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Short or Long Warm up?

Short or Long Warm-Up... practical effects on intense exercise

By, Mark Wine CSCS; BA

In the beginning there was stretching… In the middle there was running… And in the end there are dynamic movements. Much research has been done on warm-ups and the effects it has on cardiovascular training, intense bouts of exercise and even maximal effort exercises.

A general adoption of a longer warm-up has been selected in the modern era. First, athletes engage in cardiovascular exercise; second, athletes engage in stretching; and lastly, athletes engage in specific task-oriented movements. I pose this question, is this all really necessary? Do we need to engage in a 20 to 30 minute warm-up? Can we shorten it up and if so, what do we really need in the warm-up?

First and foremost stretching in any warm-up should never be static (i.e. holding) but rather dynamic (i.e. active). Static stretching reduces performance on bouts of maximal effort exercise. Research points to inhibited neural function, decreased muscle spindle activity and increased muscle and tendon compliance (1). On the other hand, dynamic stretches have not been linked to these negative traits.

The other two warm-up activities are cardiovascular exercise and specific task-oriented movements. Cardiovascular activity is primarily used to increase the body’s core temperature. Specific task-oriented movements are used to increase specific primary (i.e. prime mover) muscle temperature, which is vital to enhance performance and decrease the risk of injury. Even better, specific task-oriented movements can be more localized and in a significantly less amount of time.

So the question remains, do I perform a longer warm-up or a shorter warm-up? Research has suggested that shorter warm-ups are more successful in producing results than longer more traditional warm-ups. Shorter warm-ups results are linked to increased blood lactate levels, which suggest greater glycolytic contribution during intense bouts of exercise; as well, reduced thermoregulatory strain from shorter warm ups are also advantageous (3).

Applying it practically, a short warm-up consisting of a short general cardiovascular activity followed by specific muscular activities improves fastest and mean sprint times (2). This research suggests that focusing on specific muscle activation better enhances thermal temperature of prime mover muscles and blood lactate levels, which increases the body’s ability to contract with higher force. Sprinters, weightlifters and all sports that involve explosive-reactionary movements should select this shorter warm up to increase their ability to perform bouts of max effort exercise.

Other benefits of a shorter warm-up include the following:

· Ease of use – it is easier for the athletes to learn and perfect the warm up.

· Takes less time away from the workout / practice – all workouts and practices should be capped to a 2 hour time limit; decreasing your warm-up time allows for more time for specifics.

· Less space required – longer warm-ups generally require greater surface areas and/or equipment.

Note: this blog was inspired after reading a case study on warm-up duration and its effect on repeated sprint ability, which provides further evidence into specific warm-ups.


1. Stretching and Injury Prevention: An obscure relationship.

Witvrouw, E, Mahieu, N, Danneels, L, and McNair P.

Sports Medicine 1: 102-108, 1998

2. The Effect of a Short Practical Warm-Up Protocol on Repeated Sprint Performance

Jonathan M. Taylor, Matthew Weston, and Matthew D. Portas

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 27 #7: 2034-2037, 2013

3. High-Intensity warm-ups elicit superior performance to current soccer warm-up routine.

Zois, J, Bishop, DJ, Ball, K, and Aughey, RJ.

Journal of Science Medical Sports 14: 522-525, 2011.

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