Warming Up, More than going through the Motions

The warm up is the most fundamental part of all workouts. It is performed by all exercises from those simply taking general exercise for its health benefits to those preparing for elite competition. The approach to warm ups however has changed over the last five years or so. Richard Scrivener outlines the basics of the warm up and how to adjust the warm up for your athlete or client.

Stage 1: Mobilisation, 1-5 minutes

The purpose of this initial stage of the warm up is simply to work out stiffness from previous inactivity, such as driving to training or working in the office al day. Essentially you are warming up for the warm up. This is simply a series of gentle movements designed to gradually open up the joints, moves the synovial fluid around the joints and raise the body temperature. Note that these should be more like a gentle dynamic stretch than traditional static stretching by moving the joints through their range of motion in slow continuous movements. These actions will improve pro-prioception (joint position awareness), which will decrease the chance of injury and improve performance.

Stage 2: Pulse Raise, 3-10 minutes

This is what most people would recognise as the traditional part of the warm up. The objective here is to “switch on” the body’s energy producing mechanisms. The intensity you should be looking to achieve is 12-13 on the RPE scale (where 20 is the highest), which is a moderate to slightly difficult intensity; it should be difficult to speak in entire sentences. Toward the end of this part of the warm up you should be aiming to replicate the intensities that will be experienced in the session. By the end of this part of the session the pulse as been raised, capillaries have dilated allowing more oxygen to the working muscles and improved efficiency of waste transport, increased body heat will have increased nervous signal conduction, and connective tissue will be more flexible. During this period athletes should also be mentally preparing themselves for the session or competition to follow, this should include visualisation and mental rehearsal of actions and strategies.

The goal of this part of the warm is to move the muscles and joints through the ranges they would experience during the main activity. The focus should be on active or dynamic stretching where the stretch is moved through rather then stretched and held (this latter form of stretching before athletic performance has been shown to reduce available muscular power and increase injury risk). In addition by keeping the body moving while stretching, the previous sections of the warm-up retain their benefit as body temperature and pulse remain elevated.

By performing movements that replicate the activity to come in the main session but through the entire range of motion the athlete is rehearsing the activity while simultaneously.

Stage 4: Movement Practice, 2-10 minutes

The objective of this final stage of the warm up is to rehears the movements that will occur in the training session or competition. The movements should be specific to the activities to follow but at a lower intensity. In the gym this would involve doing the resistance exercises prescribed with a lower weight, on the field it may involve low intensity sprints or ball skills, throws kicks and so on over a limited distance. The result will be improved muscular control, better performance and lower injury risk withj improved mental focus.

Your warm up should incorporate all of these stages but can be shortened to allow for time constraints. By the time the warm up has been completed which could be as short as ten minutes, following this pattern you can be sure that the body and mind is best prepared for physical activity of all levels.


Scrivner, R.(2010).Warm-ups under the microscope. Performance Training Journal, 9(1). Retrieved from http://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/Issues/PTJ0901.pdf

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