PT Monthly Magazine


The Dynamic Warm-Up

Twenty-plus years ago, a pre-workout warm-up usually meant a series of long, slow, sedentary stretches. Many a ’90s kid — wearing a cotton T-shirt in school colors — sat with one knee awkwardly bent behind them in a hurdler pose before heading out to jog their coach-mandated mile.
But in recent years, Exerccise science  has coalesced around a better way to prepare your body for exertion: the dynamic warm-up.
A dynamic warm-up is a set of controlled, up-tempo movements that can help make your workout safer and more effective, said Alvaro López Samanes, an assistant professor and international coordinator of physiotherapy at Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, in Madrid, who’s studied them in tennis players.
Research suggests dynamic warm-ups improve agility, speed and overall performance for a wide range of sports, including tennis, baseball and running . They also appear to reduce injury risk  In a fast-moving, direction-changing sport like soccer, a tailored dynamic warm-up lowered the odds of getting hurt by about 35 percent in one 2017 research review.
While Olympic sprinters and World Cup players do them before competing, they’re not just for elite athletes. In fact, “people who don’t move athletically very often need dynamic warm-ups the most,” said Emily Hutchins, a personal trainer and owner of On Your Mark Coaching and Training in Chicago. If you go straight from your office chair or your bed to a workout, you might arrive with a hunched posture, not to mention cold, tight muscles that don’t move fluidly. Dynamic warm-ups bridge the gap.
Chances are, you’ve updated your workout gear since middle-school gym class — here’s how to modernize your warm-up, too.

How does a dynamic warm-up work?

Dynamic warm-ups involve a series of drills — at least some of which are dynamic stretches that take joints through their full range of motion. Picture a sprinter skipping down the track, a goalkeeper side shuffling along the pitch or a point guard moving through the motions of a free-throw.
Dynamic movements increase your body temperature and begin gently stressing your soft tissues. Together, this heat and stress produce what’s called a thixotropic effect said David Behm, a professor and exercise scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. Muscles and tendons become less viscous and move more fluidly, much the way shaking a bottle dislodges stuck ketchup, or honey thins as you stir it into a cup of hot tea.
Because of its fast pace, dynamic stretching also activates intracellular sensors called muscle spindles, which then amplify the electric currents that help your mind and muscle to communicate and make your muscles more responsive, Dr. Behm said. An opposite effect occurs when you hold long, slow stretches: Those same spindles are suppressed, slowing down the messages between your brain and body to help reduce tension and tightness. That’s why static stretching by itself — though important for range of motion and injury reduction — doesn’t prepare you for a workout, he said.
In addition to the immediate benefits of dynamic warm-ups, Dr. López Samanes said that over time, enhanced agility and coordination may also reduce your risk of injury. Research suggests doing these pre-workout routines at least twice per week for 10 to 12 weeks could protect muscles, joints and bones from harm.

How long does a warm-up need to be?

Good news for the time-crunched: As little as eight minutes will suffice for a dynamic warm-up, Dr. López Samanes said. In fact, if you extend it as long as 25 minutes, you’re likely to feel fatigued heading into your workout.
Based on the research, he suggested six to eight exercises, each done for about 15 to 30 seconds, two to three times through. Start off relatively easy and increase your effort and intensity.

What exercises should you include?

Begin with lower-body movements. The large muscles of your legs and core generate more heat, which raises your body temperature all over, Dr. López Samanes said.
From there, match your warm-up to the specifics of your workout. “You need to practice the movements you’re going to do,” Dr. Behm said.
If your sport or activity involves fast changes of direction — think squash or soccer — include agility-based and side-to-side movements. And if you’re about to take on something with an overhead component — such as basketball, softball or climbing — include quick movements that activate your shoulder complex, the network of muscles and tendons around that often-injured joint.
To get started, here’s a basic routine that works for a range of workouts: