The Why and How of Dynamic Warm ups - Thrive Now Physiotherapy

The Why and How of Dynamic Warm ups

The why and how of Dynamic Warm ups

When we are short on time during a workout one of the first things that we drop is the warm-up. Forgoing the warm-up can put us at higher risk for injury as the purpose of a warm-up is to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for the exercises we are about to perform. Thus, reducing the risk of injury.


Why warm up?Why warm up?

From a physiological standpoint when you warm-up it redistributes blood from the internal organs to working muscle. Heat rate, stroke volume and systolic blood pressure increase. The majority of the benefits of warming-up are related to temperature dependent physiological processes. An elevation in body temperature and respiration rate produces an increase in the dissociation of oxygen from haemoglobin and myoglobin. Leading to an increase in blood flow to working muscles, which leads to a reduction in muscle viscosity or feeling of muscle stiffness and an increase in the sensitivity and speed of nerve impulses. Thus, leading to improved range of motion. Warming up primes the neural pathways so that they are ready for the workout to come. An effective warm-up will familiarize, activate or “prime” the nervous system with the movement patterns to be used for the up coming workout. Leading to a reduction in injury.


Types of warm-upsTypes of warm-ups

In the past warm-ups have been generally associated with stretching, where people would perform static, or ballistic stretches prior to a workout.  Static stretching is when you hold a static or not moving stretch for an extended period of time. Ballistic stretching involves bouncing or jerking in an effort to help get farther into a stretch leading to greater agility or flexibility. More recently dynamic stretching has become more popular in warm-ups. Dynamic stretching involves moving a body part in a desired way until it reaches its full range of motion. Simply walking or jogging at a lower level than what you intend to work out at can also been considered a warm-up.  Some people will physically warm themselves such as being in a hot room or running their body under warm or hot water in an attempt to warm-up.


What is in and what’s out?

As science evolves so does our understanding as to what makes an effective warm-up. Static stretching is an effective and safe form of stretching. However, there is some debate around the possibility for injury or impaired performance when performing static stretching prior to a workout. For this reason, it is generally recommended that static stretching be reserved for the end of a workout or the cool down period. Ballistic stretching is no longer considered to be a safe and effective component for warm-ups in the general population as the risk of injury out weighs the benefits. Ballistic stretching does still have its place for some athletes in high performance sport. Dynamic stretching is now seen as the most safe and effective form of stretching prior to working out. Walking, jogging, or performing other movements that mimic those you are about to perform can also be effective components to a warm-up. Exercising in a warm room, or artificially raising your body or muscle temperature by other means can have the opposite effect and can lead to injury.


What is a dynamic warm up?

Depending on where you look you may find a slightly different definition of what a dynamic warm-up is. To put it simply a dynamic warm-up is a series of movements performed prior to physical activity.  Designed to increase blood flow to working muscles, increase body temperate, activate the nervous system, increase functional mobility, and increase range of motion. This serves to wakeup or “prime” the nervous system. Helps co-ordinate movements and get the muscles. Joints and connective tissue used to the movement you will be preforming with an initially lighter load.


What does an effective warm up look likeWhat does an effective warm up look like?

The intensity and duration of a warm-up can vary and is dependent on a person’s goals, activity to be performed and the persons physical capabilities in consideration with environmental factors which may alter the temperature response. Generally, a warm-up consists of two phases a general phase that consists of approximately 5 minutes of low-moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise using the muscles to be worked during the training session followed by specific phase in which large amplitude dynamic stretching and then sport/ activity specific dynamic activities are performed.


Example warm upExample dynamic warm ups

An example for a runner would be:

  • Dynamic foam rolling of lower body with a focus on major muscle groups and paying attention to what areas are most tight for the person performing the activity. Those areas may include the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, IT band, glutes, and tensor fasciae latae.


  • Followed by dynamic movements that prepare for the activity to be performed. You want to be cognizant of the fact that you want to warm up through out a range of motion and not just the range you think you will be using. For example, running is mostly a forward back or sagittal movement with the legs, ankles, and arms. However, to prevent injury you want to warm up your legs, ankles, and arms in the frontal and sagittal plane. Movements such as knee to chest or high knees, butt kicks, stepping over the fence, leg swings forward and back as well as side to side, jumping jacks or side stepping and lateral lunges are all good options.


  • Finally, a walk or light jog depending on goals and currentl fitness level. Making sure you keep the arms moving and gradually increase your speed.


An example for a full body weightlifting warm-up would be:

  • Warming up on bike, treadmill, or rowing ergometer at a lower rate for 5 minutes. Paying attention to make sure you are moving your entire body.


  • Followed by dynamic movements that prepare for the activity to be performed. Starting general and moving to more specific. For example, general range of motion movements starting at the head and moving your way down. Followed by whole body movements or more specific movements such as: squats, lunges, bear crawl, single leg hip hinge etc.


  • Depending on your training goals you may be ready to work out. However, if you are lifting heaver weights you may benefit form performing the lift or movement with light or no weight before performing the exercise with the desired amount of weight.


Most importantly stay safe and have fun with your warm-up!

Written By:

Katie Anderson | Thrive Now Physio

Katie Anderson

Registered Kinesiologist

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

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