What is a Warm Up and How to Warm Up Properly?
Warm up properly and reduce the risk of sports injury with these warm up exercises and stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published November 22, 2001 | Updated February 21, 2021
The warm up exercises are crucial to any sports or fitness training program. The importance of a structured warm up routine should not be under estimated when it comes to preventing sports injury.
A proper warm up has a number of very important key components. These components, or parts, should all work together to prepare the individual for sports performance and minimize the likelihood of sports injury from physical activity.
What is a Warm Up?
A warm up (as it relates to physical activity and exercise) is any activity, either physical or mental, that helps to prepare an individual for the demands of their chosen sport or exercise.
Watch the Video for a Summary of This Article
Transcript from video (click to open)
The importance of a structured warm-up routine should not be underestimated when it comes to preventing sports injury. A proper warm up has a number of very important key elements. These elements, or parts, should all work together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury from physical activity. To find out more, keep watching!
WHY WARM UP?
Warming up prior to any physical activity does a number of beneficial things, but the main purpose of the warm-up is to prepare the body and mind for strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by increasing the body’s core temperature, while also increasing the body’s muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you’re helping to make 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.
There are four key elements, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete warm-up. These elements consist of the general warm-up, static stretching, a sports-specific warm-up, and dynamic stretching. 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.
THE GREATEST MISCONCEPTION
Confusion about what stretching accomplishes, as part of the warm-up, is causing many to abandon stretching altogether. The key to understanding the role stretching plays can be found in the previous sentence. Stretching should be treated as a part of the warm-up! But it isn’t all you should do. Stretching by itself is not a complete warm up. An effective warm-up has a number of very important key elements, which work together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury and prepare the individual for physical activity.
4 KEY ELEMENTS
With a better understanding of the significance of stretching, as well as the structure, let’s talk about each of the four key elements. The general warm up should consist of light physical activity, like walking, jogging, easy swimming, stationary bike riding, skipping or easy aerobics. Next, move on to static stretching. 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. After that, it’s on to a sport-specific warm-up during which activities should reflect the type of movements and actions that will be required during the sporting event, including sports specific drills and technical drills. Finally, close things out with dynamic stretching. This involves movements that include a soft bounce or swinging motion like arm swings and leg swings.
LENGTH OF WARM-UP
The time you commit to your warm-up should be relative to your level of involvement in your particular sport. So, for people just looking to increase their general level of health and fitness, a minimum of five to ten minutes would be enough. However, if you are involved in a high-level competitive sport you need to dedicate adequate time and effort to a complete warm-up.
If you’re looking to become a better athlete, you’ll need to stretch on a regular basis. You can make the most of your warm-up by claiming your copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility. In this guide, the stretches we cover will help get rid of injuries, aches, and pain with ease along with improving your flexibility and mobility! More than 70,000 people have enjoyed this guide… so claim your copy, today, on our site!
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Why Warm Up?
Warming up prior to any physical activity does a number of beneficial things, but the main purpose of the warm up is to prepare the body and mind for strenuous activity.
- One of the ways it achieves this is by increasing 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.
Warm Up Stretching Guidelines
As with most activities there are rules and guidelines to ensure that they are safe; stretching and the warm up is no exception. Stretching can be extremely dangerous and harmful if done incorrectly. This short video shows you how to warm up properly to get the most out of your stretching.
The Greatest Misconception
Confusion about what stretching accomplishes, as part of the warm up, is causing many to abandon stretching altogether. The key to understanding the role stretching plays can be found in the previous sentence. But, you have to read it carefully.
Stretching, as part of the warm up! Stretching is a critical part of the warm up, but stretching is not THE warm up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that doing a few stretches constitutes a warm up.
An effective warm up has a number of very important key components, which work together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury and prepare the individual for physical activity.
Transcript from video (click to open)
Brad: Cool Yeah, so, actually we’ve got sort of two purposes there. And this is something else that I find people have a lot of misconceptions about the cool-down is not the time to try and improve your flexibility. A lot of people misunderstand when someone says you should be doing stretching during your cool-down and that is correct. But the purpose of a cool-down is not, or the purpose of stretching as part of a cool-down is not to try and improve your flexibility. You’re not looking to extend your range of motion or your flexibility. As part of a cool-down you’re already fatigued, the muscles have already been stressed and strained. They’re already in a state of weakness. And if you push your stretching during a cool-down there’s the chance that you may damage those muscles and hurt them even further.
So, the whole idea of including some stretching during your cool-down is simply just to let those muscles elongate again. Typically, what happens during a tough workout is the muscles are constantly contracting. And as we said, at the beginning of the talk, you get into the sort of constricted positions and the muscles themselves get into this constricted state where they’ve been worked quite hard for a long period of time. And then all you want to do during the cool-down is just elongate those muscle fibers out just to return the muscles to a pre-exercise state. You don’t want to be pushing your stretching too hard during the cool-down because there is a risk of you damaging those muscles. And I saw your other question there, Charles, about warming up and equally you don’t want to be trying to improve your flexibility during the warmup.
This is another real misconception about using stretching as part of the warmup when most people, and again, it comes back to not being specific and not clarifying you know, what you want to do in your intent in regards to stretching and flexibility. So, when it comes to the warmup again, the warmup is not the time to try and improve your flexibility. If you do try and push your stretching during the warmup, you’ll end up stressing muscles putting a lot of strain on them, fatiguing them, which will lead to a poor performance after your warmup. So, again, as far as stretching is concerned during the warmup, what we want to do is we want to introduce some very light, short hold, static stretching in the early stages of the warmup. So, what I mean by short hold is some static stretches of no more than five or 10 seconds and very, very gentle, very, very light stretches. And it’s important that we introduce these early on in the warmup. And then later in the warmup, we follow up with some more dynamic stretching, some more explosive type drills, maybe some sports specific type drills and some more dynamic stretching to get you ready for the actual event that you’re preparing for. But at no time, should you be trying to push your flexibility or trying to get more flexible during your warmup just before your main event?
How to Structure Your Warm Up?
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 components, or parts, which should be included to ensure an effective and complete warm up. They are:
- The general warm up;
- Static stretching;
- The sports specific warm up; and
- Dynamic stretching.
Important: All four parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All four components 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.
The 4 Key Components of a Warm Up
Identifying the components of an effective and safe warm up, and executing them in the correct order is critical. Remember, stretching is only one part of an effective warm up and its’ place in the warm up routine is specific and dependent on the other components.
The four key components that should be included to ensure an effective and complete warm up are:
1. General warm up
The general warm up should consist of a light physical activity, like walking, jogging, easy swimming, stationary bike riding, skipping or easy aerobics. 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
Yes, Static stretching! (Short-hold static stretching of 10 – 15 seconds) This 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.
There’s quite a bit of controversy about whether static stretching should be included in the warm up, and recent studies have shown that static stretching may have an adverse effect on muscle contraction speed and therefore impair performance of athletes involved in sports requiring high levels of power and speed. It is for this reason that static stretching is conducted early in the warm-up procedure and is always followed by sports specific drills and dynamic stretching.
This part of the 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 injuries (see related articles below).
The above two components form the basis, or foundation for a complete and effective warm up. It is extremely important that these two components be completed properly before moving onto the next two components. The proper completion of components one and two, will now allow for the more specific and vigorous activities necessary for components three and four.
- Taylor, K. Sheppard, J. Lee, H. Plummer, N. (2009). Negative effect of static stretching restored when combined with a sport specific warm-up component. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(6):657-61.
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 that will be required during the sporting event, including sports specific drills and technical drills.
4. Dynamic stretching
Finally, a correct warm up should finish with a series of dynamic stretches. However, this form of stretching carries with it an increased risk of injury if used incorrectly. Dynamic stretching is most effective after a moderate to high level of general flexibility has been established.
Dynamic stretching involves a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion to move a particular body part to the limit of its range of movement. The force of the bounce or swing is gradually increased but should never become radical or uncontrolled. If you’ve never done any dynamic stretching before, please seek instruction and guidance from a professional sports coach or trainer before attempting dynamic stretching (see related articles below).
During this final part of an effective warm up it is also important to keep the dynamic stretches specific to the athlete’s 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.
How Long Should I Warm Up for?
The above information forms the basis of a complete and effective warm up. However, I am well aware that this entire process is somewhat of an ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ warm up. I am also well aware that this is not always possible or convenient in the real world. Therefore, the individual athlete must become responsible for assessing their own goals and adjusting their warm up accordingly.
For instance, the time you commit to your warm up should be relative to your level of involvement in your particular sport. So, for people just looking to increase their general level of health and fitness, a minimum of five to ten minutes would be enough. However, if you are involved in high level competitive sport you need to dedicate adequate time and effort to a complete warm up.
Listen to the Warm up Stretching Tips Audio
In this free audio presentation titled, Warm up Stretching Tips, you’ll learn the important role stretching plays in the warm up, plus how to incorporate the right types of stretching into your warm up for peak performance and injury prevention.
To start listening to the Warm up Stretching Tips Audio click on the speaker image. To download the MP3, right click on the image and choose “Save Target As…”
Transcript from audio (click to open)
Interviewer: I just want to welcome everyone to FitCon Expo. And we have a special guest, Brad Walker on the line. Welcome Brad.
Brad: Thank you very much. It’s definitely an honor and a pleasure to be here.
Interviewer: It’s good to have you. Why don’t you enlighten us with some ‘stretching’?
Brad: My pleasure. Firstly, look, I just want to say congratulations to Ryan and Geo and everyone who’s been putting on the Fitcon Expo. Because it is an absolutely fantastic compilation of information and both the quality and quantity of the information is just unbelievable, which is fantastic. So what I want to do before I get into it. I’ll just run through a little bit of background about myself and how I got involved in the industry, and how I became interested in the field of stretching and flexibility. And then we’ll get into the presentation.
I have been in the fitness industry for about a little over 20 years. I began running track and cross country in high school and swimming competitively from quite an early age. This led into a triathlon, which I competed in for quite a while and actually spent a couple of years as a full time professional triathlete. During this time, I was lucky enough to work with a very experienced swim coach and he had a number of Olympic athletes in his squad. I was always fascinated. And this was 20 years ago when there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on strength and conditioning. And I was always fascinated by how much strength and conditioning work he did with his athletes. And how much weight training and stretching and all sorts of other different things that he used to compliment the swimmers. And that always intrigued me and got me interested in this field.
From there I went to university and studied Health Science in Sport and Exercise. When I left there, I was fortunate enough to get another job with another coach, by the name of Col Stewart. Col is the coach and father of world triathlon champion Miles Stewart. I had a great opportunity there to work with different athletes. One of the great things about working with Col was that his squad comprised of a whole range of different athletes. Obviously, we had the triathletes and the runners and the swimmers and the cyclists. But we also worked with athletes like Mick Doohan, World Champion 500 CC Motorcycle Racer. We worked with world champion squash players, with world champion roller skaters. And we just had this hugely diverse range of athletes that we were working on. It was quite an honor to be able to see those different athletes and not only look at the differences between the sports. But also look at the similarities between the athletes in the different sports. So that was a fantastic opportunity and I certainly learned a lot. And started to get more involved in this strength and conditioning and stretching and so forth.
One of the things we started to see with the athletes we were working with was an incidence of sports injury. We started to analyze these athletes and look at ways whereby we could not only get over the injuries. But also help the athletes recover more quickly and in the long term actually prevent them from getting those injuries. So we started experimenting with a lot of different techniques. One thing we found was that a lot of the athletes who had problems, who had sports injuries, had a huge lack of flexibility. Either specifically in a particular muscle group or just generally all over. We started to experiment with a lot of different stretching and flexibility exercises to see if we could help those athletes. We started using a whole range of different flexibility methods. And we started looking at what type of stretching worked in what circumstances and we started to see some great results by improving the athletes’ flexibility. So that that led onto other things and that sort of started my interest in the field of stretching and flexibility and from there, everything’s just grown.
What I want to just talk briefly about is sort of the state of the stretching and flexibility industry at the moment. It’s quite an exciting time for stretching and flexibility. I look at stretching and flexibility now as strength training was 20 years ago. We’re sort of right on that verge of moving forward. For a long time, we’ve been sort of going round in circles. We’ve been sort of swinging back and forth between yes. Stretching is great, or no, you don’t need to do stretching anymore and we’re starting to get a more mature. Or a more balanced view of stretching and how to use stretching and so forth. That’s quite exciting and I think in the next five and 10 years we’re going to see some huge advances in the way we use stretching. In how we apply stretching, to particular athletes and so forth. So it’s quite an exciting time. I think over the next five or 10 years, we’ll see some really great advancement in the field of stretching and flexibility.
What we’re going to talk about in the next few minutes is something that has been causing a lot of confusion, not only among athletes and trainers. But also the general population as well and that is how to use stretching as part of the warm up. For a long time, there were a number of people who were actually under the impression that stretching was obsolete. And we no longer needed to use stretching as part of the warm up or as part of movement preparation for athletic performance and so forth. It is important that we look at this from a balanced, mature perspective. And look at how to use stretching properly. And the right types of stretching and all that sort of stuff, to maximize the benefits of our warm up and so forth. For a long time, we received a lot of comments from people saying that you no longer need to stretch before you exercise. Fortunately, I can say over the last 12 months those comments had died down quite a lot. That’s starting to say that people are starting to understand how to use stretching more. For a long time now we received a lot of comments and some of them quite aggressive sometimes, saying that “don’t you keep up with the latest research? It has been proven that stretching is no longer needed. You don’t need to do stretching before your workout anymore. This is the confusion that has come about over the last few years. And what I want to do is just have a look at where this belief or where this theory came from.
A few years ago, I think about 2005, there was a number of studies done on stretching. As it related to athletic performance and one of the most commonly quoted one was a study on Standing Jump Height or Vertical Jump Height. There was also another one on Power Output for gymnast and about how stretching either helped or didn’t help those athletes in that particular circumstance. Now, what happened was that, people took those studies to mean that stretching was no longer relevant anymore or we could do away with stretching altogether, which certainly isn’t the case. I’m sure a lot of you know of Alan Cosgrave. He commonly says that, we tend to over-react in the short term and under-react in the long term. And this was a classic example of exactly that.
We had people looking at studies, obviously not reading them fully. But looking at studies and making conclusions about stretching that just weren’t true. It’s actually quite similar. I think I mentioned before about the field of stretching and flexibility, being at the same sort of level strength training was, say 20 years ago. If anyone has been in that – in the industry for that long, you’ll probably remember 15, 20 years ago. There was a huge debate, as to whether we should do strength training or weight training, to complement athletic training. So the accepted theory was that if you’re a runner, all you need to do is run and if you’re a swimmer. All you need to do a swim and then people started to use weight training. And there was a lot of debate over whether weight training, did any good at all. Or weight training was a waste of time or weight training didn’t have any performance enhancing benefits. The pendulum would swing to the other side, where weight training is the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ of athletic conditioning. And you can cut back on your sports specific training and just do more weight training. For quite a few years we had this pendulum effect where weight training was bad. And then the next month weight training was good and then we’d go back to weight training was bad.
Fortunately over time, we’ve come to a more balanced and more mature view. And we now know that weight training is beneficial, when used correctly. It’s very similar to the field of stretching and flexibility at the moment. We’re just starting to realize that yes, stretching is beneficial, but you have to know what you’re doing You have to know how to incorporate it, you have to know the different types to incorporate and so forth to get the maximum benefits out of it. Fortunately, I think we’re moving in the right direction. And what we’re going to do is – we’re going to hopefully dispel some of those myths and misconceptions about stretching. And how to use it and why we use it and so forth, in the warm up.
So before we move on, we’ll just have a quick look at what some of the current research is saying. If you have your handouts there, you’ll notice that I’ve quoted one of the quotes from some research done in the last few years. This was a review of the literature that had been put out about stretching up until this date and basically the conclusion that was made, was that there hasn’t been enough study done and of the studies that have been done, they’re not specific enough. They’re too general in nature. I certainly tend to agree with this quote, although, as I’ve said before, I think we’re just starting to move down the right track and we’re going to see some great results in the next 5 or 10 years. So if some of the studies in the past haven’t given us the answers that we’ve been looking for. What exactly is wrong with those studies? One of the things that these early studies failed to do was they failed to differentiate between the different types of stretching. And when to use the different types of stretching. A lot of these studies, a lot of the early studies were looking at does static stretching before exercise, improve performance? And from some previous studies done, we know that in specific cases, static stretching immediately before power-based. Or explosive type activities can be detrimental.
To get good results, we need to ask the right questions. Fortunately, I think we’re learning a lot and there’s going to be some great studies coming out over the next 5 years or so. The other thing that the study tried to do or some of the studies tried to do was to prove whether stretching improved performance or reduced injury. In most cases, the studies took say 3 or 4 very basic static stretches. They had one group doing the stretches before their workout, the other group not doing the stretches before their workout. Just about every one of those cases they found that, doing static stretches immediately before their activity had no real effect on performance enhancing or injury reduction. I sort of relate it to, doing a bicep curls before you go swimming and that sort of equivalent. Whereas doing three static stretches for your legs before you go running isn’t necessarily going to make you run any faster or reduce your injury or so forth. Just as doing a couple of sets of bicep curls is not going to help with your swimming. But using stretching and strength exercises over a period of time will have a beneficial effect.
So anyway, it’s quite positive – some of the studies that are being done at the moment. I’m actually talking with the USA track and field at the moment about a study that they’re doing on stretching and this is actually just an initial study. It’s like a baseline study to get some information for future studies. So that’s going to be quite exciting. I’m very confident that we’re going to get some really good results out of that. There’s a lot of other good studies starting to come out, that we can really draw from and get some concrete evidence to move forward and so forth.
So let’s just have a look at the purpose of stretching in the warm up. A lot of people have been under the impression that stretching is the warm up and that’s certainly not the case. The stretching is just one part of the warm up. One important part, but by itself, it’s quite ineffective. That’s why we shouldn’t try and separate stretching from the warm up. It should be part of it and incorporated into the warm up and into other warm up activities to bring the mind and body to a physical peak, which is ready for athletic performance and so forth. In my view as much as I am a big fan of stretching and flexibility, I’m more than aware that stretching and flexibility is only one part of an overall strength and conditioning program. I certainly don’t proclaim that stretching is the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ of athletic performance. It’s certainly no magic bullet or magic pill that makes all your injuries go away and makes you perform better. But when used with a number of other injury prevention methods and performance enhancement methods, your stretching is very, very effective.
I think it’s important that we move more towards a holistic approach and more towards incorporating stretching as part of our overall training program and not trying to separate it or make it a separate little thing that we try and do on the side. So, before we move on to some more practical things, what we’re going to do is just take a very quick look at – at the type of stretching that works best. This is where some of the initial studies fell down. That they failed to identify the appropriate type of stretching for the activity and this was one of the big stumbling blocks to the studies actually getting positive results or results that we could benefit from and work with.
So just to recap on the different types of stretching, we can basically break stretching exercises down into two groups. We’ve got static stretches and we’ve got dynamic stretches. Now static stretches are stretching exercises that are performed without any movement. So a classic static stretches where the athlete gets into the stretch position, moves to where they feel tension in the muscle group and then holds that for a predetermined amount of time and these are static stretches. This is why they’re called static because there’s no movement. Then on the other hand, we have dynamic stretches and dynamic stretches are stretching exercises, which are done with movement and they involve a slow or steady swinging or movement of a particular body part to gradually lengthen the muscles and the soft tissues around that area.
Now within those two groups, there’s a number of different types of stretching. Within static stretching there’s active stretching, there’s passive stretching, there’s P and F; there’s a whole range of different things. Within dynamic stretching you have things like ballistic stretching. You have things like active isolated stretching and dynamic stretching and so forth. So within in both of those categories, you have a number of different types, but broadly speaking, they can be all – be grouped into one of two categories.
So it’s important that we identify which type of stretching is most suited to the purpose that we’re trying to achieve. Just like there are different types of strength exercises that are suited to different purposes, these different types of stretching exercises are also suited to different purposes. So it’s important that we’re able to identify the type of stretching that’s most beneficial and then incorporate that into the program at the right time. Let’s have a look at an example of a warm up and just go through some of the elements or some of the components of an effective warm up. Firstly, we’re looking at, what I like to refer to as just a general warm up, where we’re just preparing the body for more strenuous activity to come.
Movement Prep is a common term used today, not necessarily to replace warm up, but to just give a more overall view of what we’re trying to achieve and Movement Prep is quite an appropriate title to use because that is exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re preparing the body for movement. We’re preparing the body for more activity and so forth. Any light, general physical activity is good for this, simply by anything that elevates the heart rate, gets the blood flowing, increases the muscle temperature and core temperature and so forth. This is all part of the initial stage before we get into the other components of the warm up.
Now the next component that I like to add is static stretching and for a long time, here at the Stretching Institute, we copped a fair bit of flak from people for continuing to include static stretching in our warm up because a lot of people figured that, these studies, you know, quote — unquote proved that you didn’t need to do static stretching anymore. So fortunately, you know, a lot of people are starting to recognize the benefits of static stretching and that it does have benefits when used at the right time, with the right person and so forth. Interestingly, I was talking with Mike Boyle a couple of months back and he actually published an article called “The Static Stretching Renascence”.
In that article he went into detail about how static stretching had been neglected and it’d be the baby being thrown out with the bath water, so to speak, and people had just totally ditched static stretching altogether. He went into some detail about how he uses static stretching as part of his warm up and as part of his movement preparation and so forth and that using static stretching certainly does have a lot of benefits, when used correctly.
So, that is the next component to the warm up that I like to use. It helps to gradually lengthen the muscles and associated soft tissues that you’re going to be working with and incorporated with the general warm up and static stretching, it has a great effect of really preparing the body for more aggressive or more dynamic type movements and so forth. The next thing that we start to incorporate in the warm up is – is a sport specific warm up where we’re starting to do drills or techniques that are specific to the particular sport that the athlete is involved in. For example, a gridiron player would start to do some side to side type movements, run some cones, very short sprint type activities. And gradually building up and building up until, you know, where you’d start off at maybe 60% effort and you’d build up and build up and build up to the point where you’re just touching on that maximum effort and so forth. Lastly, it’s great to incorporate a number of dynamic stretches, which are specific to the individual requirements of the particular sport that you’re working with. These last two points here, that the sports specific warm up and the dynamic stretching, these can certainly be integrated together.
What I tend to do, although I’ve broken them down into four particular parts, what I tend to do is group the first two together: the general warm up and the static stretching together and then I’d group together the next two parts of the sports specific warm up and the dynamic stretching and this will prepare the athlete for maximum performance in their sport and so forth. It’ll really get them – get them to the point where they’re at a peak physical condition to go out and play their game and do their sport and so forth.
This is certainly a guideline. I’ve added some time frames for these different components and a lot of times these time frames are a little unrealistic. I’ve put down here 5 to 15 minutes for the general warm up and another 10 or so minutes for static stretching and 10 minutes for sports specific stretching and a few minutes for dynamic stretching. Well, in a real world example, this is just not practical. Very few athletes today have half an hour to prepare for their workout. No, maybe that’s different when they’re preparing to run a final at a World Championships or Oregon Olympic Games but in general day to day training and for the general amateur athlete or the other person who just enjoys doing a little bit of physical activity, these guidelines aren’t always practical.
That’s one reason why I like to group the four components into two broader groups and obviously from there we can scale down those time frames. What I’ve been doing a lot of lately is actually starting to incorporate the sports specific warm up, the drills and so forth and the dynamic stretches, into the body of the warm up or into the body of the workout, sorry. What this tends to do is – it tends to move the athlete through the warm up and into their workout without them even noticing that they’ve changed from warm up to workout. What I was finding was a lot of athletes sort of dreaded the warm up and the cool down. They actually viewed it as something that was taking away from their main workout. You had a lot of athletes, you know, would sort of turn up late because they knew they were only going to be warming up for the first 5 or 15 minutes or so, or they’d take off early because they thought they didn’t really need to cool down.
But by incorporating all these warm up components, by incorporating all these into the body of the workout, we’re actually moving the athlete from a cold state into a warmed up state and into a peak state for their workout in one smooth movement without the athlete actually figuring out that they’ve actually gone through a warm up and I find this works a lot better, with athletes, getting them more encouraged about doing warm ups and stretches and so forth. By incorporating, especially dynamic stretching, we do a lot of incorporating dynamic stretching, during sort of the main body of the workout and so forth and this has had some really good positive effects.
Let’s just have a look at or do a bit of a recap and have a look at, some of the conclusions that we can make. I think people now are starting to realize that stretching is beneficial, just as strength training is. But the key factor is that it’s used in the right way, at the right time, with the right type of stretches and so forth. It’s important that we understand the different types of stretching exercises available to us and how to incorporate them into our workouts and so forth. Just like, any other activities, there’s certainly rules and guidelines to ensure that they’re safe and stretching is no exception. Stretching can be very dangerous, if done inappropriately or if the wrong type of stretching is done with the wrong type of person or with someone with an injury.
Just as you know, push-ups are a great exercise, but if they’re done with the wrong person, you know, if they’re done with someone with a shoulder injury, then there’s certainly the potential for damage and harm and further injury. We need to understand how to incorporate stretching effectively. We need to be able to recognize the different types of stretching and so forth and how each type benefits different situations and scenarios.
Just to finish off, I want to recap on a point that I made earlier about stretching being just one important component to assist in the overall reduction of injury and improvement of performance. As I said before, stretching is no magic pill. Stretching by itself is very ineffective. It’s when stretching is used in combination with a number of other injury prevention techniques and another – a number of other performance enhancing techniques that the benefits of stretching and improved flexibility is really, really seen. I think that’s important to look at stretching – I heard one trainer say that stretching is just one spoke in the fitness wheel and when you have all the spokes in the wheel, the wheel, turns around quite well; but when you’re missing a spoke, the wheel doesn’t turn as well as it should and stretching is just one spoke in this fitness wheel and we need to be able to incorporate it with all the other things, all the other techniques and use it effectively as part of our athletic conditioning and so forth.
Just before we go to questions, what I want to do is just, let you know that we have some resources. Some free resources that are available at our website. At our website we have quite a large archive of stretching, flexibility and sports injury articles. At present, there’s well over a hundred articles there. All dealing specifically on stretching, flexibility in sports injuries, so it’s a great resource for information on treating injuries, information on preventing injuries, how to incorporate your stretching and so forth and that’s at our website at thestrechinginstitute.com, just that URL again: thestretchinginstitute.com and another resource that we have there, which is also a free resource is we’ve over the – over the years we’ve put together a six part course on the basics of flexibility. We put together this course to try and give people a foundation or a base level of stretching and flexibility so that they are able to go away and sort of make decisions on how to incorporate stretching and how to do it safely and how to get maximum benefits out of it and so forth. This is quite basic information and I would hope that, most of the personal trainers and sports coaches and so forth would already know this type of information, but the course was put together for – not necessarily the personal trainers and sports coaches.
It was more put together for the people that you’re working with, so if you have athletes you’re working with or clients that you’re working with, you know, encourage them to go there and get that course and it’ll give them a real basic understanding of how to use stretching and so forth. We also have a one hour audio presentation that I did about six months ago and that goes into quite a lot more detail as how to use stretching. It goes into how to use the different techniques for maximum benefit and so forth. It goes into some of the anatomy and physiology of stretching and so forth and both of those resources, the course and the audio are entirely free and you can get them from stretchingsecretsrevealed.com and I will spell that for you. It’s s, t, r, e, t, c, h, i, n, g, s, e, c, r, e, t, s, r, e, v,e,a,l,e,d.com and if you go there, you will find all that information, all entirely free and of course, if you have any questions, we welcome them at our website at: thestretchinginstitute.com. Just head over there and ask any questions you want. We’re more than happy to answer any question that you’ve got for us and that actually brings us to our next point of questions. So if we do have any questions, let’s get into them.
Interviewer: Yes, Brad, we have two that came in. One is from Todd from Kentucky. He wants to know, what would you do with someone who has a chronic hamstring sprain? It pops up every single season and the guy’s only in high school; so it’s been going on for about seven years.
Brad: Yes, very common, extremely common, too common unfortunately and this basically stems from the fact that the injury hasn’t been healed properly. There’s a number of components that an athlete needs to go through to make sure that these type of muscle strain or soft tissue injuries are taken care of properly because if they’re not, and this is not just specific to hamstring injuries, this is also very common with shoulder injuries and so forth. What happens is the athlete just goes through this continual cycle of they think they’re better and then they get injured again and then they work on rehabilitation for a while. They think they’re better and then they get injured again. If we don’t take care of this problem initially, this is the pattern that will continue forever and ever basically. So the issue that has occurred is when a strain – when a muscle strain occurs, there’s a lot of damage done to those muscle fibers and instead of the muscle rebuilding itself with new muscle, it actually rebuilds itself with scar tissue. Now the problem with scar tissue is that scar tissue is very, very weak and very inflexible. And so there’s no movement in the scar tissue and when scar tissue forms in the muscle, it actually forms a weak spot in the muscle. We’ve worked with athletes, specifically with this exact hamstring injury and you can actually feel the scar tissue in the hamstring muscle, in the belly of the muscle. You can feel the scar tissue that has built up over time because of this repeated injury over and over again. So until we get rid of that scar tissue, you will continue to have that same problem. So there’s certainly a number of techniques that can be used and I mentioned before about our articles at our website. We’ve got a stack of articles specifically on soft tissue injury and how to treat it properly and they’re like 10 page articles.
They go into a lot of details so what I’ll do here is I’ll just give you a brief overview of the rehabilitation process and then, if you want more information, you can go to our website at thestretchinginstitute.com. So initially in the first couple of hours of an injury, you’d want to be applying what’s commonly known as the rice technique and that’s rest, ice, compression and elevation. Okay, and that’s the initial part of the rehabilitation process. The next part of the process that you need to be looking at is, activities that promote healing. So we’ve gone from using the RICE Regimen initially, and the whole point of the RICE Regimen is to decrease swelling, decrease the blood flow at the injury site, which in turn will limit the formation of this scar tissue. So, that’s an important first component to getting over these types of injuries.
Secondly, we need to look at activities that help with the repair and regeneration of the muscle and the soft tissue injury. So we’re, we’re looking at things like massage and heat; these types of things – now these in opposition to what the ricer does, these start to promote the blood flow. These start to get the blood flowing to the injured area where the oxygen in the nutrients and so forth start to heal the damage and so forth. Now, a key component to getting rid of the scar tissue is massage and stretching. The massage and the stretching helps to realign these scar tissue fibers.
It helps to get rid of them and it helps the muscle to go back to the way it was before the injury Without this component of massage and stretching and obviously very gentle stretching at this point in the recovery process – without this process of massage and stretching, you just will not get rid of this scar tissue and you will keep having the same problem over and over again. So, this phase of the rehab process typically takes between anywhere from sort of 5 to 15 days depending on how aggressive you are with these injury rehabilitation techniques and so forth.
What you’ll find after about two to three weeks is the athlete will actually feel like the injury is gone. This is actually quite a dangerous time for the athlete because they start to get some confidence back. They start to feel, “yes I’m feeling good”, “my injury is better now” and they start to go back into full on training and they just re-injure themselves and they start the whole cycle again. This last part of the Injury Rehabilitation Process is quite important. Equally as important as all the other processes. This last part of the Injury Rehab is where you’re getting the athlete ready to go back to competition state training. Our goal always, when working with an injured athlete, is always to get that athlete back to 110% of what they were before the injury. A lot of people say, “whoa, whoa, how do you get someone 110% better than they were.”? Well quite simply what we’re trying to do is – we’re trying to make the injured area stronger than it was before the injury, we’re trying to make it more flexible and more pliable and more supple than it was before the injury, we’re trying to make the injured area more capable of handling explosive or plyometric type activities and so forth. All those things are quite keen in finishing off the Injury Rehab Process.
We use things like obviously strength training, weight training and so forth. We use a number of advanced stretching techniques, like PNF stretching, isolated stretching, active isolated stretching, active stretching and a few other different things to really, really condition the muscle. We use a lot of plyometric and explosive type activities to really fine tune the area and make sure that we’re well and truly over that injury and when we do go back to 100% training that the injured area is capable of handling anything that’s thrown at it. Like I said, that’s a brief overview of the process. There’s a lot more detailed information on our website and you can get that at thestretchinginstitute.com.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s awesome. We have one more question if you have time for it.
Interviewer: Awesome. Juan down in Miami asks, one of his clients that he trains every single soccer season, appears to have a groin injury, but he suspects that it’s actually Hip Flexor and not groin. What would you say, would be a good stretch program to sort of promote healing of the hip flexor, if it’s, he thinks it’s over-strained?
Brad: Okay. Yes, yes, again, another common injury seen with athletes, especially with sprinters and sports that involve a lot of sprinting and a lot of fast, quick acceleration and so forth. The Hip flexor, which is basically comprised of two muscles, which form to be the Iliopsoas muscles and this is a common point of injury, right in that hip point there. Again, my first recommendation would be to go through some of those injury rehabilitation components that I just spoke about. So obviously, if the injury is an old injury, then there’s no need to start with the RICE – with the rest, ice compression and elevation, but I would start moving into some Injury Rehab Techniques like massage, gentle stretching, maybe some ultrasound and those sort of things. This again, will promote blood flow to the area and help in the healing process.
My second recommendation would be to incorporate a number of stretches around the hip area, so not necessarily for the Hip Flexor muscles, not necessarily for those iliopsoas muscles and the quad muscles and so forth. Especially in the early stages of the Rehab Process, I would be avoiding intense or aggressive stretches in that area. I’d be incorporating a lot of massage and gentle stretching and the other thing I’d be doing is incorporating a lot of stretching exercises around this area. So for example, I’d be doing a lot of hip and buttock stretches, a lot of groin stretches, hamstring stretches, lower back stretches and so forth. What a lot of people don’t understand is that one muscle has a very big effect on other muscles in the body.
A common example of this, another hip problem is Piriformis Syndrome and the Piriformis muscle is a small muscle deep within the hip and a lot of people, come to us and they say, “I’ve got Piriformis Syndrome, can you give me some Piriformis stretches?” In a lot of cases, it’s useless trying to do a stretch for the Piriformis because the muscles around the Piriformis, again, the hips, the buttocks, the groin, the adductors, the hamstrings. All these muscles are so tight that there’s no way we’re going to be able to stretch the Piriformis muscle without doing some flexibility work on the muscles around them. So yes, my second suggestion would be to start incorporating a lot of stretching exercises around that hip area.
As I mentioned before, the lower back is very important, especially the hips and the buttocks, the Gluteus Max muscles they’re very important and I would be doing – I would be using a lot of PNF stretching. Again, if you’re unfamiliar with PNF stretching, we’ve got articles on our website that go into detail on that. PNF stretching is very good for improving flexibility and so forth. So that that would be my first choice of the type of stretching to do and so forth. So one, I hope that helped you out and if you’re interested in specific stretching exercises that you can do, you know, for example, photographs and descriptions and so forth. Again, just go to our website and we’ve got a number of free stuff there and we’ve also got some paid products.
One of our one of our products, called the “Stretching Handbook” that has 135 photos of different stretches that you can do and I don’t have it right with me just at the moment but I think from memory for that hip and buttocks area, there’s about 12 stretches, for the lower back, there’s nearly 20 stretches, for the hamstrings, there’s 15, for the Groin, there’s 8, for the adductors, there’s 8. So there’s heaps and heaps and heaps of stretches there that you can refer to, so that you’re not doing the same stretches over and over again all the time. I hope that’s helped and again, as I said before, if you do have any specific questions, please feel free to ask us anything via our website.
Interviewer: Okay, thanks a lot. Have a great day, Brad.
Brad: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Interviewer: Have a good one.
Become a Better Athlete
A regular warm up and flexibility training program, consistently employed over the long term, is the only way to permanently improve your range of motion and become a better athlete.
Research and References
- Andersen, J. (2005). Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(3), 218.
- Barroso, R. Silva-Batista, C. Tricoli, V. Roschel, H. Ugrinowitsch, C. (2013). The effects of different intensities and durations of the general warm-up on leg press 1RM. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(4):1009-13.
- Beachle, T. Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition (ISBN: 978-0736058032)
- Costa, P. Medeiros, H. Fukuda, D. (2011). Warm-up, Stretching, and Cool-down Strategies for Combat Sports. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(6), 71-79.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
- Helms, E. Science & Application With Eric Helms (SAWEH) Episode 1 Warming up. Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube. Published May 4, 2016. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
- Nippard, J. Warm Up and Mobility Science Explained (7 Studies). Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube. Published February 18, 2017. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
- Olsen, O. Sjøhaug, M. van Beekvelt, M. Mork, P. (2012). The effect of warm-up and cool-down exercise on delayed onset muscle soreness in the quadriceps muscle: a randomized controlled trial.. Journal of Human Kinetics, 35(1), 59-68.
- Shellock, F. Prentice, W. (1985). Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Taylor, K. Sheppard, J. Lee, H. Plummer, N. (2009). Negative effect of static stretching restored when combined with a sport specific warm-up component. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(6):657-61.
- Walker, B. (2018). The Anatomy of Sports Injuries, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1623172831)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 6). Warming up, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.