Stretching is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a warm up. Then comes the questions...What stretches do I do? How do I do it? How long for? Will I look silly doing them? Here I am going to try to give you some evidence on warm ups and some top tips!
For decades, probably centuries, people have been told "You need to stretch more!" or "You must stretch to reduce your chance of injury!". Firstly let me break stretching down. There are numerous types of stretching but I've looked at the two most common types of stretching; static stretching and dynamic (ballistic) stretching.
Static - A prolonged hold of a muscle in one position.
Dynamic - A movement throughout the entire range of movement of a joint.
A review by Behm et al (2016) found that static stretching actually impaired performance during strength, and power + speed tasks. However, they found dynamic stretching to marginally enhance performance in comparison to no warm up. The results of the review are below;
Static: Over 60 secs = 5.1% reduction, Less than 60 secs = 2.8% reduction.
Dynamic: 7-15% increase quad/hams strength.
Power + Speed Performance
Static: Over 60 secs=2.6% reduction, Less than 60 secs=0.15% reduction.
Dynamic: 4.9% increase in jump height.
So, the length of time in which you stretch for actually impacts performance too! With regards to dynamic stretching, there was no consistency on specific time however, short bursts are preferred to prolonged stretching due to the possibility of muscle fatigue affecting performance.
Another review by Baxter et al (2017) found static stretching prior to long distance running reduced runners economy and performance. It was speculated this could be due to elongated levers around the pelvis requiring increased muscle work. Simic et al (2003) also found a reduction in explosive strength following static stretching. Again, a duration of more than 45 seconds equated to a greater reduction in performance.
Hammami et al (2016) found that static stretching reduced performance in footballers, whereas dynamic stretching enhanced performance by 3.46%. Small et al (2008) did find that static stretching was beneficial to reduce injury risk however, the study was of poor design and results need to be taken with caution. A review by Hollis (2016) discovered static stretching did not impair performance in football players when statically stretching hamstrings for less than 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching on the other hand, showed significantly better results in explosive performance activities such as jumping and sprinting.
Concepts such as Fifa 11+ have been introduced in football which have been found to be beneficial to reduce injury risk in football players (Silvers et al 2014; Bizzini and Dvorak 2015). These concepts introduce dynamic stretching and football specific tasks into a structured 20 minute warm up.
McCrary et al (2015) found strong evidence to suggest a performance increase in upper body power and strength following a high load dynamic warm up. Short duration static stretching had no effect on power and strength performance with passive heating being largely ineffective.
So what are my top tips?
1. Your warm up needs to be specific to task - i.e. if your exercise is running, no need to bench press prior to your activity. You need to teach your body the movements it requires. For example, if you are running, replicate your running technique with a lunge into a hip drive, replicate loading of your ankles by jumping, replicate your arm action by completing arm swings and body rotations.
2. Steadily increase speed/resistance/load - Too many people jump straight into high speed/resistance/sporting activities too early. Progressively increase your exercise in order for your body to adjust to the task you are completing. i.e. don't complete a sprinting session without a gradually increase in running prior.
50% -> 60% -> 70% etc
3. Don't complete prolonged static stretching for longer than 30 seconds - The evidence shows it can be detrimental to performance. However shorter bursts of static stretching have not been shown to be detrimental so don't be afraid to complete a short sharp burst of stretching. If it makes you feel better/warmer, do it.
4. Don't under/overdo your warm up - Making your warm up too short or too long could hamper performance. You may be fatigued after completing too long a warm up or not be as focused if too short a warm up. My target is 10-20% of your total exercise time should be warm up. i.e. exercising for 1 hour = 6-12 minutes warm up.
5. Just get warm - There is an increased risk of muscle tears when your muscles are cold (Simpson et al 2016) therefore you just need to get yourself as warm as you can. Especially on a cold winters night!
Hope that helps. Feel free to comment on whether you found this helpful or not. If you have any questions you want answered, please let us know and we'll do our best to answer.
Baxter C, Mc Naughton LR, Sparks A, Norton L & Bentley D (2017) Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners, Research in Sports Medicine, 25:1, 78-90,
Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, & McHugh M (2016) Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism. 41: 1–11
Bizzini M, Dvorak J (2015) FIFA 11+: an effective programme to prevent football injuries in various player groups worldwide—a narrative review. Br J Sports Med 2015;49:577-579
Hammami A , Zois J, Slimani M, Russel M, Bouhlel E. (2016) The efficacy, and characteristics, of warm-up and re-warm-up practices in soccer players: a systematic review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. Nov 30.
Hollis J (2016) The effects of static stretching of the hamstring muscles in a warm-up on performance among football players: A systematic literature review. Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
McCrary JM, Ackermann BJ, Halaki M (2015) A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. Br J Sports Med 2015;49:935-942
Simic L, Sarabon N, Markovic G. (2013) Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review.Scand J Med Sci Sports. Mar;23(2):131-48
H Silvers, B Mandelbaum M Bizzini J Dvorak (2014) The Efficacy of the Fifa 11+ Program in the collegiate male soccer player. Br J Sports Med 48:662
Simpson. AHRW (2016) Increased risk of muscle tears below physiological temperature ranges. Bone Joint Res 5:61-65
Small K, Mc Naughton L, Matthews M. (2008) A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Res Sports Med. 16(3):213-31.