Warm Up Right

October 30, 2014 11:45 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Haphazardly jumping on the treadmill for a handful of minutes won’t cut it in the long run. Neither will meandering through a battery of bastardized calisthenics from your grammar school PE days. The time spent creating and implementing an appropriate warm up is a worthy investment. Warm ups confer several distinct advantages to the lifter or athlete, which work in concert to prevent injury and improve performance.

First, warm ups increase blood flow causing an elevation in core and peripheral temperature. The increased blood flow in conjunction with the thermic effect of the warm up, cleaves oxygen from hemoglobin, causing a change in the partial pressure of blood, thus facilitating a greater supply of oxygen to working tissue. Second, the increase in temperature prompts enzymatic activity within the muscle cells and reduces viscosity. Third, as consequence of the increased body temperature, elasticity and extensibility of musculotendinous structures improve acutely, permitting greater joint ranges of motion and flexibility. Fourth, through activation and movement patterning drills, neural pathways are activated thus engaging a greater contribution of the CNS which governs afferent and efferent mechanisms necessary to the demonstration of strength and delivery of power output. Individuals suffering from or who may be at risk of cardiovascular disease may reduce the likelihood of a cardiac event by incorporating a lengthened warm up which gradually increases heart rate to a desired level (i.e. target heart rate zones). Properly designed warm ups also yield a cardioprotective benefit for lifters and athletes. Lastly, the time spent warming up, allows the lifter or athlete to dissociate themselves with daily and competing stressors and for a lack of a better cliché, helps them “get their mind right”.

Like it or not, warm ups of some extent are essential. Jumping under a heavily loaded bended bar for a set of squats sans warm up spells a recipe for musculoskeletal disaster. Many warm up modalities have been championed throughout the years and in some instances accepted as dogma, which is why we still see the tight clad headband wearing weekend warrior in the stretching area occupying the stretching mats in the corner of the gym seemingly all day.

The ACSM states that warm ups must span 10-15 minutes. However, at best, their well-intentioned guideline is failingly vague. The length and modalities incorporated within the warm up will depend on a person’s age, training and injury history, type of activity, time of day, and environmental conditions. Ultimately, the structure of a warm up protocol is largely individualistic.

The Stretching Debate

The application of pre workout stretching has been debated, even demonized, by many of the fitness industry’s top dogs. Many fitness professionals exclaimed that stretching before workouts will activate sensory organs within the muscles, in turn inhibiting force output. Stretching a “cold” muscle has also been theorized in triggering injuries, such as pulls and strains. Static stretching is beneficial in that, when performed properly with joints kept neutral and centrated and for an appropriate amount of time, is capable of improving proprioception, extensibility, while providing an analgesic effect. Static stretching for excessively long periods of time or prior to activities involving explosive movements may reduce power output (1,4). It has also been revealed that static stretching may reduce jump and sprint performance up to 24hours (2).

Structuring a Warm Up
To reap the multifaceted benefits of warming up, it is prudent that the protocols utilized prior to the training session or event, are varied. Multimodal warm ups, involving dynamic drills, have been show to deliver performance enhancing benefits (3). Below are guidelines in setting up an effective warm up.

• Engage in a brief cardiovascular warm up first to increase blood flow and body temperature.
o Examples include: a field or track based warm up of skips, hops, and running conducted at progressively increasing intensities or if you’re in the gym, an elliptical, treadmill, or recumbent bike
• Perform self-myofascial release with a foam roller or lacrosse ball to improve muscle extensibility. Recent research has shown that SMFR protocols enhance joint range of motion.
o SMFR can be performed with foam rollers, PVC piping, lacrosse, tennis, medicine, and golf balls
• Perform a dynamic warm up to improve flexibility and to align joints.
o Dynamic warm ups consist of bodyweight movements, such as lunges and hand walkouts performed in multiple directions
• Perform dynamic neuromuscular stabilization drills and activation exercises to help turn on the agonists, or prime mover muscles, involved in compound movements.
• Pattern the exercise or movement of the first strength training exercise you intend to perform unloaded or with lighter loads to reinforce proper execution of the exercise as weight is progressively increased throughout the workout.
• Warm ups may include static stretches, if in fact, the lifter or athlete warrants them. It is advised that static stretches be performed when body temperature is increased.


Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, hails from a working class section of Philadelphia and is a formerly a manual laborer himself, working in warehouse and landscaping during college to pay his tuition. Joe is an avid Craigslist dater, “swag surfer”, and coupon clipper. He prefers deadlifting and finding money on the ground. He is an extremely private person and does not keep a blog, website, or push products, because he’s not an “expert”, instead he does what he loves – writing, training people, and deadlifting.


1. Cramer, J.T., Housh, T.J., Weir, J.P., Johnson, G.O., Coburn, J.W., & Beck, T.W. (2005). The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanography. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 93, 530-539.

2. Haddad, M., Dridi, A., Chtara, M., Chaouachi, A. Wong, D.P., Behm, D. & Chamari, K. (2014). Static stretching and impair explosive performance for at least 24 hours. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28, 140-146.

3. Herman, S.L. & Smith, D.T. (2008). Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22, 1286-1297.

4. Samuel, M.N., Holcomb, W.R., Guadagnoli, M.A., Rubley, M.D., & Wallmann, H. (2008). Acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on measures of strength and power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22, 1422-1428.

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