you…

Why should I warm up?

Studies Racinais and Oksa (2010) found that a variation in muscle temperature of just one degree Celsius can modify performance by 2-5%.

To put that into perspective – an average vertical jump height for a male is around 45cm. Adding 5% increases the jump to 47.25cm, this may not seem like much, but 2.5cm in the basketball world could be the difference between a block or a basket.

Effective implementation of a warm-up strategies also reduces the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury by loosening up your joints and improving blood flow to your muscles you are significantly reducing risk of soft tissue rips and tears, or joints twisting in a harmful way.

So what actually happens?

For us to move, our muscles contract and relax to bend our joints. As we move, heat is produced by friction from sliding filaments during muscle contractions. More blood flows to our working muscles, our blood vessels expand to help the blood flow through easily, and the viscosity (thickness) of our tissues reduces – this makes our muscles and joints less stiff.

​Like when you’re chewing gum, or playing with play dough, or preparing to roll out your famous homemade pizza dough. It can be a tough job to start with, but as you apply pressure it starts to become easier and easier to move and shape, until suddenly you’re the master of the gum/dough and it can be moulded however you want. We want to be the master of our muscles.

Elevating tissue temperatures also results in nerve impulses travelling more rapidly, meaning our rate of muscle contractions and reaction time will be faster.

So what’s wrong with the 2 minute jog?

Warm-ups that include specific drills like movement preparation, muscle activation, dynamic stretching and mobility work have shown to have the most benefits to both performance (Fradkin et al. 2010), and injury prevention. So if we want to be able to sprint faster, or lift heavier, then we need to make sure we’re focusing on the right movements in our warm-ups.

​But not only from a physical perspective – when our warm-ups involve skill-specific movements it gives us the chance to visualise our goals, mentally prepare for the game or session at hand, and connect with teammates, coaches and our surrounding environment.

Then how should I warm-up?

Depending on what your session involves, each warm-up will be different:

  • Any sports involving sprinting movements need some prepared glute, hamstring, and calf muscles.
  • Need to be jumping higher during your game? Then don’t forget to actually jump before you get on the court.
  • Planning on hitting your squat PB? Chances are much lower if your ankles aren’t going to let you get down that low, if all the muscles that make up your glutes aren’t ready to go, or your back and the small muscles around your spine aren’t able to get into the positions they need to be.
  • ​Tackling a frosty 6am run? Let’s think about what we’re wearing, and how that temperature is going to affect us.

​Not sure whether you’re getting the most out of your warm-up? Accredited Exercise Physiologist Brodie can help you find that extra 5%, for more information or bookings phone 02 5926 3806.

If you are in pain, or have an injury – let us help!

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