Warming up will make you a better athlete - here’s why

Written by Louie Cayedito

Warming up will make you a better athlete - here’s why

Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just trying to stay in shape, getting in your physical activity can be a time crunch. When the clock is ticking it can be easier to go straight from the bed into a run or directly from the car seat into some heavy squats. You think, “I’m a productivity machine, I don’t need to waste time warming up. After all, limbering up is for old people, right?”

Wrong. Warming up is essential. A study by Fradkin et al. (2010) found that warming up improved performance in 79% of criteria measured. This basically means that whatever activity you like to do, warming up is probably going to make you better at it. The process of warming up also protects against injury, which means that you need to get in the habit of preparing your body to move if you want to keep doing the things you enjoy.

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The benefits of warming up come from changes that occur within the muscle tissue with movement. Muscular power comes from the action of muscle filaments sliding over one another. This movement generates power and also friction, which increases heat2. Creating energy for this movement requires the dilation of blood vessels to deliver extra oxygen, and more blood flowing through the muscle results equals more heat2. Additionally, the muscle needs to burn fuel to create energy for this movement, and a byproduct of burning this fuel is extra heat. See a pattern here? Warming up increases temperature in the muscle tissue, and this benefits performance.

Why does heat improve performance? For one, nerve impulses travel more rapidly when the body is hot, which means the brain is quicker at telling your body what to do5. Ever wished you could be faster grabbing a rebound or returning a serve? Warming up can do that.

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Warming up may also improve performance due to a change in lactic acid. Have you ever felt a burn in your legs during a run or bike ride, or perhaps sick to your stomach after a high intensity interval? This is a result of lactic acid that is produced by working muscles. In addition to higher muscle temperature, Martin et al. (1975) found that warming up resulted in 25% lower lactate production during hard running. This may be due to “pre-loading” with lactic acid that occurs with a warm up8. Whatever the reason, the result for you is faster times and easier miles!

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In addition to improving performance, warming up before exercise decreases your chances of getting injured. The activity of warming up results in decreased muscle viscosity, which means that your muscles become more like a fluid, and this results in less stiffness in the muscles and joints6. Muscles that are less stiff are less likely of becoming pulled or sprained. Additionally, warmed up muscles require greater force to tear, and will reach a longer length before tearing than muscles not warmed up2.

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So, what’s the best way to warm up before your next activity? Dynamic stretches are a great way to get your body ready to go, and you can do them anywhere. (check out our article for the best dynamic stretches). If you really really don’t have 5 minutes for a separate warm up, start your run with a very slow jog (or walk or spin); begin your competition with some friendly, easy volleys (or shots); begin your lift with a couple unloaded reps. Try to ease into every activity you do; the pay-off is real!


1. Fradkin A.J., Zazryn T.R., Smoliga J.M., Effects of warming up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jan; 24(1):140-8
2. Safaran M.R., Garrett W.E., Seaber A.V., Glisson R.R., Ribbeck B.M. The role of warm up in muscular injury and prevention. Am J Sports Med. 1988 Mar-Apr; 16(2):123-9
3. Martin B.J., Robinson S., Wiegman D., Aulick L.H. Effect of warm up on metabolic responses to strenuous exercise. Med Sci Sports. 1975 Summer; 7(2):146-9
4. Hedrick, A. Physiological responses to warm-up. Natl Strength Cond Assoc J. 1992;14:25–27
5. Hill, A.V. Living Machinery. New York, NY: Hancort, Brace, and World Inc. 1927
6. Lehmann, J.F., Masocki, A.J., Warren, C.G., Koblanski, J.N. Effect of therapeutic temperatures on tendon extensibility. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1970 Aug; 51(8): 481-7
7. Turki O., Dhahbi W., Padulo J., Khalifa R., Ridène S., Alamri K., Milic M., Gueid S., Chamari 8. Wahl P., Zinner C., Yue Z., Bloch W., Mester J. Warming-Up Affects Performance and Lactate Distribution between Plasma and Red Blood Cells. J Sports Sci Med. 2010 Sep; 9(3): 499-507


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