How to properly warm-up for injury prevention ?

sportsman warming up before sport

If you are looking for ways to avoid injuries during your workouts while continuing to make progress, you need to focus on warming up. But how do you know if you're warming up properly?

For injury prevention, the right way to warm-up should include low-fatigue activity, specific stretching, preventive movements and exercises focus on the muscles and joints being worked. To properly warmup, you should also gradually increase the intensity of the warm-up. Besides, to be effective, a warm-up should last for about 15 minutes.

To learn more about the benefits of warming up, the different practices and the best way to warmup, read on.  

Warm-up: definition 

Warm-up is the intermediate stage between the resting phase and physical activity. It is what allows any athlete or person to prepare psychologically and physically before a training session or a competition. 

The purpose of warming up is to awaken yourself by increasing your body temperature and the areas worked during your workout. 

Why warming up before sport? 

Preparing the body for exercise 

When your body temperature is rather low, which is what usually happens when you are in resting phase, you are not ready to train. 

Why? Because your joints are a little stuck, your muscles are numb and your breathing is slow. If you increase your pace all of a sudden, your heart rate and respiratory rate don't rise fast enough. This means that your muscles are not getting all the components needed for any physical activity: oxygen or energy. In this case, the risk of injury increases. 

What can be done about it? You've probably guessed it, you need to warm-up. Warming up allows you to:

  1. Preparing your body for exercise;
  2. Reducing the risk of injury ;
  3. Improve your performance ;
  4. Increase your ability to concentrate;
  5. Recover faster after training ;
  6. Etc. 

In addition, to function properly, the joints of the human body require one essential thing: the synovia (also called synovial fluid), a bilogical lubricant produced by the synovial membrane. 

When you're in rest phase, your body temperature is low and the synovial fluid is viscous. It is therefore essential to heat the synovial fluid to reduce the viscosity and act on your joints. To do this, remember to prepare the joints worked on during your training session. Make movements that are first slow, then increase gradually the intensity and speed. 

Warming up is also important because your tendons, nervous system and metabolism work better when your body temperature reaches 102.2°F (39°C). At rest, your muscles and tendons are only at 96.8°F (36°C). 

Your nervous system functioning depends on your general body temperature. It is, of course, the nervous system that coordinates the muscles and all the different parts of your body. Although your usual temperature is around 98.6°F (37°C), your nervous system works much better between 100.4°F to 102.2°F (38°C to 39°C). Warming up therefore helps to bridge this temperature gap. At 102.2°F (39°C), the muscles contract more quickly, their coordination and flexibility are more efficient. 

But wait, that's not all. Warming up also allows you to gradually increase your heart rate. You give your muscles the energy they need for training by opening the blood vessels. 

If you train without taking the time to warm-up, the small blood capillaries will not be able to fully open during all your training session. What difference does it make? Your muscles are not properly irrigated and therefore work in slow motion, which will inevitably affect your performance. 

As you can see, the warm-up brings you better results, without having to work more during your training session. 

"It is widely accepted that warming-up prior to exercise is vital for the attainment of optimum performance." Mcgowan, Courtney & Pyne, David & Thompson, Kevin & Rattray, Ben. (2015). Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 45. 10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x.

Reducing the risk of injury

Thanks to an effective warm-up, your muscles, your tendons and ligaments are optimally stimulated, your musculotendinous junction and joints become more mobile and more flexible. All this reduces the risk of injury: micro-tears, muscle tears, dislocation, inflammation, etc.

Finally, warm-up also plays a role in the cartilage. During the warm up, the pressure exerted on the cartilage inflates it by about 10%. This increase is due to the synovial fluid assimilation present in the joint. The warm-up helps the cartilage to be more robust in case of shocks and improves his elasticity.

Mental preparation 

Warming up is not only about the physical, it also influences your mind. When you warm-up, you limit the stress you may experience during a competition. You feel ready to start training and overcome obstacles, if any. During the warm-up, you also improve your focus and attention span.

"Warm-ups appear to provide psychological and physiological preparation for exercise performance...they seem to have a meaningful effect on exercise performance by affording psychological stability, preparation, and confidence in exercise performance." Park, Hyoung-Kil et al. "The effect of warm-ups with stretching on the isokinetic moments of collegiate men." Journal of exercise rehabilitation vol. 14,1 78-82. 26 Feb. 2018, doi:10.12965/jer.1835210.605.

By warming up, you also reduce the adaptation phase between rest and physical activity. This is often an unpleasant stage since your body must adapt to this new rhythm, both physically and mentally. 

In summary, a well performed warm-up reduces the risk of injury or trauma, optimizes energy expenditure, maximizes performance and recovery. 

What are the risks if you don't warm-up?

Do you sometimes miss the warm-up and wonder if this can have an impact on your health and performance? The answer is yes. 

If you don't warm-up or don't warm-up enough, many problems can occur whether they involve your muscles, joints or cardiovascular system. This often results in :

  • shortness of breath;
  • painful legs;
  • cramps;
  • tachycardia;
  • discomfort;
  • risk of multiple injuries. 

As you can see, the warm-up is therefore a required step before any workout session. 

According to a study mentioned by the British Medical Journal, a warm-up that focuses on stability, increasing strength, improving balance and focusing on muscle awareness can reduce the risk of injury. 

Obviously, the risks are different depending on the sport practised, the age of the person concerned and his or her state of health. For example, there are several sports activities, such as jogging for example, which require a shorter and less complex warm-up. 

What are the different types of warm-ups?

You may not know it, but not all warm-ups are the same. Several methods can be used.

Active Passive Mental
Definition These are physical activities that directly affect your heart rate, muscles and joints. This one does not require any physical activity. It uses outside measures to raise your temperature and avoid fatigue. Based on visualization. You visualize the exercises you are going to do to prepare yourself for exercise.
Examples of exercises Hip swings, shoulder rotations, slow jogging, etc. A hot shower, sauna or massage. Visualization and relaxation techniques.
To be completed No, it is enough to prepare yourself for training. This is always combined with active warm-up for greater efficiency. This warm-up should always be complemented by an active warm-up.

The ideal warm-up to prevent injuries 

Now it's time to start the ideal warm-up protocol to reduce the risk of injury, while boosting your performance. 

A good warm-up should therefore focus on the internal physiological changes necessary to increase performance and avoid overtraining. 

Be aware that there is a transition phase between the end of the warm-up and the start of your physical activity. This transition phase should be short without cooling your body too much: about 5 minutes. 

If your transition phase is too short, between 1 and 2 minutes, you will soon feel tired. Whereas, a rest time that is too long, more than 10 minutes for example, will destroy the benefits of the warm-up. 

As a reminder, to be effective, your warm-up should include :

  1. A non-fatiguing activity; A warm-up should never cause fatigue, otherwise you take away all the benefits of it: the number of pain or injuries rises sharply, your achievements regress. 
  1. Specific stretching such as active-isolated stretching or dynamic stretching that promote increased body temperature and muscle responsiveness. Conventional static stretching done before a workout is too risky. Cold body temperature and static stretching increases the risk of injury and decrease performance. The difference between active-isolated stretching and conventional static stretching is simple. With static stretching, you stretch your muscle and hold the position for 30 seconds. They are preferable post-training. As for active-isolated stretching, you alternate between a static stretching phase, which lasts less than 5 seconds, and a movement phase. 
  1. Preventive joint mobility movements and exercises related to the muscles and joints being worked. This allows you to directly target the areas you are going to work and optimize the quality of your training and performance.
  1. A gradual increase in the intensity level. The effort provided during the warm-up should be crescendo to gently raise your body temperature and prepare your body for optimal performance.

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