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A Dynamic Warm-Up Can Prepare You for Exercise While Reducing Injury Risk

Healthy Lifestyle

Most of us will agree that diving into vigorous activity or sports without warming up is a recipe for trouble. What we may not agree on is what constitutes a proper warm-up. 

So what’s the most effective way to prevent injuries and improve performance? The answer may surprise you.

Static stretching has its limits

Static stretching – like the traditional reach-and-hold movements from your youth – has long been popular as the way to prepare for exercise. 

But it may not be an appropriate way to warm up for high-level activity. While static stretching can help with flexibility, research is inconclusive on whether it’s effective for preventing exercise-related injuries.

Dynamic warm-ups gain popularity

If you follow Husker football and other local sports teams, you may have heard the phrases “dynamic warm-up” and “active warm-up” used more frequently over the past few years. Those teams are on to something.

A dynamic warm-up routine is a series of movements performed in a progressive, deliberate sequence. It can be a good way to prepare your body for activity and reduce the risk of injury.

Dynamic warm-up basics

I want to empower you to create your own safe and appropriate dynamic warm-up based on the activity you’re going to do. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • The warm-up should raise your core temperature. Remember, if you’re sweaty, you’re ready. This should be a gradual process over 10-15 minutes.
  • It should involve multiple moving body parts and functional (real-life) movement patterns.
  • It should start out easy, progressing from low to moderate intensity.
  • The speed of movements should start out slow, increasing to a moderate speed (or faster if you’re doing a sprint or high-speed workout).
  • Special attention should be made to “at risk” areas such as shoulders, spine and neck if you’re doing a high-intensity exercise or combat sport.
  • You should also address the “essential functions and skills” of the activity. Your warm-up should involve proper agility activities that imitate your activity; make use of special equipment involved in your activity (balls, clubs, etc.); and include specific surfaces of your activity (grass, dirt, mats, wood floor, etc.).

Sample warm-up

So what’s this look like in everyday life? Let’s break it down with an activity where my wife and I violated the “gradual warm-up” rule and strained our hamstrings — a family kickball game.

First, consider the essential parts of kickball: running, throwing and kicking. They’re all there, sometimes at high intensity.

No amount of warming up will make me impervious to injury. But here’s a list of exercises that would be appropriate before playing kickball again. 

Running/sprinting prep

  • Jog/High knee walk/High knees, slow to fast/Butt kicks, slow to fast/Slow lateral shuffle/Crossovers
  • Lunge walk/Leg hugs
  • Change of direction drills 

Kicking

  • Single leg kicks
  • Over the fence kicks

Throwing

  • Jumping jacks/Bear crawls/Reverse bear crawls 
  • Throwing warm-up (short, medium and long distances)

Essential skills (putting it all together)

  • Drills involving catching, kicking and throwing on the run at slow, medium and fast speeds

  • Teamwork drills

Whew! What a workout … I mean, warm-up.

This may sound like a lot just to get ready for exercise, but don’t be intimidated. Most people aren’t involved in activities that require a lot of skilled movement. Your goal is to focus on what you’re comfortable with.

If you’re unsure what any of the above warm-up exercises are, there are numerous example videos online. Here’s one of my favorites with 21 examples.

Find a warm-up that works for you

Regardless of your activity and fitness level, preventing injury should be a primary goal. If you’re just starting an exercise program, it may be a good idea to meet with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider. And depending on your activity goals, a personal trainer may be able to help you plan an appropriate warm-up.

With a little time and effort, you can analyze your activity and create a dynamic warm-up that gets you ready to go.

More resources

Pat Wilson

About the Author:

Pat Wilson, PT, OCS, CSCS, manages the Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest outpatient physical and occupational therapy clinic. He is committed to leading by example and providing caring, compassionate therapy. 

See More Articles by Pat Wilson