Our quest to find the perfect warm-up is an ongoing one. In fact it’s so ongoing that we’ve actually taken it online. We’ll be updating this page as we experiment with different types of warm-ups, both on the court and in the gym. So, here’s a quick lowdown on the experiment so far; we’re testing three different warm-ups, two of them have been tried and tested by our friend and teammate, Michael Porter, and we’re testing a new one.
One of the things that make being a speaker difficult is the fact that you never know what to say or how to say it. For instance, when preparing for a presentation on, say, the benefits of cooking with vinegar, you’ll have to choose from the wealth of available research and find a study that provides the most compelling evidence. But fear not, fellow presenter, because there’s a far simpler, more effective and practical way to get into a presentation in the first place – by just doing it.
The warm-up is a key part of any workout. You want to warm your muscles up before you start exerting physical force, so that your body doesn’t get injured. To do this, we often do exercises that – while not fully-intense – allow us to get our heart pumping and muscles moving. But what is the best warm-up for you? What kind of exercises will get you ready for a workout?
We began an informal experiment a few months ago to examine how successful various warm-ups were at increasing strength on later workouts. We were particularly interested in seeing whether dynamic stretching was more effective than performing a few minutes of moderate exercise.
Before I get to the findings, let me explain why we decided to investigate the impact of dynamic stretching on strength in the first place. It’s simple: no one else had looked at it before. (As they used to say in the Karate Kid, “Strike first!”) Strike with vigour! No pity!”)
The impact of dynamic stretching on bench press strength has never been studied in the literature. On the other side, there is a lot of evidence that static stretching before an exercise reduces strength momentarily. (1-3)
What is the point of warming up?
Warming up is something that most of us hurry through or totally ignore. A well-designed warm-up, on the other hand, may improve your exercise in a variety of ways, including:
- Both the agonist (primary muscle) and antagonist (biomechanically opposing muscle) contract and relax faster (4)
- a quicker response time (5)
- Strength and power have improved (6)
- Muscle viscous resistance is reduced (6)
- Delivery of oxygen has improved (7)
So, we’re aware that we should be warming up. Jeesh. But, if that’s the case, what’s the ideal method to warm up – at least in terms of increasing your strength on follow-up exercises? That’s what we set out to discover.
Stretching: static vs. dynamic
To comprehend this experiment, you must first grasp the distinction between static and dynamic stretching.
When you do static stretching, you maintain a posture that extends a muscle for a certain amount of time (usually 15-90 seconds.) The seated toe touch and pretty much any stretching you performed in gym class are examples of static stretches. The majority of yoga postures may also be classified as static stretching (with the exception of balance poses).
When you stretch a joint dynamically, you actively move it through its range of motion (ROM). Mobility drills are another name for dynamic stretching. Perhaps you’ve heard of the DVDs Magnificent Mobility (by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson) and Inside-Out (by Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman), which are both collections of lower and upper body dynamic stretches/mobility exercises.
Table 1 shows the differences between static and dynamic stretching (mobility drills)
|Stretching that is static||Stretching that is dynamic|
|Stretching duration/amount typical||Hold the position for 15-90 seconds.||8-15 reps or for a certain amount of time (say walking lunges over 15 metres)|
|Muscle temperature is affected.||Stretching does not cause an increase in heat; rather, if the person is already heated, stretching causes a loss of heat.||Increases the warmth of the muscles|
|Activity of the muscle(s)||During the stretch, you are inactive.||Stretching keeps you active.|
(Image courtesy of Bahrke and Drews, 2008)
We enlisted the help of the ever-vigilant PN community. (Many thanks!)
The study was completed by 16 people. There were six ladies and ten males in the group.
|35.7 +/-4.7 years old, 5’3.8″ +/-0.8 inch tall, 140.3 pounds +/-12.3lb||33.9 +/-3.4 years old, 5’9.9″ +/-0.9 inch tall, 188.0 pounds +/-6.1 lb|
The 16 individuals had to satisfy our experimental requirements in order to take part in the study:
- They have to be on a weight-training regimen already. (In other words, they couldn’t be complete amateurs.)
- Over the course of two weeks, they had to be able to test their bench press strength (3 rep max) three times.
- The bench press activity has to be known to them.
- In the preceding three months, they had to have bench pressed.
If they had an injury, were inexperienced with correct bench press form, didn’t have a spotter, or planned to alter their diet or training regimen in any manner during the trial, they were unable to participate.
The following is how the experiment went.
First, participants were asked to do a 3-repetition maximum (3RM) bench press test using a procedure significantly modified from Bahrke and Drews’ 2008 version (see citation 8 below). (To obtain the protocol in PDF format, click here.)
Then they were assigned to one of two warm-up regimens at random. They tested their 3RM again after the initial warm-up. Then they were given the other warm-up regimen and their 3RM was tested once again. Each session was at least two days apart.
Warm-up The first was a conventional warm-up consisting of a ten-minute jog with no stretching.
Warm-up Warm-up number two consisted of a five-minute jog and three upper-body dynamic stretches:
- In this video, Craig Ballantyne refers to wall slides as “stick-ups.”
- Extension rotations on the side
- Blackburns are a dynamic team.
By calling the warm-ups “Blue” and “White,” we attempted to be as deceptive as possible as the experimenters. That was an effort to keep as much information about the warm-ups under wraps as possible… However, trained individuals are likely to identify when they’re performing dynamic stretching, so it’s not like it was a complete mystery.
|Men In the males, a warm-up with dynamic stretching resulted in a small (2%) but statistically significant increase in 3RM when compared to a normal warm-up with no extra stretching. After the conventional warm-up, the men lifted an average of 206.6 pounds, and 210.5 pounds after the dynamic stretching warm-up.||Women The ladies lifted an average of 95.0 pounds following a conventional warm-up and 94.2 pounds after a dynamic stretching warm-up. As a result, there was no difference in the warm-ups for men and women. In fact, there was a small drop. Why? I’ll come back to it later.|
Men’s average 3RM by warmup type
Women’s average 3RM varies by warmup type.
We didn’t bother obtaining any variations in injuries since this was an urgent situation. However, a few individuals emailed me to remark that the dynamic warm-up made them feel “looser.”
Discussion and conclusion
The major issue is why, in our study, a dynamic stretching warm-up helped the men lift more weight but did nothing for the women.
I believe there are two potential explanations: variations in the weight lifted and possibly flexibility variances.
Let’s say you’re bench pressing 200 pounds and want to add the lowest amount of weight possible. The lowest amount you’ll probably be able to add is 5 pounds (2.5 pounds each side). If you’re fortunate, your gym offers 1.25-pound plates, so you can make a 2.5-pound increase. Since the men raised their 3RM by 2% (or approximately 4 pounds on average), some guys lifted their bench by 5 pounds or more (the minimal amount obtainable at most gyms) and others did not –– but the average rose.
A 2% rise in weight for women equals less than 2 pounds. They would still be under the 5 pound increment even if they increased by 4% (4 lb). In the dynamic warm-up, the ladies may have improved their strength, but the absolute difference is too tiny to quantify. One methodological issue that may occur in studies is that the structure of the experiment (in this instance, the available weight progression) can influence the findings to some extent.
Another explanation is that women are more flexible than men, and thus the dynamic stretching warm-up was not as helpful to women as it was to men. It’s conceivable, but we can’t tell for sure since we didn’t evaluate flexibility.
Personally, I believe the weight increments were much too large to detect minor variations in the women’s results, which makes the men’s discrepancies all the more intriguing. According to this early research, a warm-up that incorporates dynamic stretching improves 3RM on the bench press by a little amount.
As a result, in addition to the numerous advantages of dynamic stretching – better flexibility, reduced injury risk – increased strength may be one of them.
Put it to the test and see what happens. Also, have a couple tiny plates on ready in case something goes wrong!
To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.
- JR Fowles, DG Sale, and JD MacDougall. After a passive stretch of the human plantarflexors, strength is reduced. J Appl Physiol. 89(3):1179-88, September 2000.
- Effect of static stretching of the biceps brachii on torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography during concentric isokinetic muscle movements, Evetovich TK, Nauman NJ, Conley DS, Todd JB. 2003 Aug;17(3):484-8. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Aug;17(3):484-8.
- F. Viale, S. Nana-Ibrahim, and R.J. Martin. Active recovery has an effect on acute strength losses caused by passive stretching. 2007 Nov;21(4):1233-7. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Nov;21(4):1233-7.
- Aspects of Sports Performance and Training from a Physiological Perspective J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman, J. Hoffman
- Franklin BA, Whaley MH, Howley ET & Balady GJ, eds. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 5th ed. American College of Sports Medicine. Philladelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 2006.
- Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription, by VH Heyward. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2002, 4th ed.
- Conditioning Program: Testing and Evaluation, Semenick D. NSCA Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, 1989, pp. 8-9
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, edited by MS Bahrke and CM Drews. National Strength and Conditioning Association, 3rd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2008.
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This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- warming up
- specific warm up
- dynamic warm up
- warm up exercises
- examples of warm up exercises