Developing a Dynamic Warm Up

Jun 2, 2017

Warming up prior to activity or competition is a generally accepted practice in modern sports and fitness. Prior to recent times, this was primarily supported by athlete and coach intuition, rather than empirical data. Programs were often developed with a ‘best guess’ strategy, using trial and error to come up with a line-up of activities that best suited the athlete/sport. Recently (in the last decade) there have been many studies to help us develop more consistent and proven programs for our athletes and clients. We will discuss some of these ideas below and give guidelines to developing a program of your own.

A dynamic warm-up is an activity performed prior to competition or a workout that is active in nature. Static stretching, PNF techniques or massage are not included in this format. The consensus in the literature is that static stretching, while not causing injury, has the potential to decrease performance. (1-3, 6-8, 15,16)This effect is greater for more explosive activities as well. Static stretching, in fact, may help to reduce injuries and should be included as part of a training regimen as a whole. (15) But these should not be performed just prior to activity as the greatest effect of static stretching, is about 15 minutes, though increased flexibility has been shown to be present at 24 hours post-stretching.(2,15) The decrease in performance seems to be more a result of mechanical properties of the muscle rather than neurologic mechanisms. (6)

A dynamic warm-up has been shown to improve performance prior to activity. This is accomplished through temperature, neural, metabolic, and psychological mechanisms.

Temperature: Increased muscle temperature has been shown to improve flexibility, improve energy turnover within the muscle and improve contraction speed. (10) This can be a profound effect with an estimated 2-5% improvement in performance with 1 degree Celsius increase in muscle temperature (and vice versa).(12)
This can be accomplished through passive (hot shower/bath, warm-up clothes, etc.) or by more active means. Exercise is the most efficient way to increase muscle temperature and has shown to be superior to passive modalities to increase blood flow and temperature. (11) Temperature begins to drop immediately after activity and can decrease as much as 2 deg Celsius in 15 minutes( 12) This suggests that using passive techniques to maintain body temp while waiting to compete will be useful and a small, moderately intense warm-up after extended waiting times has been shown to improve performance. (12)

Neurological: Multiple, aggressive contractions just prior to activity has been shown to increase power output for a short period, about 10 minutes, after the activity. These actions, such as heavy squats or depth jumps, will have limited application to a team sport, but may be useful for short duration individual efforts such as track and field events or weight lifting. Fatigue is a big concern here and often an exercise test is most useful in helping to determine the right intensity. Those who are more fit, will have greater benefit from this type of strategy, called post-activation potentiation.( 3,4,14)
More applicable to the team sport environment are short duration, simulated games, and sport-specific drills. These type of activities have been shown to be able to replicate physiologic effort of competition as well as reinforce motor patterns for skill development (5). Researchers in other performance fields have commented on how unique motor patterns are to a specific activity and that practice will strengthen these patterns. (9)

Metabolic/Psychological: A short duration, high intensity aerobic effort has the potential to improve oxygen consumption and thus, endurance. This may spare anaerobic reserves for later in a competition when an aggressive finish would be desired (sprint to the finish) (10)
However it is difficult to determine this threshold without a VO2 max test. Anyone other than a professional, collegiate, or elite high school athlete is best served by the ‘sweat barrier rule’ and not being able to carry on a conversation as general guidelines for aerobic intensity of a warm-up. Psychological mechanisms such as visualization, cue words, and attentional focus can help an athlete mentally prepare for the competition and give confidence regarding goals and by reviewing solutions to anticipated challenges ahead.(10)


So, in previous sections we learned how static stretching and massage inhibit performance. Dynamic stretching, is an action that involves controlled movement through the active range of motion at a joint.(2) This has been shown with many, many studies to either have no effect on performance, or in most cases increase performance. (2,3,6,7,8,16) Typically these studies described protocols that targeted all the major muscle groups of a particular limb and were preceded by moderate cardiovascular activity.


In general, a dynamic warm-up should be structured with these main characteristics:

• ~15 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity
• Sport specific, dynamic stretching, not static stretching
• Low volume of explosive activity (individual sports)
• Small sided games for team sports
• Stay warm
• “Re-warm” after 10-15 minute break

We at Alliance physical therapy hope you enjoyed this post. If you wish to learn more about this topic, feel free to contact me:

Joshua Gelfand
[email protected]

Have a great spring and get outside!

1. Arabaci R: Acute effects of pre-event lower limb massage on explosive and high speed motor capacities and flexibility. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: (2008) 7, 549-555
2. Behm D: A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology: February 2011
3. Faigenbaum A: Acute effects of different warm-up protocols in children. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2005, 19(2), 376-381
4. French D: Changes in dynamic exercise performance following a sequence of preconditioning isometric muscle actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2003, 17(4), 678-685
5. Gabbet T: Do skill-based conditioning games offer a specific training stimulus for junior elite volleyball players? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2008, 22(2), 509-517
6. Herda T: Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric strength and neuromuscular function of the leg flexors:2356. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2008, 22(3), 809-817
7. Hough P: Effects of dynamic and static stretching on vertical jump performance and electromyographic activity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2009, 23(2), 507-512
8. Marek S: Acute effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle strength and power output. Journal of Athletic Training:2005, 40 (2), 94-103
9. McGill S: Ultimate back fitness and performance: third edition. Backfitpro Inc. 2006
10. McGowan C: Warm-up strategies for sport and exercise: Mechanisms and applications. Sports Med: 23 September 2015
11. McMeeken J: Tissue temperature and blood flow: a research based overview of electrophysical modalities. Australian Physiotherapy: 1994, 49-57
12. Mohr M: Muscle temperature and sprint performance during soccer matches-beneficial effect of re-warm-up at half time. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004, (14), 156-162
13. O’Sullivan K: The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: 2009, 10:37
14. Wilson JM: Meeta-Analysis of postactivation potentiation and power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2013, 27(3), 854-859
15. Woods AK: Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine: 2007, 37 (12). 1089-1099
16. Yamaguchi T: Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2005, 19(3), 677-683

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Building 6 Suite #3311,
Portland, ME 04103

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