A proper warmup starts your workout on the right foot, prepping both your muscles and lungs for what's to come.
A proper warmup starts your workout on the right foot, prepping both your muscles and lungs for what's to come. Once the staple of readying the body for exercise, stretching has fallen under scrutiny of late. Studies have found that static stretching, holding the stretch for 30 seconds to two minutes, is basically a wash as it neither causes nor prevents injury. And if your workout involves sprinting and jumping, slow passive stretching can result in a loss of muscle strength and power, which is no good if you're in it to win it.
So if slow, meditative stretching is out, how exactly should you warm up? Well if soccer or any other high-intensity sport is your game, orthopedic physical therapist Colleen Birmingham, of the Running Center at CPMC in San Francisco, suggests some dynamic stretching — moves that lengthen muscles while you're in motion, like walking lunges and leg kicks. Active stretches "increase blood flow to muscles in a functional pattern of movement without impairing performance," explains Birmingham, who has a sports conditioning background.
I'm into plyometrics workouts (read: will jump when my trainer says so) and will suffer through speed drills, but the majority of my workouts fall under the low-intensity category — endurance running, cycling, and swimming. For these workouts, Birmingham reminded me that research has shown no benefits to stretching, either dynamically or statically. For this reason, Colleen recommends warming up by going "slow for the first 10 percent of your run, bike, or swim and steadily ramp up. This tactic allows your muscles to warm up so you can go the distance without wasting time and energy stretching." However, Santa Monica-based trainer and owner of Training Adventures, Paul Vincent, likes a short dynamic warmup pre-run complete with "running drills and different muscle activations." For the seasoned Ironman triathlete, the warmup is also a time to assess the state of your body: "The objective is to not only get the body warm, but to check in and see what’s tight or sore so you can deal with that before training."
Get the skinny on race-day warmups when you read more.