Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Warming Up

An In-Depth Look at the Warm Up

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SparkPeople’s Exercise Reference Guides offer an in-depth look at the principles of fitness.

What is a Warm Up?
A warm up is the act of preparing for an athletic event or workout by exercising or practicing for a short time beforehand. Warming up helps reduce your risk of injury and the aches and pains that come with exercise. The physiological reason to warm up is to assist your circulatory system in pumping oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles. The idea is to increase circulation throughout the body, in a gradual manner. A proper warm up safely prepares the body for the increased demands of exercise.

Cold muscles do not absorb shock or impact as well, and are more susceptible to injury. While scientific studies are ongoing to define the best warm up techniques for injury prevention, the warm up in general is firmly established as a key to exercising safely and effectively. A warm up should be done before strength training, aerobic (and anaerobic exercise) and stretching.

Examples of Warm Up Activities
A warm up should be sport-specific, which means that it mimics the activity you’re about to do, but at a lower intensity, lower impact, and/or slower speed. For example, you’d walk before running. Other general warm ups include the stationary biking, using the elliptical machine or light stair climbing. Exercises that use your arms and your legs (such as a Nordic Track or Air Dyne bicycle) are great for a total body warm up. A good warm up before strength training is to do the exercises you are about to perform with a very light weight first. Contrary to popular belief, stretching is NOT the same thing as warming up. In fact, stretching should come at the very end of your workout for best results.

What are the Benefits of Warming Up?
A warm-up helps you prepare both mentally and physically for exercise, and reduces the chance of injury. During a warm-up, any injury or illness you have can often be recognized, and further injury prevented. Other benefits of a proper warm up include:
  • Increased movement of blood through your tissues, making the muscles more pliable.
  • Increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. This prevents you from getting out of breath early or too easily.
  • Prepares your muscles for stretching
  • Prepares your heart for an increase in activity, preventing a rapid increase in blood pressure
  • Prepares you mentally for the upcoming exercise
  • Primes your nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise
  • Improves coordination and reaction times Continued ›
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thanks for the great article. The info was great. I was always told to stretch before exercising. - 1/9/2014 7:43:06 AM
  • wow!! I thought stretching was warming up. Glad I looked into it. And thanks for the very helpful info. - 1/11/2013 8:15:58 AM
  • Huh. The more you know. ^^; I thought I knew exactly what warming up should involve but turns out I wasn't quite right! Happy to learn this though, because maybe if I start doing it correctly I will see some improvements! (Will report back in a week to let you all know.) - 8/16/2012 11:25:58 AM
  • RHIA1067
    i thought stretching is part of a warmup... i was wrong...
    - 8/15/2012 6:51:25 AM
  • Yes, this is helpful, I always stretched, then ran. This explains why I couln't get a good rununtil my body warmed up during my run, but I would get tired early and hurt later! I jump rope 10 minutes then run, strength train, cool and stretch, and it felt much better! Great article! - 3/28/2011 8:26:35 AM
  • MORNINGGLORYZ
    GETINLINE - Right On! I love dancing as my favorite exercise. - 1/19/2010 9:22:15 AM
  • MORNINGGLORYZ
    My pup stretches just as she's getting out of her dog bed. So I think stretching and a few breaths would be good as a warm-up. - 1/19/2010 9:21:04 AM
  • ESCOBA8008
    THis article is very illustrative, but I would like to know to learn a couple of warm-up routines and I can't find any, at least on this site. - 11/16/2009 10:07:20 AM
  • TLAUER1
    This is a very interesting article. I always thought that you should stretch before doing any type of exercise and that stretching was the same as warming up. - 10/29/2009 11:11:23 AM
  • Talk about going backwards!!! Thankx for this article.
    I was stretching BEFORE warm up.

    Sooo I guess dancing then walking instead of walking then dancing.
    Dancing then housework..I will try this. - 10/2/2009 7:56:04 AM
  • WAMEE4949
    Glad I read this article, I never thought warm up and stretching were completely different. Now I know I have to do both. - 8/26/2009 11:03:19 AM
  • PHOENIX30
    oh wow! i did not know this. well now i know. ha! - 8/9/2009 11:05:26 PM
  • Physically limited people needs to read this article. The warm up in physical Therapy is stretching...Ther
    e are other ways inwhich physically limited people can do as a warm-up. I will try this new approach to a warm up and see what happends. - 3/27/2009 8:52:40 AM
  • Very helpful article. Explains the importance of warming up. I needed to understand this. Now off to figure out what type(s) of warm-ups to do! - 3/13/2009 10:58:10 AM
  • Very helpful article. Explains the importance of warming up. I needed to understand this. Now off to figure out what type(s) of warm-ups to do! - 3/13/2009 10:57:38 AM
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