Warm-Ups in training: what is so important?

Warm-ups: the boring part of training and game day, what’s all the fuss about?


Have you ever wondered why your class instructor, trainer or coach places a large emphasis on pre-habilitation work before you push and pull heavy weights in the gym?

Most likely it is because they don’t want injuries to occur.

It may seem like an old testament you hear from trainers: “Ok, so we are going to start with some mobility work, neural prep, activate the glutes, shoulders, work on some thoracic spine mobility and get the body warm before we get into your strength and conditioning work”.

After playing soccer for many years and being involved in various social sports doing warm-ups were always something that you wanted to get done quickly because all you want to do is play. Typical warm-ups would involve running around the oval for two laps at a low intensity. The same holds true for strength training – running on the treadmill for a few minutes.

Over the years I have learned that warm-ups should not be seen as a boring, separate part of a strength or conditioning session that just involves doing some low intensity aerobic on the bike or rowing machine for 5 minutes, but rather seen as an essential part of the session whereby the goal should be on reducing injury risk and improving movement efficiency to allow for optimal performance or adaptation to occur.




There are many benefits for individuals and athletes that include proper warm-up that is structured and relates to their overall session and goals. If an individual fails to warm-up and does not have any injuries over the short-term they may continue to avoid doing it because they may see no purpose in warming up but research indicates that this places them at a high risk of injury because every time they are avoiding warming up they are avoiding a chance to activate their stabilising muscles properly and avoiding the chance to enhance their movement coordination and also avoid to improve their range of motion.

Studies have shown there are many benefits to warm-ups that include specific drills like movement preparation, muscle activation and dynamic stretching, and mobility work.

In particular, a review by Fradkin et al. 2010 found that warm-ups which involved similar movements and those that targeted similar muscles that were to be used in a performance task such as running, jumping, swimming and cycling resulted in improved performance 79% of the time. The performance improvements reported were increased vertical and broad jumping distances, and faster running, swimming and cycling times. For example, if a session is going to be focusing on sprinting and acceleration, targeting glute activation, and ankle and thoracic spine mobility would be appropriate.

Most of the documented benefits are physiological as a result of increased muscle temperature: vasodilation (increased blood flow) improves joint range of motion (ROM) by reducing the viscosity (thickness) of the tissue and a warmer muscle has the potential to contract more forcefully and at a faster rate than cold muscles. Other important benefits include improved muscular coordination as specific movement patterns such as gait (walking), and sprinting mechanics can be reinforced.




So for those who train regularly and play regular sport matches, undertaking a proper warm-up with similar movements that will be performed during your session or game can be beneficial to performance and also reduce the risk of injury. Overall, the warm-up should stimulate and challenge the body’s proprioceptive mechanisms, joint stability and flexibility.  At the conclusion of the warm-up the individual or athlete should be feeling warm and primed for the next part of their session.

Seek advice of an exercise professional, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, for exercise advice.