Warm ups – Can they enhance performance?

By Athlete's Care on June 13, 2013

We all have been taught to perform some form of a warm-up prior to our sporting activity, yet are they effective at improving sport performance? A warm-up is a collection of movements or exercises generally performed prior to exercise or competition to prepare the body to prepare for upcoming exercise. These programs are created with the goal of improving performance, and reducing the risk of injury.

Traditional warm-up protocols begin with a short period of low-intensity aerobic exercise, often followed by stretching and/or sport-specific movements. It is thought that pre-exercise warm-up increases the suppleness of muscles and tendons, increases blood flow and temperature of muscles, and heightens coordination of movement.

A meta-analysis in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research included 32 studies with 92 different combinations of warm-up and criterion tasks. These were assessed to determine the effectiveness of each in improving performance.

The majority of studies (79%) showed that performance was improved after a warm-up.

The results of the meta-analysis show that a warm-up is beneficial, necessary and useful prior to practice or competition.

Additional research is required with respect to the “perfect” warm-up however, it can be stated that it should include more than simply low-intensity aerobic exercise and stretching.

The studies included in this meta-analysis highlighted improvements in aerobic or long-lasting (cycling, running, swimming), anaerobic, or short-lasting (vertical jumping, agility, long jump, bench stepping, kicking) as well as actual sporting performances (softball, basketball, bowling, golf) after warm-up.

Seventeen percent of studies actually displayed a decrease in performance after a warm-up; however, it was thought that the warm-ups likely were unsuitable for the exercise performances that were evaluated. The results indicate that the warm-up needs to be tailored to the activity being performed to prevent a decrease in performance. For example, 10-12 jumping jacks are probably not an appropriate or effective warm-up for runners, and they should instead be performing dynamic stretches such as leg lifts or walking lunges.

This meta-analysis highlights an important issue in exercise performance optimization, that athletes are recommended to warm-up prior to exercise. The warm-up should consist of a period of aerobic exercise, followed by sport specific stretches/dynamic motions and exercises similar to the activity the individual is participating in.

Fradkin A. J., Zazryn, T. R., and Smoliga, J. M. Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A systematic review with meta-analysis (2010). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 24(1): 140-148.

Article provided by Dr. Amrita Kharkar, Chiropractor at Athlete's Care Brampton and Yonge & Eglinton