Dynamic Warm-Up – What’s the big deal?

With the return to regular practice and workout patterns, the concept of a warm up prior to exercise in order to prevent injury becomes quite important.  Warming up prior to exercise is a well-accepted practice.  But, what is the most effective type of warm up?

Most of us think of a warm up as a quick 10 minutes on the bike or a slow jog around the block.  While this accomplishes some of the goals of a full body warm up, many are left unachieved. There is a way to “tweak” the warm up to be more effective to prepare the body for fast-paced and sport-specific movements.  This, my friends, is known as the dynamic warm up.

The physiological benefits of warming up prior to exercise include:

  • Increased temperature and blood delivery to the working muscles
  • Improved ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to communicate with the rest of the body – this allows the athlete to adjust mentally and physically from a resting state to an active one
  • Enhancement of the extensibility of the connective tissue and increased fluid flow within joints and muscle to improve range of motion and flexibility
  • Increased force and efficiency of muscle contractions
  • Decreased risk of injury

Guidelines for a general body warm up include light to moderate exercise, utilizing as many joints as possible at an intensity sufficient enough to increase the body’s core temperature, but not so intense that it induces fatigue.  This definition could very well be accomplished by the above light jog.  However, that does not prepare the body for the complex, multi-directional, sport-specific movements required in competition and practice.  Movements that require timing, balance and coordination are required to fully enhance performance and reduce chance of injury.

A proper dynamic warm up should include light-to-no resistance, utilizing a variety of muscle groups in multi-directional planes of movement and taking the joints through as full of range of motion as possible.  These movements should also include mild to moderate balance, coordination and stability challenges.  Some good ideas include:

  • 5-10 minutes of aerobic activity to increase body temperature and blood flow
  • Long alternating lunges with upper body rotation to stretch out the hips and spine
  • Butt kicks to stretch the quads and warm up the hamstrings
  • Skips with straight leg kicks to introduce explosiveness and to stretch the hamstrings
  • Carioca, backwards run and lateral shuffle
  • Single leg forward dips to challenge the balance and stretch the low back and hamstrings
  • Light plyometric activities such as line jumps, zig-zag hops and lateral hops

Adding some of these dynamic and sport-specific activities to the general warm up will enhance flexibility and muscle firing, leading to increased performance and muscle control and decreased chance for injury.