It is important to perform a proper warm-up and cool-down with physical activity. Warm-ups and cool-downs increase muscle and core body temperature, prevent injury, improve performance and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.1,2,3,4,5 Before we get into the benefits let’s talk about what a warm-up is.
A warm-up is either active or passive; with active being the preferred choice.1 An active warm-up can be general or specific. General includes activities such as jogging, shuffling or cycling while specific includes activities that are specific to the sport being played.1 A passive warm-up includes taking a hot shower or using a heating pad to increase muscle and core body temperature.1,2 Warm-ups and cool-downs should last anywhere between 5-20 minutes depending on the activity that is about to be performed.3
Increase in core body and muscle temperature
One of the main goals of a warm up is to increase body and muscle temperature.1,2 Increasing muscle and core body temperature results in increased muscle metabolism and increased muscle fiber conduction velocity. Muscle metabolism is the ability for the cells in our muscles to produce and use energy needed for physical activity. By improving muscle metabolism athletes are able to produce and use more energy resulting in increased performance with activity.2
The central nervous system which includes our brain and spinal cord has to send a signal to our muscle fibers in order for them to activate and produce movement. As our body and muscle temperature increases, the message sent to our muscles gets faster allowing us to activate our muscles quicker.2 This is especially important for sports that involve sprinting because athletes will be able to initiate the movement quicker, sprint faster and produce more force than if they had not warmed up at all.2
A dynamic warm-up that is sport specific has been shown to prevent injury risk. Authors of a 2008 study created a dynamic warm-up with the goal of decreasing injury risk for female soccer players.4 The dynamic warm-up consisted of running, jumping, balance, cutting, planks and hip activation exercises. The results of their study represented that performing a dynamic warm-up prior to exercise reduced injury risk by 35% and it could even reduce severe injury risk by 50%.4
Stretching is an important part of a warm-up but how you stretch will have a bigger impact on injury prevention. The purpose of stretching is to improve tissue flexibility without sacrificing athletic performance.5 A static stretch involves a person holding a stretch for a period of time without moving. Although this improves flexibility holding a stretch for longer the 30 seconds can have a negative impact on athletic performance.5 A better way to stretch would be the dynamic stretch. This includes stretching with movement such as a walking knee hugs, lunges with a twist, or walking straight leg kicks. Stretching in this manner decreases injury risk by improving flexibility but it also can improve power, speed, agility and endurance.5
Increase athletic performance
Increasing body and muscle temperature can increase overall power and velocity. Being able to move faster and produce more power positively impacts athletic performance for all sports.1,2 Collegiate baseball players were able to improve their lower extremity explosiveness by performing a dynamic warm-up consisting of lunges, reverse lunges, knee hugs, toe touches, lateral shuffles and marching. In this study lower extremity explosiveness was measured by vertical and long jump distances. After performing a dynamic warm-up for 7 weeks prior to physical exercise the athletes were able to jump 2 inches higher and longer than those who did not perform a dynamic warm-up. 5
Decrease post exercise soreness
A cool-down consists of a submaximal exercise effort in an attempt to reduce heart rate to normal, reduce breathing to normal and maintain tissue flexibility. An example of a cool-down would be walking after a sprint instead of standing still. When warm-ups are combined with a cool-down there is a chance that an athlete can decrease their post exercise soreness.3
Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Journal of sports medicine. 2007; 37(12):1089-1099.
McGowan C, Pyne D, Thompson K, Rattray B. Warm-up strategies for sport and exercise: mechanisms and applications. Journal of sports medicine. 2015;45(11):1523-1546.
Olsen O, Sjohaug M, Beekvelt M, Mork P. The effect of warm-up and cool-down exercise on delayed onset muscle soreness, in the quadriceps muscle: a randomized control trial. Journal of human kinetics. 2012;35:59-68.
Soligard T, Myklebust G, Steffen K, Holme I, Silvers H, Bizzini M, Junge A, Dvorak I, Bahr R, Anderson T. Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: a cluster randomized control trial. BMJ. 2008;337:a2469
Frantz T, Ruiz M. Effects of Dynamic Warm-up on lower body explosiveness among collegiate baseball players. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2011;25(11):2985-2990.
Brittani Cookinham, PT, DPT, ATC, LAT
Is the Physical Therapy Manager at EXOS, a sports training facility in Frisco, Texas, and a United States Olympic team sports medicine volunteer. She attended Sacred Heart University where she obtained her Bachelors of Science in Athletic Training and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.