In the last few years there’s been a lot of controversy
around what’s considered the best way to warm up for exercise.
Through exercise science, we discovered it best to start moving our body slowly before we put it through a workout.
This could include doing the actual exercise at a lower intensity, or doing different movements that resemble pieces of the exercise we’re getting ready to do. Whatever movements we choose to do, the reason for a warm up is to get more blood flowing to the body parts that will be working. A better blood supply brings more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles so they perform better.
There is also a school of thought that we need to stretch during a warm up.
In the 60’s, stretching was the warm up. That became outdated. But now we’re reviewing whether it still has value in the pre-workout phase. Of my favorite physical therapists explained it to me like this:
If your joint is closed and tight before you start exercise and then you put load on that closed, tight, joint, it’s going to cause friction and lead to swelling and pain. In the long run it results in micro-trauma, tears, sprains and strains, or worse- arthritis and joint debilitation.
That makes a lot of sense.
My PT was seeing many clients with exercise-related injuries that could have been avoided had they had more range of motion in their joints. Even yoga practitioners who were jumping into intense downward dog sessions with tight shoulders were finding their way to the PT office. Once he got them to warm up, then stretch, then work out, things started looking up for these athletic individuals.
About a year ago a flurry of media articles spread the word that stretching before a workout is not good
highlighting studies that found after stretching the muscles are less powerful. But, the findings were much more complex than the media made it seem.
Despite what the media would like us to believe, the important take-home point from this research was not that stretching is bad.
The researchers say themselves that their research showed “static stretching alone is not recommended as an appropriate form of warm-up”.
In fact, a popular study conducted by the CDC and printed in the American Journal of Sports’ Medicine in 2008 saw tremendous results in preventing ACL injuries in female soccer players with a combination of jogging, stretching, strengthening and plyometrics before practice and games.
So, what’s the best way to warm up?
My recommendation (and my practice) is Move-Stretch-Move- before exercise.
(Move) Start to move the body with slower, rhythmic movements that get blood and oxygen flowing especially to muscles that will be working during the intense movement. About 5-7 minutes.
(Stretch) Once you’re warm, stretch the areas that will be working. A warm muscle is always a more flexible muscle. If you’ve had an injury, these areas should be given specific attention. Allow about 30 seconds for each stretch (8).
(Move) After stretching, don’t go right into intense exercise. Rather, start from low and move to high intensity levels within a few minutes time (8).
Here are some examples
jog, stretch legs, jog, run.
Arm circles and shoulder rolls, knee lifts and glute-kicks, stretch shoulders and legs, arm circles and shoulder rolls, knee lifts and glute-kicks, swim.
Active stretching is gaining popularity. It combines warming up and stretching into one activity.
It’s a form of repetitive multiple muscle group movements, where you gradually get to a range of motion that provides a stretch.
The warm up video here is an example of active stretching. It can provide you with a good cardio warm-up for almost any exercise, and I’ll show you how to slowly increase your intensity to get a stretch. Be careful when you first try it though, it’s not for everyone.
So how about you? How do you ready your body for exercise? Do you start slow and go faster? Do you stretch? Let me know below.
- NY Times.com, April 3, 2013, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/reasons-not-to-stretch
- American Journal of Sports Medicine, A Randomized Controlled Trial to Prevent Noncontact Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Female Collegiate Soccer Players,
Gilchrist, et al. 36; 8; 1476 , http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/36/8/1476
- CDC Newsroom Press Release July 25, 2008 http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2008/r080725.htm
- Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2):131-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x. Epub 2012 Feb 8.
Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review.
Simic L, Sarabon N, Markovic G.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):973-7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318260b7ce.
Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men.
- Phys Ed – Stretching – The Truth – NYTimes.com http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/sports/playmagazine/112
Stretching: Myths Vs. Realities
By John O’Halloran, DPT, OCS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Cert MDT
- A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Behm DG1, Chaouachi A. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Nov;111(11):2633-51. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2. Epub 2011 Mar 4.