How to warm up properly? Five steps to increasing your performance and decreasing injury

By Sydney CBD Physiotherapist Ryan Dorahy

Do you complete a warm up before your workout or before playing sport? Did you know that a correctly administered warm up can enhance your ability to jump higher [1],improve your speed and balance [4], and reduce your injury risk by 41% [3]. In this article we will discuss how long your warmup should be and identify the five essential steps your warm up  should contain (light cardio, activation, dynamic stretching, sports specific movements and neural priming). Read on:

How long should my warm up be?

The time period usually depends on a wide variety of factors such as intensity of activities that will be executed and the level of the athlete or person that is doing the activity. More intensive exercise requires a more intensive warm up and likewise a high level athlete performing high level movements and activities requires generally a longer  warm up Usually anywhere from 15-30mins depending on these factors is enough time to prime the body for training and competition.  

A proper warm up program can help improve your performance and reduce chance of injury

What should be in my warm up?

Light cardio, activation exercises, dynamic stretching, sports specific movement and neural priming are five important components your warm up should contain. Each of these is explained in detail below:

Initial Light Cardio

Aim for light aerobic exercise of 4-5 minutes. The GOAL is to mildly increase the body temperature to prime the body for the other components of the warm up. 

Activation Exercises

activation exercises for warm up

These are exercises designed to activate the hip stabilisers in preparation for Training and competition. A study they found that gains in vertical jumping of 4% could be found after completing submaximal half squat activation exercises [1].   These exercises are most beneficial when done using mini bands around the knee and/or ankles to provide resistance to enhance hip activation (see video above for examples!).

Programming: 2-4 exercises, 1-2 sets, 10-15 reps

Dynamic Stretching

dynamic stretching exercise for warm up

Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that allow the desired muscle to be activated through its entire range of motion (i.e. movement based stretching). Wrestlers completing a  4-week dynamic warm up  were able to increase their overall power in resistance based exercises and decrease the average time to completion specific running time trials (Herman & Smith, 2008). Young adolescent soccer teams when completing the FIFA 11+ dynamic warm-up before training and competition were able to significantly reduced their overall injury rates for the year by 41% (Owoeye, Akinbo, Tella & Olawale, 2014). Make sure to utilise dynamic stretching for the muscle groups that you will be using for training and competition in order to utilise these amazing results to your team or individual sport or exercise program (see video above for examples!).

Programming: 4-6 movements, 1-2 sets, 10 reps or 10m in length of warm up

Sports Specific Movement

bounding exercises or sports specific movement

These are exercises that mimic the sport of activity that will be completed. It has been shown that this type of warm up before activity can improve speed and balance when incorporated into a multifaceted warm up routine (Pasanen, Parkkari, Pasanen & Kannus, 2009). For most team and individual sports this will encompass running like movements such as hops, skips and bounds. For gym based exercise these may involve movements that may be performed in the session, such as squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts etc. However, these should be performed at a submaximal level such as low weights or bodyweight (see video above for examples!).

Programming: 4-6 movements, 1-2 sets, 10-15metres

Neural Priming

An effective neurological (nerve) warm up is a more intensive high speed exercises that aim to rapidly increase speed and prime your nervous system. Tasks that require maximum power output over a relatively short time span as jumping, sprinting and weight lifting can benefit from these types of neural activation exercise [3]. These activities have been shown to improve maximum power output and performance in sport and fitness [3]. Perform short bursts of this activity with a moderate 30-45 second break for the best results (see video above for examples!).

Programming: 4-6 movements, 1-2 sets, 10-15 seconds

Start implementing these components into your exercise routine today to improve YOUR performance and prevent harmful injuries that can drawback on your sporting season or fitness goals!



[1] Gourgoulis, V., Aggeloussis, N., Kasimatis, P., Mavromatis, G., & Garas, A. (2003). Effect of a Submaximal Half-Squats Warm-up Program on Vertical Jumping Ability. The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research17(2), 342. doi: 10.1519/1533-4287(2003)017<0342:eoashw>;2

[2] McGowan, C., Pyne, D., Thompson, K., & Rattray, B. (2015). Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Medicine45(11), 1523-1546. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

[3] Owoeye, O., Akinbo, S., Tella, B., & Olawale, O. (2014). Efficacy of the FIFA 11+ warm-up programme in male youth football: a cluster randomised controlled trial. Journal Of Sports Science And Medicine13(2), 321-328.

[4] Pasanen, K., Parkkari, J., Pasanen, M., & Kannus, P. (2009). Effect of a neuromuscular warm-up programme on muscle power, balance, speed and agility: a randomised controlled study. British Journal Of Sports Medicine43(13), 1073-1078. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.061747


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