Successful muscle warm-up – Complete Guide 🔥

You probably know that a good muscle warm-up is important. But why is it really important at the start of the session? And how to warm up effectively ?

In this Guide, you will learn how to properly prepare for the effort without risking getting too tired, wasting your time or doing anything wrong.

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What is the use of warming up the muscles?

Some people don't warm up.

And while a few studies suggest it's not really necessary, there are at least two good reasons to warm up before training:

  1. Reduce the risk of injury;
  2. Improve performances.

This is what you will see in detail now.

1. Prevent injuries

barbell lifting without muscle warm-up
Beware of sessions without heating the muscles

In 2006 analysis by Fradkin, Gabbe and Cameron looking at five different studies three studies found that warming up is effective in reducing the risk of injury.

The two studies that found no benefit from warming up in injury prevention focused on warming up based on stretching,

While the studies that have shown that this reduced the risk of injury have focused on exercises that increase body temperature.

To prevent injury, raising body temperature therefore appears to be the most important factor in warming up.

Increase body temperature

When you warm up, you seek both to increase the overall body temperature, but above all to increase the temperature of the muscles.

This produces two results:

  1. This creates a breeding ground for enzyme activity;
  2. This improves the viscoelastic parameters of muscle fibers.

In your muscles, there are enzymes that help generate the energy (ATP) that you need to contract your muscles. These have an ideal operating temperature of around 38.5°C.

Raising the intramuscular temperature therefore allows the enzymes that produce energy to do so as quickly as possible.

The other physiological interest of the rise in temperature concerns the viscoelastic properties of your muscles. And "visco" means viscosity.

Think butter. When this one is in the fridge, this one is extremely hard. If you leave it at room temperature, it softens.

It's the same for your muscles:

An increase in temperature makes it possible to “fluidify” the muscles. Which allows to reduce frictional forces — it's like releasing the brake — and therefore improving muscle contractile capacities.

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Warming up is therefore literal: you are mainly looking to increase the temperature of the body and the muscles used.

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How to raise your temperature with a muscle warm-up?

increase its temperature with muscle warm-up

It is generally recommended to raise your rectal temperature by at least one to two degrees.

But if you can't imagine checking your temperature like this every time you train, here's a more pragmatic solution: warm up until you're sweating lightly. Or minimum until you have clammy skin.

The time needed to warm up to reach this point will depend on the individual's level of training, but also on the outside temperature.

It is for this reason that it is necessary to warm up longer in winter than summer.

For most people, doing cardio exercise at low or medium intensity for 5-10 minutes should be enough.

However, some studies suggest that longer warm-ups are necessary.

A 2013 study found that 15 minutes of low-intensity warm-up was more effective in improving 1RM (the heaviest load you can push at one time) Leg Press than a 5-minute warm-up.

From a practical point of view, however, you don't really need to prepare that long, especially if you're working out at home or don't plan on testing your 1RM.

To succeed in warming up more quickly, it is possible to warm up with a cardio exercise at medium intensity coupled with a few intervals at higher intensity.

If you are looking for accuracy, aim for a target area around 55-60 % from your maximum heart rate.

2. Improve performance through muscle warm-up

As we said before, raising the body and intramuscular temperature allows:

  • enzymes to reach their ideal operating temperature and produce energy more quickly,
  • to thin the muscles, reduce friction and improve contractile capacities.

In theory, this would therefore lead to better sports performance.

Is this really the case?

Researchers have investigated this question, and a meta-analysis gathered 32 studies to try to answer them.

Their conclusion is that warming up improves performance out of 79 % of the criteria examined.

Some disciplines, on the contrary, lost in performance after the warm-up, but this drop in performance often turned out to be caused by a warm-up that was not adapted to the sport or that was too exhausting.

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Overall, the study shows that muscle warming up does indeed improve athletic performance.

Other studies show that it improves nerve conduction velocity, muscle sensitivity to motor commands, and also blood circulation and nutrient supply to the muscles.

So many factors that allow you to be more efficient during your sports sessions.

And even if you're not interested in "performance" and you're not looking to break the world record for push-ups or squats, it's important because this allows you to work more efficiently and therefore to get more out of your training.

It is also a means of prepare mentally and psychologically for the effort.

In addition, aerobic exercise also helps improve mood before embarking on a tough workout. An effect probably linked to the release of endorphins.

Improve flexibility and mobility with warm-up

If we think of mobility as the ability to move freely, without pain and over the widest range of motion possible, the warm-up required will be different depending on the sport you are going to do.

An at-home strength training based on squats or push-ups will require less preparation than a gym workout or a kickboxing match.

Joint stiffness and blockages can of course be addressed before training. Generally through specific exercises and mobilizations aimed at regaining the most complete amplitude possible before committing to more or less complex movements.

The place of stretching during warm-up

Stretching has become controversial. So much so that it has become generally accepted that stretching before training can negatively impact performance, and many people now advise against it.

But is stretching really something to avoid?

It depends. A serious study on the subject show that :

  • Prolonged static stretching decreases performance.
  • Dynamic stretching improves performance.

Yet even static stretching would not decrease performance if held for less than 30 seconds. Additionally, if you start with static stretching and then immediately follow it up with dynamic stretching, it seems to negate the negative effects of static stretching.

My advice : Adapt your warm-up routine to your training needs.

If you don't specifically need a wide range of motion, stick with dynamic stretches. If, on the contrary, you need great flexibility, perform your static stretches in 30-second increments then follow them up with dynamic stretches.


Self-massages and mobility

Massage rollers and other mobility aids have become popular.

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And indeed, self-massages massage roller are effective in gaining range of motion without sacrificing muscle activation strength.

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In other words, self-massages improve mobility without reducing performance. It is therefore a useful tool for working on areas that require more mobility than others.

A passage of 20 to 30 seconds per zone, emphasizing the "stiff" zones should be sufficient for the majority. However, remember that the main purpose of warming up is as the name suggests to increase body temperature.

So it is better not to focus too much on self-massages and other mobility exercises to the detriment of a rise in temperature.

The 3 stages of muscle warm-up

To recap all of the recommendations above, here is a typical warm-up pattern. You can of course adapt it according to your training and your personal needs.

If you have just woken up or have been inactive for a long time, you can also precede your warm-up with a gentle general joint awakening.

1. General warm-up – cardio

Choose cardio exercises like:

  • To run
  • Jumprope
  • To go up the stairs
  • Jumping jack, burpees and “cardio” type movements

Aim to sweat lightly by performing these exercises at low intensity for 10 to 15 minutes. If you're looking to shorten the duration of this warm-up, slightly increase the intensity of the exercises in 30-second intervals until you reach medium difficulty.

2. Dynamic stretching and self-massage

Prepare your body to use its full range of motion. For example, make large circles with the arms, swinging movements with the legs or rotations of the bust.

Accentuate the work on the parts of the body that you will use during your session.

3. Specific muscle warm-up

The objective of this part is to gradually increase the load to prepare your body for the movements of your training.

For a workout at home, simply do the exercises you planned to do in slightly easier versions for getting started. For example, elevated hand push-ups instead of hands on the floor. Or weightless squats before weighting yourself down.

If you're warming up for a particular sport, gently perform the movements you'll be doing.

A few words about the author

Jonathan Pak - sports coach and dietitian-nutritionist

Jonathan Pak is a sports coach and dietitian-nutritionist in Bordeaux. He is also co-founder of Coach Caméléon and health editor. Its mission: to help those who struggle with their weight to get back into shape for a long time.

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Last updated on 2022-03-03 / Affiliate links / Some images are sourced from the Amazon Product Advertising API

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