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Warm Up Before You Rev Up

August 19, 2019

An increase in temperatures means an increase in outdoor jogging, recreational sports, and running around with your kids at the park. But jumping into activities with cold muscles can lead to a higher rate of injury.

The weekend warrior

“Warming up is one of the easiest things to overlook, especially for the recreational athlete,” says Blake Daney, MD, a Kettering Health Network orthopedic surgeon fellowship-trained in sports medicine. “We see an increased rate of injury when people skip their warmup and jump into activity cold.”

Dr. Daney says that he sees warmup-related muscle injuries commonly in people who are “weekend warriors.”

“It’s easy for people to sit at a desk job all week, then jump into a game of pickup basketball on the weekend,” he says. “But because the body hasn’t been doing activity consistently, it isn’t ready to undergo the force you’re about to put it through.”

And warming up isn’t only important for injury prevention. Dr. Daney also notes that not warming up properly can have a direct link to struggling to meet performance goals.

Goals of warming up

Warming up before activity should help to accomplish a couple objectives. First, the warmup should mentally prepare you for the activity at hand.

“Professional athletes always do some sort of warmup, both to prevent injury and improve performance,” Dr. Daney shares. “There’s also a key component of getting psychologically ready for the activity.”

Second, any warmup should help you do just that—warm up. “There are many different ways to warm up, but a good rule of thumb is to aim to break a light sweat,” says Dr. Daney. “When you increase your body temperature, you’ll get more oxygen to the muscles that need it. If the muscles are warm before jumping into activity, we see lower rates of injury.”

Components of the warmup

How long should a warmup last? It comes down to the activity you’re going to be participating in and your physical condition. “For someone in good physical shape, it might take a little longer to break a sweat,” says Dr. Daney. In general, warmups last around five to 10 minutes. However, looking for a light sweat is a more reliable indicator than time. 

Dr. Daney also notes that the most effective warmups focus on dynamic stretching and functional movements: “For example, if you’re going to the gym for a leg workout, focus on dynamic lower body movements like bodyweight squats.”

Incorporating static stretches into a warmup can be helpful, but static movements should not make up the entire warmup.

Better focus = better performance

 Dr. Daney shares that many people overlook the value of mentally preparing for physical activity. “Often, people just jump into their workout right away,” he says. “But the warmup is a time to slow down and focus on what you’re about to do. Ultimately, this helps the athlete. When you get your mind focused to perform better, you’ll be more in tune with your body and less likely to get injured.”

Try these moves for a dynamic warmup

  • Spiderman Lunges: Place the left knee on the ground and bring the right foot firmly on the ground in front of you, with the right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Lean forward past 90 degrees and hold. Repeat on the left side.
  • Open the Gate/Close the Gate: Stand on your left leg while lifting your right leg up. Raise the knee to hip level, turn it out, and open away from the body. Bring the knee back to center and lower leg. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
  • High Knees: From standing position, lift the right knee as high as you can while raising the left arm. Switch quickly to bring the left knee and right arm up before the right foot lands on the floor. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat.
  • Lateral Shuffles: With feet hip distance apart, bend the knees into a squat. Bring hands up into a guard position in front of the chest. Start by shuffling quickly to the right for four steps, then to the left for four steps. Keep the core engaged and the chest lifted. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat.

Move forward

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned athlete, the Orthopedics and Sports Medicine team at Kettering Health Network can help you prevent injury and stay in the game. Visit ketteringhealth.org/sports-medicine to learn more.