The warm up activities are a crucial part of any exercise regime or sports training. The importance of a structured warm
up routine should not be under estimated when it comes to the prevention of sports injury.
An effective warm up has a number of very important key elements. These elements, or parts, should all be working together
to minimize the likelihood of sports injury from physical activity.
Warming up prior to any physical activity does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its main purpose is to prepare
the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by helping to increase the body's core
temperature, while also increasing the body's muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you're helping to make
the muscles loose, supple and pliable.
An effective warm up also has the effect of increasing both your heart rate and your respiratory rate. This increases
blood flow, which in turn increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. All this helps to prepare
the muscles, tendons and joints for more strenuous activity.
Keeping in mind the aims or goals of an effective warm up, we can then go on to look at how the warm up should be structured.
Obviously, it's important to start with the easiest and most gentle activity first, building upon each part with more
energetic activities, until the body is at a physical and mental peak. This is the state in which the body is most prepared
for the physical activity to come, and where the likelihood of sports injury has been minimized as much as possible. So, how
should you structure your warm up to achieve these goals?
There are four key elements, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete warm up. They are:
The general warm up;
The sports specific warm up; and
All four parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All four
elements work together to bring the body and mind to a physical peak, ensuring the athlete is prepared for the activity to
come. This process will help ensure the athlete has a minimal risk of sports injury.
Lets have a look at each element individually.
1.) General warm up
The general warm up should consist of a light physical activity. Both the intensity and duration of the general warm
up (or how hard and how long), should be governed by the fitness level of the participating athlete. Although a correct general
warm up for the average person should take about five to ten minutes and result in a light sweat.
The aim of the general warm up is simply to elevate the heart rate and respiratory rate. This in turn increases the blood
flow and helps with the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This also helps to increase the muscle
temperature, allowing for a more effective static stretch. Which bring us to part two.
2.) Static stretching
Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of basic stretching. There is a limited threat of injury and it is
extremely beneficial for overall flexibility. During this part of the warm up, static stretching should include all the major
muscle groups, and this entire part should last for about five to ten minutes.
Static stretching is performed by placing the body into a position whereby the muscle, or group of muscles to be stretched
is under tension. Both the opposing muscle group (the muscles behind or in front of the stretched muscle), and the muscles
to be stretched are relaxed. Then slowly and cautiously the body is moved to increase the tension of the muscle, or group
of muscles to be stretched. At this point the position is held or maintained to allow the muscles and tendons to lengthen.
This second part of an effective warm up is extremely important, as it helps to lengthen both the muscles and tendons
which in turn allows your limbs a greater range of movement. This is very important in the prevention of muscle and tendon
The above two elements form the basis, or foundation for a complete and effective warm up. It is extremely important
that these two elements be completed properly before moving onto the next two elements. The proper completion of elements
one and two, will now allow for the more specific and vigorous activities necessary for elements three and four.
3.) Sport specific warm up
With the first two parts of the warm up carried out thoroughly and correctly, it is now safe to move onto the third part
of an effective warm up. In this part, the athlete is specifically preparing their body for the demands of their particular
sport. During this part of the warm up, more vigorous activity should be employed. Activities should reflect the type of movements
and actions which will be required during the sporting event.
4.) Dynamic stretching
Finally, a correct warm up should finish with a series of dynamic stretches. However, this form of stretching carries
with it a high risk of injury if used incorrectly. It should really only be used under the supervision of a professional sports
coach or trainer. Dynamic stretching is more for muscular conditioning than flexibility and is really only suited for professional,
well trained, highly conditioned athletes. Dynamic stretching should only be used after a high level of general flexibility
has been established.
Dynamic stretching involves a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion to force a particular body part past its usual
range of movement. The force of the bounce or swing is gradually increased but should never become radical or uncontrolled.
During this last part of an effective warm up it is also important to keep the dynamic stretches specific to the athletes
particular sport. This is the final part of the warm up and should result in the athlete reaching a physical and mental peak.
At this point the athlete is most prepared for the rigors of their sport or activity.
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury
and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching
won't be effective.