The Science of Warm-up

Movement Preparation, or as traditionally called – warm-up – is a key component to performance enhancement and injury risk reduction. 10 minutes per day, 50 minutes per week, 210 minutes per month, 2520 minutes per year that can be an absolute game-changer for your athletes, clients and/or patients.

Almost everybody perform some warm-up drills prior to exercise, in order to prevent injuries to occur and to enhance performance. But is it efficient enough to achieve those goals?

1. Defining traditional warm-up

There is no consense regarding the definition of warm-up. However, the most common definition of warm-up consists in a series of drills, performed before exercise or sports activity, with 3 main components: low-intensity aerobic activity, static stretching of individual muscles and general skill rehearsal. (Young & Behm, 2002).

Researchers propose several benefits, such as increased body and muscle temperature, increased flexibility and decreased muscle stiffness, and increased muscular post-activation potentiation. (Bishop, 2003). This way, it is believed that performance enhancement and injury risk reduction can be achieved.

The first question we have to make is: is traditional warm-up preparing our athletes to the demands of training, practice and competition? To answer this question, we have to analyze each one of the proposed components of warm-up.

  • Low-intensity aerobic activity: it should be performed prior to exercise in order to increase body and muscle temperature. (Bishop, 2003). An increase in body and muscle temperature is the result of increased vascularization, and it promotes changes in active stiffness, as well as an increase in resistance to muscle tear. (Noonan et al., 1993; Safran et al., 1988)
  • Static stretching: several discussions emerged over the past few years, related to the negative effects of static stretching in strength/power expression. A recent systematic review has suggested that static stretching for less than 30 seconds does not have a negative effect on performance, and static stretching for more than 60 seconds negatively affects performance (Kay and Blazevich, 2012). However, it has not been suggested that static stretching for less than 30 seconds could have a positive effect on performance. Additionally, despite static stretching has been described as an important method to reduce injury risk, it has not been proved, until today, that it can decrease risk of injury (Small et al., 2008). Putting all together, if static stretching does not have a positive effect on performance, although it does not have a negative effect if performed for less than 30 seconds, and if it does not reduce injury risk, it should not be performed prior to exercise and sports activity. On the other hand, dynamic stretching promotes a positive effect on performance, and it reduces injury risk. (Behm and Chaouachi, 2011)
  • Specific activation exercises: specific movements should be included, in order to prime the motor and neuromuscular system for the upcoming activity (Faigenbaum et al., 2005; Young and Behm, 2003). This is often the missing link in warm-up programs.

2. A new paradigm: Movement Preparation

The term Movement Preparation has been suggested as an alternative to the traditional warm-up. As stated before, warm-up programs’ goal is to increase body and tissues temperature, in order to enhance performance and reduce injury risk. But is it enough to achieve what needs to happen prior to practice, training or competition? Probably not.

EXOS defined movement preparation as “an integrated approach to prepare the athlete physically and mentally for the demands of training and competition through a progressive and specific preparation period”. As the term reflects, the main goal is to prepare the body to move, and not only to increase body and tissues temperature.

So, we can establish several goals to be achieved within a movement preparation session:

  • Increase tissue temperature: as stated before, it has been proved that increased body and tissues temperature result in a change in muscle and tendon stiffness, as well as general extensibility within the tissues.
  • Refine movement patterns and optimize the existing mobility: this should not turn into a mobility or flexibility session, as well as a movement skill session. The main goal is just to prime the mobility and movement patterns you already have. In other words, movement preparation should be seen with an activation and refinement focus, instead of looking for improvement.
  • Rehearse of the upcoming motor skills: most activities involve locomotion, whether using gait, march, jogging, sprinting or change of direction. So it is extremely important to rehearse those skills, always based on the specificity of the upcoming session.
  • Motor and neuromuscular system activation: progressing from general to specific, slow to fast, low force to high force movements, the main goal is to achieve post-activation potentiation.

Although some of the goals are the same as traditional warm-up, the main difference can be found with the inclusion of motor and neuromuscular system role, in order to prepare the athlete for the upcoming activity.

3. Designing a Movement Preparation session

Movement Preparation should not be seen as a static component within a training program. This means that such as strength/power and movement skills session, progression should occur over time. The more advanced the athlete is, the more demanding the movement preparation session should be, in terms of duration, intensity and complexity.

Progression should be present not only through micro, meso and macrocycle, but also within the session. We can follow the same logic of the Force-Velocity curve. Movement preparation sessions should start slow movements, progressing all the way up to very fast movements. It should also progress from generic to more specific movements, static to more dynamic and low force output to high force into the ground.

Putting this, there are 5 main components within a movement preparation session: (Verstegen & Williams, 2014)

  • Generic low-intensity aerobic activity: from jogging to swimming, anything that enables body and tissues temperature to rise would fit here.
  • Hip activation: hips are the powerhouse of our body. Having full mobility and stability in the hips is crucial either to enhance performance and to reduce injury risk. The goal is not to fatigue the system, but instead to activate it. Not only the hips are being activated, but also all the body, especially the trunk region – also known as the pillar -, by maintaining a solid posture all the time. Mini-bands are a great tool to add some external resistance. It can be done with bent or straight leg, in a linear, lateral and rotational fashion, depending on the demands of the upcoming session.

  • Dynamic stretching: you should not think about isolated muscles, but instead movement patterns. This should not be an improvement in mobility within and around joints, but it should be just a refinement. It should challenge mobility, stability and motor skills. Again, it can emphasize linear, lateral and rotational movements, depending on the demands of the upcoming session.

  • Movement skills integration: here you can start to speed things up, without compromising movement quality. The goal is to integrate the fundamental movements necessary for the upcoming activity. Marching and skipping progressions and variations are a great way to prepare the motor system, either with a linear, lateral or rotational emphasis.

  • Neural activation: now you should start to introduce full speed efforts, using short duration intervals. The goal is to activate the Central Nervous System for the demands of the upcoming activity. Again, linear, lateral and rotational emphasis should be selected depending on the demands of the session. At this point, you could also introduce an external stimulus, either generic – visual, auditory or tactile – and/or specific – for example, mirror drills -, in order to respond to the demands of upcoming activity. Remember, our main goal is not to activate just a specific part of the body, but instead the whole system.

This way, you ensure your clients, athletes and/or patients are ready to start training, practicing or playing at full gear, resulting in performance enhancement and injury risk reduction.

4. Putting all together

As you noticed, this might look as an one-size-fits-all approach. However, that is not the case.

To focus the individual needs of an athlete, a prehab block should be included before movement preparation. In other words, athletes should spend around 10 minutes focusing on their individual needs, regarding mobility, motor control and movement patterns, depending on the information collected during screening, evaluation and assessment – you can read more about this topic HERE. As you also noticed, not a lot of effort is being made regarding upper limbs, since they would already be prepared after the prehab block. However, if you need to focus a little bit more in upper limbs, you should do it within movement preparation.

After that prehab block, where athletes focused on their individual needs, the focus should go to the type of session that is about to occur. It means that movement preparation emphasizes the needs of the upcoming session. 

For example: you have about 10-15 minutes for movement preparation in a certain day. The focus of the session in that day will be linear acceleration. In order to save time – do not forget that time is money! – you should emphasize linear movements within this context, either in hip activation, dynamic stretching, movement integration and neural activation drills. You could also emphasize lateral and rotational movements on that day, but the main focus would be linear, as you can see in the video below. You should select exercises regarding specific movements, direction, initiation, force output, velocity, posture and joint angles of the upcoming session.

So, don’t think that movement preparation has to be always the same or that you have to do every single exercise every single day – you should adapt depending on the type of session of that day. Consistency is the basis of success, and you should guarantee that your sessions are consistent enough in order to your athletes be able to learn. However, several modifications and progressions through time should be made in each drill. You can add more mini-bands, perform the drills in-place or moving forward, backward and/or laterally, multiple patterns – for example, a backward lunge to inverted hamstring or lateral lunge to drop lunge, as you can see in the videos – etc. The goal is to create a routine, but always adapting either to the type of session of that day, training experience of the athlete and also the needs and wants of that athlete – sometimes asking the athlete if he prefers to do the drills in-place or moving, multiple or just single patterns are great ways to give him a sense of autonomy, which will result into more motivation to go through the training process.

This way, you guarantee that your athlete is prepared to the demands of the upcoming activity, resulting in enhanced performance and reduced injury risk.

(NOTE: the videos presented above are just some illustrative examples that could fit within movement preparation,  but there are a lot more that could be used for this purpose.)

Luís Mesquita


  1. Behm, D.G. and Chaouachi, A. (2011) A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology 111, 2633-2651.
  2. Bishop, D. (2003). Warm up 1: Potential Mechanisms and the effects of passive warm up on exercise performance. Sports Med. 33(6): 439-454.
  3. Faigenbaum, A.D., Bellucci, M., Bernieri, A., Bakker, B., and Hoorens, K. (2005). Acute effects of different warm-up protocols on fitness performances in children. J Strength Cond Res, 19(2), 376-381.
  4. Kay, A., Blazevich, T., (2012). Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: A systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(1), 154-164
  5. Noonan, T. J. (1993). Thermal effects on skeletal muscle tensile behaviour. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 21: pp. 517-22
  6. Safran MR, Garrett WE, Seaber AV, Glisson RR and Ribbeck BM (1988). The role of warm-up in muscular injury prevention. American Journal of Sports Medicine 16: 123-129.
  7. Small, K., Mc Naughton, L., and 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. Research In Sports Medicine, 16(3), 213-231.
  8. Verstegen, M., and Williams, P. (2014). Every Day Is Game Day: The Proven System of Elite Performance to Win All Day, Every Day. Penguin.
  9. Young W.B. and Behm D.G. (2003). Effects of running, static stretching and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 34, 119-124

6 thoughts on “The Science of Warm-up

  1. Parabens pelo site!! Excelentes publicacoes! Continue! Acompanho o Exos! Sao top!!

    Sou preparador fisico de futebol trabalho na Arabia Saudita num clube da primeira liga e aplico muito do que aprendi com eles!! Faz realmente muita diferenca!!


  2. Excellent! Finally a comprehensive and evidence based summary of the key components crucial for quality performances. I especially enjoyed the focus on movement patterns and the greater concept of integrating all components in to a conclusive and comprehensive concept. Would like to add the mental, psycho-motorik benefits that follow from having this superb approach to movement preparation.
    Thanks, Thomas Larsson


  3. Not only an exceptional rehab transitional bridge (the component parts are individually malleable, for issues such as tissue healing constraint times) but positively impressive as well because of the applicability for athletes with a variety of skill-sets to showcase. Additionally the benefits to the practitioner incorporating this methodology into a preseason (pre-participation) evaluative or return-to- competition series seems clearly evident.


  4. Luís, excelente material! muito bem explicado e colocado.
    queria tirar uma dúvida contigo: Em qual momento devo inserir exercícios de mobilidade em índivíduos que apresentem baixa mobilidade articular?

    grato pela atenção e ansioso por futuras postagens!



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