• Jason Wulfsohn // MSc (Med) Exercise Science

Editor’s Musings: Warm Up to Warming Up

In some way or other, every athlete or team does a warm-up. On the one end, the weekend-warrior might do a 10 second quad stretch followed by the good ol’ hammie stretch, and on the other end some teams will do 60+ minutes of intricate drills, sprints, and sport-specific activities. A while back I was challenged by a colleague (not a sport scientist), as to why we needed to warm-up before we play sport. I took the bait and rattled off a quick summary of the purposes and benefits of warming up. It all made perfect sense to me, and I wondered how someone could question such established norms and practices. This is when I felt that I had to confirm what I “knew” to be true…

While exploring the research it dawned on me that my experience in individual endurance sports is lacking substantially. Consequently, you’ll find that my emphasis will be on warm-ups that cater to multi-factorial sports (soccer, hockey, rugby, etc.). Hopefully there is a willing contributor out there who wants to tackle warm-ups or routines for individual endurance sports.

Ideally, we want a warm-up to enhance performance but not effect a drop in performance towards the latter stages of the game. At the same time, the warm-up is supposed to serve a protective function and reduce injury risk.


The benefits of warm-ups are attributed to temperature, metabolic, and/or neural mechanisms[1]. More specifically, warming up can result in an increase in muscle temperature, improved nerve conductivity, enhanced metabolic reactions, better blood-flow dynamics, increased VO2 consumption, and Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)[1,2]. If you’re interested in a bit more depth as to these mechanisms, then you should take a look at the review by McGowan et al. (2015). There are generally three ways the literature tests the effects of a warm-up on performance; 1) actual game-play, 2) simulated game-play, or 3) sport-specific performance tasks (e.g. CMJ, repeated sprints, etc.)[1]. So one has to be conscious of this when extrapolating the results of research into planning a warm-up. Just because a warm-up improves 40m sprint performance doesn’t mean that it will be the most beneficial for a 90min soccer match.

In terms of the nuts and bolts, dynamic and moderate-to-high-intensity warm-ups elicit better performance than static and more passive warm-ups[1,3]. Additionally, the inclusion of a PAP-inducing exercise (e.g. 5RM squat or maximal sprints) and small-sided games (SSG) can also improve performance[2,4]. In all of this, it would be wise to keep it practical. I definitely don’t carry around gym equipment for our fixtures.

There is also the mental aspect to consider when planning your warm-ups. Athletes sometimes have things they ask to keep in the warm-up because it helps them feel comfortable or relaxed in this part of the pre-match routine. Unless it’s detrimental or messes up my plans too much, I often let them keep it. Pick your battles.

Injury prevention

The primary question here is, “are these athletes’ bodies prepared to be exposed to whatever conditions lie ahead?” Interventions or countermeasures for reducing the risk of injury can take two forms. The long-term or “chronic” intervention concerns the training and conditioning that athletes are exposed to. Are they strong or fit enough? Are their technical skills safe and effective? Then, the more “acute” intervention concerns the warm-up prior to practice or the match. Is the athlete in a state of preparedness for the immediate future?

First off, there is little-to-no evidence that warming up is harmful or detrimental[5]. The research suggests that there are a number of effective warm-up protocols for preventing lower limb injuries[5–7]. The FIFA11+ (Click for the Manual - large file! or YouTube vid) is one that I’ve used in football and adapted for other sports (FIFA11+ has been used effectively in basketball[8]). I really like it for its simplicity and basic requirements.

On top of the functional sport-specific activities, as in the FIFA11+, to give your warm-up intervention a better chance at being effective at reducing the risk of injury it is important to complete the intervention for more than 3 months and to do it at all training sessions and games[6]. Compliance is a must. You can have the world’s best training program, research study, or warm-up, but if the athletes don’t do it correctly and consistently, then it won’t work.

Composition of a warm-up

As a summary, the factors to consider when structuring your warm-up are: Duration, Intensity, Physical tasks (sport-specific tasks), and the Transition phase[1].

  • Keep it short and sharp (Approx. 16min or less)

  • Consider practicality, younger athletes might take a bit longer to do some tasks

  • Moderate- or high-intensity

  • Include functional sport-specific activities (proprioception, stabilisation, etc.) and SSG’s

  • Maybe even some PAP activities (sprints for practicality)

  • Keep transitions below 10min

There is a lot more detail one can delve into about warm-ups, but I hope this will help someone out there with planning their warm-ups for improving performance and preventing injury. Train smart. Perform better.

*A closing gripe… Occasionally, I’ve felt that some coaches perceive the sport scientist as a fancy warm-up specialist. It’s a rather irritating perception, and I hope that this article doesn’t perpetuate this problem.*

  1. McGowan, C. J., Pyne, D. B., Thompson, K. G. & Rattray, B. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sport. Med. 45, 1523–1546 (2015).

  2. Zois, J., Bishop, D. J., Ball, K. & Aughey, R. J. High-intensity warm-ups elicit superior performance to a current soccer warm-up routine. J. Sci. Med. Sport 14, 522–528 (2011).

  3. McMillian, D. J., Moore, J. H., Hatler, B. S. & Taylor, D. C. Dynamic vs. Static-Stretching Warm Up: The Effect on Power and Agility Performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 20, 492–499 (2006).

  4. Zois, J., Bishop, D. & Aughey, R. High-Intensity Warm-Ups: Effects During Subsequent Intermittent Exercise. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 10, 498–503 (2015).

  5. Fradkin, A. J., Gabbe, B. J. & Cameron, P. A. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials? J. Sci. Med. Sport 9, 214–220 (2006).

  6. Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P. & Morrissey, D. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med. 10, 1–12 (2012).

  7. Barengo, N. C., Meneses-Echávez, J. F., Ramírez-Vélez, R., Cohen, D. D., Tovar, G. & Bautista, J. E. C. The Impact of the FIFA 11 + Training Program on Injury Prevention in Football Players: A Systematic Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 11, 11986–12000 (2014).

  8. Longo, U. G., Loppini, M., Berton, A., Marinozzi, A., Maffulli, N. & Denaro, V. The FIFA 11+ Program Is Effective in Preventing Injuries in Elite Male Basketball Players. Am. J. Sports Med. 40, 996–1005 (2012).


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