The Difference Between Warming Up & Stretching

A warm-up, such as a treadmill walk, can improve athletic performance.

A warm-up, such as a treadmill walk, can improve athletic performance.

While many people perform stretches while warming up for a workout, the two types of exercises are distinctly different. A warm-up is a routine that you do immediately before a workout as a way to prepare yourself physically and mentally for rigorous activity. You can’t leap into an intensive workout routine without doing damage to your body. While there are different types of stretching that serve different purposes, some can be incorporated into a warm-up or cool-down, while other stretches are used for flexibility training.

Purpose

The purpose of a warm-up is to raise your heart rate and boost the temperature of your muscles, joints and connective tissue. A typical warm-up consists of light physical activity for at least five minutes or as much as 10 minutes. If competing, the warm-up also gives you an outlet to banish anxiety, providing an opportunity to rehearse the activity in your mind. Once your muscles are warm, stretching during a warm-up can get your limbs and body ready to move through its known and comfortable range of motion and also lowers the risk of injury. Performed after a workout, flexibility exercises lengthen your muscles and increase the flexibility of your joints. Never stretch your muscles before they've been properly warmed up, as this increases chance of injury.

Sample Routine

A warm-up begins with light cardiovascular exercise, such as riding a stationary cycle, jogging or jumping jacks. Five minutes is enough to raise your body temperature. The next five minutes can be spent on dynamic stretches, which can limber up your body for movements required in the workout. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm and leg swings, hip rolls and walking lunges. Gradually increase the range of motion of your joints to their known limits via slow repetitive movement. The last stage of your warm up can be a light rehearsal, such as doing one set of resistance exercises with a light weight before you begin a weight-training session.

Stretching

According to “BTEC First Sport,” by Bob Harris, there are two types of stretches: maintenance and developmental. Use maintenance stretches as part of a warm-up or a cool-down. Hold these stretches for anywhere from six to 20 seconds; they are only meant to get your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints moving through familiar ranges of motion. An example is a set of 10 reps of lunges, according to Thomas Baechle’s book, “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.” When you stretch for a cool-down, it gives your muscles a chance to remove lactic acid, which can trigger next-day soreness. Development stretches are performed during flexibility training and are held for 15 to 30 seconds. Performing a forward or side split is a good example of a stretch used in gymnastics and the martial arts to increase a limb’s range of motion. These stretches are meant to progressively increase flexibility in a permanent way, according to Michael Alter's book, "Science of Flexibility."

Flexibility Training

Various types of stretches, including static, passive, facilitated, dynamic and ballistic, can improve flexibility. In static stretches, lengthen a muscle by gradually increasing the tension. Hold the peak position of the stretch via the use of other muscles. A partner moves your limb to increase its range of motion in a passive or facilitated stretch. Dynamic flexibility involves repeatedly moving your limb through its full range of motion, according to Robert McAtee and Jeff Charland’s book, “Facilitated Stretching.” Leg swings are an example of a dynamic stretch. Begin the swings slowly and with a narrow range of motion. Progress the stretch by speeding up the swings and increasing the range of motion. Ballistic stretches use quick, bouncy movements, and the momentum of your body weight can help to push a joint beyond its usual range of movement. However, this type of stretch can lead to muscle tears, so it isn’t recommended.

 

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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