With the changing of the seasons, there comes a change in temperatures. As temperatures drop, it is no less important to stay active and healthy. Although some may choose to take exercise routines indoors, others may choose to brave the cold.
When it’s cold, one aspect of exercise and competition becomes even more important: the warm-up. And here is why:
Cold temperatures can significantly reduce muscle function.
Cooling muscles in temperatures of 59 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce muscle force up to 20%1. Cold muscles also take longer to build up force. To make a muscle do the desired function, the brain sends a signal via nerves. During cooler temperatures, the rate of nerve conduction slows down. Nerves cannot conduct signals as quickly when they are cooled. You may have used this phenomenon to your advantage before. Have you ever used ice to help with a painful joint or muscle? Nerves to receptors that cause you to experience pain are much smaller than nerves to muscles. Therefore, they are quicker to stop working. This is why your skin may go “numb” but the muscles still work. The same is true about muscles: the rate of nerve conduction to muscles can be slowed during cold temperatures. Thankfully, muscles produce heat when activated and, therefore, can provide a buffer or protection from the cold.
Warm-ups and injury prevention programs can decrease the risk of injury by up to 40%.
Not all injuries are preventable. Some accidents are going to happen in the realm of life and sports, but there are a certain number of injuries that can and should be prevented. Injury prevention programs that focus on muscular strength, proprioceptive balance, and flexibility have been shown to be effective in reducing injuries2. A proper warm-up before workouts, practices, and games may play a key role in comprehensive injury prevention programs.
Warm-up form matters.
Warms ups consisting of strengthening, jumping, balance, and agility exercises can help reduce the rate of non-contact injuries, such as an ACL tear. However, one thing is very key: exercise form. Coaches who instructed athletes to “land softly” and “don’t let knees cave inward” had significantly fewer injuries compared to control groups6. Do not cheat yourself and just go through the motions. Take the time and effort to do warm-ups correctly, with good form.
Dynamic stretching during warm-ups may be more effective than static stretching.
Dynamic stretching can be defined as stretching with active movements. Dynamic stretches do not contain prolonged, sustained stretches. An example of a dynamic stretch would be a forward lunge or marching with straight legs. Static stretching, on the other hand, includes holding stretches for 5-30 seconds. An example of a common static stretch is the sit and reach stretch for the hamstrings and low back. Sprint speed and agility can all be enhanced with the use of dynamic stretching prior to practice or competition3. Most outdoor activities include a lot of running, jumping, and cutting. Dynamic stretches can help with the warm-up of muscles and improve performance more than prolonged holds of stretches.
Warm-ups can help improve muscle flexibility.
A simple jog or jog in place can help muscles warm up. Muscles are more flexible4 after a short warm-up, even warm-ups as short as five minutes. The added flexibility after a warm-up may be able to help prevent muscle strains which can occur when a muscle is stretched quickly beyond its flexibility.
Timing of warm-ups matters.
Although there is some conflicting evidence, most exercise specialists recommend warms and stretching due to the majority of research that supports injury prevention. The effects of warm-ups, however, do not last forever. It is recommended that warms ups and stretching occur within 15 minutes immediately prior to the activity to receive the greatest benefits5. If you get your muscles warm and loose, but then stop and rest, muscles will gradually cool down again and become less flexible.
Depending on the exercise or sport, some exercise-specific warm-ups may be recommended. Below is a list of 10 general exercises that can help get you warmed up and enhance any intermediate workout or activity.
1. Jogging or jogging in place (2-5 minutes)
2. Jumping jacks (1 minute)
3. Walking high knee hugs: Lift one knee as high as possible, then grab with both hands and pull knee to chest. Hold 1 second. Switch legs. (10x each)
4. Walking quad stretch: Standing up tall and bend one knee. Grab ankle with hand and pull towards gluteal muscles. Hold 1 second. Switch legs. (10x each)
5. Side lunge: Step one leg to the side, keeping the other leg straight. Hold 1 second. Repeat 10x. Switch legs.
6. Squats: Feet shoulder-width apart, bend knees and hips as if sitting down into a chair, stand up. Repeat 10x.
7. Leg swings: Keeping the leg straight, kick one leg forward and backward. Having handhold support for balance may be beneficial. (10x each leg).
8. Jogging high knees: start jogging and bring knees as high as possible while maintaining control. (2×15 seconds)
9. Jogging gluteal kicks: start jogging and try to kick the back of your hips
10. Stride outs: Start jogging slowly and gradually accelerate until reaching comfortable quick speed and gradually slow down. Repeat 5x gradually increasing speed as comfortable.
The best warm-ups are tailored for individuals performing a specific activity and take into consideration any current or past injuries. Do you have any specific questions about which warm-up exercises would be best for you? Set up an appointment with one of our highly trained staff. Our team of physical therapists are dedicated to helping you achieve and maintain an active lifestyle.
1. Holewijn, M. & Heus, R. Effects of temperature on electromyogram and muscle function Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. (1992) 65: 541.
2. Soomro N, Sanders R, Hackett D, et al. The Efficacy of Injury Prevention Programs in Adolescent Team Sports: A Meta-analysis. Am J Sports Med. See comment in PubMed Commons below 2016 Sep;44(9):2415-24.
3. Little T & Williams AG. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high speed motor capacities in profession soccer players. J. Strength Cond. Res.20(1):203–207. 2006.
4. O’Sullivan K, Murray E, & Sainsbury D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2009, 10:37
5. Woods, K., Bishop, P. & Jones, E. Sports Med (2007) 37: 1089. doi:10.2165/00007256-200737120-00006
6. LaBella CR, Huxford MR, Grissom J, Kim K, Peng J, Christoffel KK. Effect of Neuromuscular Warm-up on Injuries in Female Soccer and Basketball Athletes in Urban Public High SchoolsCluster Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(11):1033-1040.