Do you like to exercise, but don’t know how to warm up properly? Have you ever been injured because you didn’t prepare your body before training? Do you want to improve your performance and health when doing physical activity? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is for you.
In this article, I’m going to explain what the warm-up is, why it’s important, what types of warm-ups exist depending on the sport or exercise you’re going to do, what steps you should follow to warm up well, what exercises you can do to warm up different parts of your body, and what tips you should keep in mind to warm up properly and avoid injuries.
Also, at the end of the article, you’ll find an FAQ section, where I’ll answer some of the most common questions about warming. So, if you want to learn how to prepare your body for exercise, read on and find out everything you need to know about warming up.
What is warming and why is it important?
Definition of Heating
The warm-up is the set of exercises that are performed before doing a physical activity, in order to prepare the body for the effort it is going to make. The warm-up aims to increase body temperature, heart rate, and blood circulation, as well as activate the muscular, joint, nervous, and respiratory systems.
Goals and benefits of warming
Warming up has several goals and benefits, both physically and psychologically. Some of them are:
- Improve athletic performance by facilitating muscle contraction and relaxation, motor coordination, reaction speed, strength, endurance and flexibility.
- Prevent injury by reducing muscle stiffness, increasing the elasticity of tendons and ligaments, lubricating joints, and preventing tears, sprains, contractures, and fractures.
- Prepare the body for exercise by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, heart and brain, regulating pH and metabolism, and optimizing energy intake.
- Prepare the individual for exercise by improving mood, motivation, concentration, confidence, self-esteem and attitude.
Consequences of not warming up before training
Not warming up before training can have negative consequences for health and athletic performance. Some of them are:
- Decrease athletic performance, leading to lower muscle efficiency, increased fatigue, lower aerobic and anaerobic capacity, lower power, and lower accuracy.
- Increase the risk of injury, by generating greater muscle tension, less tissue resistance, greater joint friction, and a greater likelihood of cramps, pulls, tears, inflammations, and tears.
- Alter the functioning of the body, by causing an increased demand for oxygen and nutrients, increased production of lactic acid and free radicals, increased loss of fluids and electrolytes, and further disruption of acid-base balance.
- Affect the psychological state, by generating greater anxiety, stress, nervousness, distraction, insecurity and fear.
Types of warm-up depending on the sport or exercise
General and specific warm-up
The warm-up can be classified into two types according to the degree of specificity it has with respect to the sport or exercise to be performed: the general warm-up and the specific warm-up.
The general warm-up is the one that is done to activate the whole body, without focusing on any particular muscle group or movement. The general warm-up usually includes joint mobility exercises, cardiovascular activation, and gentle stretching. The general warm-up can be done before any physical activity, and usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.
The specific warm-up is the one that is done to prepare the muscles, joints and movements that are going to be used in the sport or exercise that is going to be performed. The specific warm-up usually includes muscle activation exercises, neuromuscular and sports technique. The specific warm-up should be done after the general warm-up, and usually lasts between 5 and 10 minutes.
Dynamic & Static Heating
The warm-up can also be classified into two types depending on the type of muscle contraction that occurs: the dynamic warm-up and the static warm-up.
Dynamic warm-up is performed through continuous, repetitive movements, which involve alternating contraction and relaxation of the muscles. The dynamic warm-up typically includes exercises such as jumping, running, spinning, swinging, throwing, and striking. The dynamic warm-up is the most recommended to prepare the body for exercise, as it improves circulation, temperature, elasticity and coordination.
Static warm-up is performed through fixed and sustained postures, which involve a sustained contraction of the muscles. Static warm-ups usually include exercises such as stretching, push-ups, planks, and sit-ups. Static warm-up is the least recommended to prepare the body for exercise, as it reduces circulation, temperature, elasticity, and coordination.
Warm-up according to the intensity and duration of the exercise
The warm-up can also be adapted according to the intensity and duration of the exercise to be performed. The higher the intensity and duration of the exercise, the greater the intensity and duration of the warm-up. Some general guidelines are:
- For low-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, the warm-up should be low-intensity and of short duration, between 5 and 10 minutes.
- For medium-intensity, medium-duration exercises, such as running, cycling or tennis, the warm-up should be of medium intensity and medium duration, between 15 and 20 minutes.
- For high-intensity, long-duration exercises, such as sprinting, crossfit, or soccer, the warm-up should be high-intensity and long-lasting, between 25 and 30 minutes.
Steps to a good warm-up
Joint Mobility Phase
The joint mobility phase is the first part of the warm-up, and consists of performing gentle, circular movements of all the joints in the body, from head to toe. The goal of this phase is to lubricate joints, increase range of motion, and prevent injury. Some exercises that can be done in this phase are:
- Turn your head from side to side and up and down.
- Shrink and stretch your shoulders.
- Move your arms forward, backward, and sideways.
- Rotate your wrists and fingers.
- Tilt the trunk sideways and forward and backward.
- Rotate your waist.
- Move your hips in circles.
- Bend and extend your knees
- Rotate your ankles and toes.
Cardiovascular Activation Phase
The cardio activation phase is the second part of the warm-up, and consists of performing exercises that increase heart rate and breathing, such as running, jumping, pedaling, or rowing. The goal of this phase is to improve the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, heart, and brain, and prepare the body for exercise. Some exercises that can be done in this phase are:
- Run at a gentle or moderate pace for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Jump rope, bench or drawer for 2 to 5 minutes.
- Pedal on a stationary or elliptical bike for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Paddle a paddle machine or kayak for 5 to 10 minutes.
Muscle Activation Phase
The muscle activation phase is the third part of the warm-up, and consists of performing exercises that involve the main muscle groups that are going to be used in the sport or exercise that is going to be performed, such as push-ups, squats, sit-ups or lower back. The goal of this phase is to increase the temperature and elasticity of the muscles, and prevent injury. Some exercises that can be done in this phase are:
- Push-ups, with your hands flat on the floor or an elevated surface, to activate your chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles.
- Squats, with your legs hip-width apart and your feet slightly out, to activate your leg and glute muscles.
- Crunches, with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor, and your hands behind your head or crossed over your chest, to activate your abdominal muscles.
- Lower back, with your legs straight and your feet flat on the floor, and your hands behind your head or crossed over your chest, to activate your lower back muscles.
Neuromuscular Activation Phase
The neuromuscular activation phase is the fourth and final part of the warm-up, and consists of performing exercises that improve coordination, balance, agility and speed of movements, such as skips, heels to the gluteus, multi-jumps or changes of direction. The goal of this phase is to improve the connection between the nervous system and the muscular system, and to optimize sports technique. Some exercises that can be done in this phase are:
- Skips, which consist of raising your knees to your chest alternately, while running with your arms in rhythm.
- Heels to the buttocks, which consist of bringing the heels to the buttocks alternately, while running with the arms in rhythm.
- Multi-jumps, which consist of jumping with both legs or with only one leg, forward, backward or sideways, with or without obstacles.
- Changes of direction, which consist of running in zigzags, diagonally, curves or spirals, changing direction and pace.
Warm-up for gym
A gym warm-up is a specific type of warm-up that is done before doing a training session with weights, machines, or accessories. The goal of this warm-up is to prepare the muscles, joints and movements that are going to be worked in the gym, and to avoid injuries. A gym warm-up usually includes the following steps:
- Perform a general warm-up phase, with joint mobility exercises and cardiovascular activation, for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Perform a specific warm-up phase, with muscle and neuromuscular activation exercises, focused on the muscle groups to be trained, for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Perform a progressive warm-up phase, with exercises similar to those that will be done in training, but with less weight and more repetitions, gradually increasing the load and decreasing the number of repetitions, until you reach the desired weight and repetitions, for 5 or 10 minutes.
Tips for Warming Up Properly and Avoiding Injuries
Adapt the warm-up to the physical level and the training objective
A good tip to warm up properly and avoid injuries is to adapt the warm-up to the physical level and the goal of the training. Warming up for a beginner is not the same as for an advanced person, nor for a person who wants to lose weight than for a person who wants to gain muscle. Therefore, it is important to adjust the intensity, duration and type of warm-up exercises to the characteristics and needs of each person and each session.
Do not skip or shorten the warm-up
Another good tip to warm up properly and avoid injury is not to skip or shorten the warm-up. Sometimes, due to lack of time, desire or knowledge, you can make the mistake of not warming up or doing it insufficiently. This can have negative consequences for health and athletic performance, as we have seen above. That’s why it’s important to dedicate the necessary time to warming up, and not consider it a waste of time, but an investment in health.
Don’t confuse warming up with stretching
A third good tip for warming up properly and avoiding injury is not to confuse warming up with stretching. Although both are important for health and athletic performance, they are not the same, nor should they be done in the same way. The warm-up is done before exercise, and consists of performing dynamic exercises that increase the temperature and elasticity of the muscles. Stretching is done after exercise, and consists of performing static exercises that relax and lengthen the muscles. Stretching before exercise can be counterproductive, as it can reduce muscle strength and power, and increase the risk of injury.
Do not perform exercises that cause pain or discomfort
A fourth good tip for warming up properly and avoiding injury is not to perform exercises that cause pain or discomfort. The warm-up should be a time of preparation and enjoyment, not suffering and frustration. Therefore, it is important to listen to your body, and avoid doing exercises that cause pain or discomfort, whether due to lack of technique, excess load, previous injury or any other reason. If you feel pain or discomfort, you should stop exercising and consult a health or sports professional.
Hydrate properly before, during, and after warm-up
A fifth and final good tip for warming up properly and avoiding injury is to hydrate properly before, during, and after the warm-up. Warming up involves a loss of fluids and electrolytes through sweat, which can affect the body’s electrolyte balance, leading to dehydration, cramps, dizziness, nausea or fatigue. Therefore, it is important to drink water or isotonic drinks before, during and after the warm-up, to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes, and maintain the optimal hydration level.
Objective: to prepare the body and mind for exercise, improve athletic performance and prevent injuries. The warm-up should be adapted to the physical level and the objective of the training, and should include four phases: joint mobility, cardiovascular activation, muscle activation and neuromuscular activation. In addition, some tips should be followed to warm up properly and avoid injuries, such as not skipping or shortening the warm-up, not confusing warm-up with stretching, not performing exercises that cause pain or discomfort, and hydrating properly before, during, and after the warm-up.
Frequently asked questions
How long should the warm-up last?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as how long the warm-up should last depends on several factors, such as fitness level, training goal, type of exercise, ambient temperature, and personal preference. However, it can be said that, in general, the warm-up should last between 20 and 30 minutes, divided between the four phases we have seen: joint mobility, cardiovascular activation, muscle activation, and neuromuscular activation.
What is the difference between warming up and cooling?
The difference between warm-up and cool-down is that warm-up is done before exercise, and cool-down is done after exercise. The goal of the warm-up is to prepare the body and mind for exercise, and the goal of cool-down is to recover the body and mind from the exercise. The warm-up is based on dynamic exercises that increase the temperature and elasticity of the muscles, and the cool-down is based on static exercises that relax and lengthen the muscles. Warming up improves athletic performance and prevents injuries, and cool-down reduces fatigue and soreness, and promotes muscle regeneration.