During the winter season, I get many questions from patients asking what is the best way to safely warm up cold muscles. I respond that it is important to warm up your muscles before a workout to enhance muscle performance and decrease soreness. Cold muscles do not have the same flexibility as warm muscles, and therefore will usually not work as efficiently since each muscle has a specific length at which it produces the most power. I also tell my patients that a dynamic warm up is better than a static warm up.
To my first point; studies have found that warming up before a workout can help to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In a study by Law et. al. participants were subjected to a warm up and cool down, a warm up only, a cool down only, or neither a warm up or cool down before walking backwards in a downhill direction on a treadmill for 30 minutes. The complaint of DOMS was measured on a visual analog scale of 100 mm. The results of this study showed that participants that performed a warm up reported less perceived DOMS 48 hours after walking on treadmill by an average of 13 mm. The conclusion of this study was that warming up before an eccentric exercise routine can help reduce the feeling of muscle soreness two days after the workout.
To my second point that a dynamic warm up is better than a static one; a study by Herbert et. al. concluded that static stretching before a workout showed no prevention of muscle soreness or injury after the workout. This paper was a systematic review of five other studies which revealed an average of only 0.9mm improvement on a scale of 100 mm in muscle soreness 24 hours after static stretching before exercise. The review also referenced two military studies that confirmed static stretching before exercise only displayed a pooled hazard ratio 0.95, 0.78 to 1.16 which led the authors to conclude that static stretching before exercise produced no decrease in injury risk.
Finally, studies that compare static and dynamic warm ups demonstrate an improvement in exercise performance with completing a dynamic warm up before hand. McMillian et. al. tested subjects’ abilities during a T-shuttle run, underhand medicine ball throw for distance, and 5-step jump after performing a dynamic warm up, static warm up, or no warm up. The results of the study showed a significant improvement in the subjects’ abilities during the performance tests after completing a dynamic warm up over completing either a static warm up or no warm up at all. The dynamic warm up performed in this study included bending over and reaching between the legs, a rear lunge and reaching overhead, turning the trunk and reaching, squatting, rising from supine to a low squat, prone row, push up, windmill, and a diagonal lunge with reaching overhead.
The present studies available support a dynamic warm up over a static stretching warm up or no warm up before exercise. Studies show that when a dynamic warm up is completed, exercise performance is improved, and delayed onset muscle soreness is decreased. For these reasons I suggest my patients perform a dynamic warm up before exercising throughout the year to safely prepare for a workout routine.