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The science of proper warm-up

May 19th, 2010

Gina Kolata has an article in the New York Times on whether warming up improves performance that’s worth a read. Overall, her message seems to be that there’s very little evidence about whether warming up helps or hurts performance, or does nothing. To reach this conclusion, she relies largely on a recent review by Andrea Franklin at Bloomberg University of Pennsylvania, which begins with this statement:

The value of warming-up is a worthy research problem because it is not known whether warming-up benefits, harms, or has no effect on individuals.

I agree that there’s lots of research that needs to be done — for example, there have been several interesting recent studies looking at the effects of dynamic warm-up activities as opposed to traditional static stretches, but more is needed to identify what works best for different activities and what the mechanisms are. But I think it’s a little melodramatic to claim that we have no idea whether warming up helps. Even Franklin describes her analysis of 32 “high-quality” studies as follows:

Warm-up was shown to improve performance in 79% of the criterions [sic] examined. This analysis has shown that performance improvements can be demonstrated after completion of adequate warm-up activities, and there is little evidence to suggest that warming-up is detrimental to sports participants.

That seems to be quite a bit more positive than the opening sentence, to say the least. There’s still lots to learn about warm-ups, but let’s not exaggerate our ignorance.

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