Competitive and recreational athletes typically perform warm-up and stretching activities to prepare for more strenuous exercise. These preliminary activities are used to enhance physical performance and to prevent sports-related injuries.
Warm-up techniques are primarily used to increase body temperature and are classified in 3 major categories: (a) passive warm-up — increases temperature by some external means; (b) general warm-up — increases temperature by nonspecific body movements; and (c) specific warm-up — increases temperature using similar body parts that will be used in the subsequent, more strenuous activity. The best of these appears to be specific warm-up because this method provides a rehearsal of the activity or event. The intensity and duration of warm-up must be individualised according to the athlete’s physical capabilities and in consideration of environmental factors which may alter the temperature response.
The majority of the benefits of warm-up are related to temperature-dependent physiological processes. An elevation in body temperature produces an increase in the dissociation of oxygen from haemoglobin and myoglobin, a lowering of the activation energy rates of metabolic chemical reactions, an increase in muscle blood flow, a reduction in muscle viscosity, an increase in the sensitivity of nerve receptors, and an increase in the speed of nervous impulses. Warm-up also appears to reduce the incidence and likelihood of sports-related musculoskeletal injuries.
Improving flexibility through stretching is another important preparatory activity that has been advocated to improve physical performance. Maintaining good flexibility also aids in the prevention of injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Flexibility is defined as the range of motion possible around a specific joint or a series of articulations and is usually classified as either static or dynamic. Static flexibility refers to the degree to which a joint can be passively moved to the end-points in the range of motion. Dynamic flexibility refers to the degree which a joint can be moved as a result of a muscle contraction and may therefore not be a good indicator of stiffness or looseness of a joint.
There are 3 basic categories of stretching techniques: (a) ballistic — which makes use of repetitive bouncing movements; (b) static — which stretches the muscle to the point of slight muscle discomfort and is held for an extended period; and (c) proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation — which uses alternating contractions and stretching of the muscles. Each of these stretching methods is based on the neurophysiological phenomenon involving the stretch reflex. The muscle spindle and Golgi tendon organ are receptors sensitive to changes in muscle length and tension and are activated during stretching. Because ballistic, static, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching techniques produce different responses from the stretch reflex, the relative effectiveness of these stretching methods also varies.
Studies comparing the effectiveness of the various stretching techniques have been confusing and contradictory. However, the majority of the information on this topic tends to support the use of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation techniques for providing the best improvements in flexibility.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Awad, A. and Kotke, F.: Effectiveness of myotatic reflex facilitation in augmenting rate of increase in muscular strength due to brief maximum exercise. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 47: 23–29 (1964).
Asmussen, E. and Boje, O.: Body temperature and capacity for work. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 10: 1–22 (1945).
Åstrand, P.O. and Rodahl, K.: Textbook of Work Physiology. (McGraw-Hill, New York 1977).
Barcroft, H. and Edholm, O.G.: The effect of temperature on blood flow and deep temperature in the human forearm. Journal of Physiology 102: 5–12 (1943).
Barcroft, J. and King, W.O.R.: The effect of temperature on the dissociation curve of blood. Journal of Physiology 39: 374–384 (1909).
Barnard, R.J.: Gardner, G.W.; Diaco, N.V.; MacAlpin, R.N. and Kattus, A.A.: Cardiovascular responses to sudden strenuous exercise-heart rate, blood pressure, and ECG. Journal of Applied Physiology 34: 833–837 (1973a).
Barnard, R.J.: MacAlpin, R.; Kattus, A.A. and Buckberg, G.D.: Ischemic responses to sudden strenuous exercise in healthy men. Circulation 48: 936–942 (1973b).
Beaulieu, J.E.: Stretching for All Sports (Athletic Press, Pasadena 1980).
Beaulieu, J.E.: Developing a stretching program. Physician and Sportsmedicine 9: 59–69 (1981).
Bennett, A.F.: Thermal dependence of muscle function. American Journal of Physiology 247: R217–R229 (1984).
Bergh, U.: Human power at subnormal body temperatures. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 478 (Suppl.): 1–39 (1980).
Bergh, U. and Ekblom, B.: Physical performance and peak aerobic power at different body temperatures. Journal of Applied Physiology 46: 885–889 (1979).
Blanz, F.: Keskittymistapaht-uma; in Blanz et al. (Eds) Urheituvalmenuk-sen psykologiaa, pp. 82–86 (Suomen Valtakunnan Urheiluiittory, Helsinki 1973).
Blomstrand, E.; Bergh, V.; Eseen-Gustavsson, B. and Ekblom, B.: Influence of low muscle temperature on muscle metabolism during intense dynamic exercise. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 120: 229–236 (1984).
Bobath, B.: The treatment of motor disorders of pyramidal and extrapyramidal origin by reflex inhibition and by facilitation of movements. Psychotherapy 41: 146 (1955).
Brunnstrom, S.: Movement Therapy in Hemiplegia (Harper and Row, New York 1970).
Carlile, F.: Effect of preliminary passive warming on swimming performance. Research Quarterly 27: 143–151 (1956).
Cornelius, W.L.: Two effective flexibility methods. Athletic Training 16: 23–25 (1981).
Cureton, T.K.: Flexibility as an aspect of physical fitness. Research Quarterly 12 (Suppl.): 381–394 (1941).
deVries, H.: Prevention of muscular distress after exercise. Research Quarterly 32: 177–185 (1961).
deVries, H.A.: Evaluation of static stretching procedures for improvement of flexibility. Research Quarterly 33: 222–228 (1962).
deVries, H.A.: Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education and Athletics (William C. Brown, Dubuque 1980).
Harris, M.L.: Flexibility: A review of the literature. Physical Therapy 49: 591–601 (1969).
Hill, A.V.: Living Machinery (Harcourt, Brace, and World, New York 1927).
Holland, G.J.: The physiology of flexibility: A review of the literature. Kinesiology Reviews: 49–62 (1968).
Holt, L.E.; Travis, T.M. and Okita, T.: Comparative study of three stretching techniques. Perceptual and Motor Skills 31:611–616 (1970).
Karpovich, P.V. and Hale, C.J.: Effect of warming-up upon physical performance. Journal of the American Medical Association 162: 1117–1119 (1956).
Jensen, C. and Fisher, G.: Scientific Basis of Athletic Conditioning (Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia 1979).
Karvonen, J.: Warming up and its physiological effects. Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. Series D, No. 31. Pharmacologica et Physiologica, No. 6(1978).
Knott, M. and Voss, D.E.: Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: Patterns and Technique (Harper and Row, New York 1968).
Kopell, H.P.: The warm-up and autogenous injury. New York State Journal of Medicine 62: 3255–3258 (1962).
Le Ban, M.M.: Collagen tissue: Implications of its response to stress in vitro. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 43: 461–466 (1962).
Lehmann, J.F.; Masock, A.J.; Warren, CG. and Koblanski, N.J.: Effect of therapeutic temperatures on tendon extensibility. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 51: 481–487 (1970).
Leighton, J.: A simple and objective and reliable measure of flexibility. Research Quarterly 13: 205–216 (1942).
Leighton, J.: Flexibility characteristics of males ages 10–18. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 34: 494–499 (1956).
Lloyd, D.: Facilitation and inhibition of spinal motorneurons. Journal of Neurophysiology 9: 421 (1946).
Logan, G. and Egstrom, G.: The effects of slow and fast stretching on the sacrofemoral angle. Journal of the Association of Physical and Mental Rehabilitation 15: 85–89 (1961).
Malareki, I.: Investigation on physiological justification of so-called ‘warming-up’ Acta Physiologica Poland 5: 543–546 (1954).
Martin, B.J.; Robinson, S.; Wiegman, D.L. and Aulick, L.H.: Effect of warm-up on metabolic responses to strenuous exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 7: 146–149 (1975).
Massey, B.H.; Johnson, W.R. and Kramer, G.F.: Effect of warm-up exercise upon physical performance using hypnosis to control the psychological variable. Research Quarterly 32: 63–71 (1961).
Matthew, D.; Shaw, V. and Bohenen, M.: Hip flexibility of college women as related to length of body segments. Research Quarterly 28: 352–356 (1975).
McArdle, W.D.; Katch, F.I. and Katch, V.L.: Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia 1981).
McCue, B.: Flexibility measurements of college-age women. Research Quarterly 24: 376–384 (1953).
Mellerowicz, H. and Hansen, G.: Encyclopedia of Sports Science and Medicine (MacMillan, New York 1971).
Moore, M.A. and Hutton, R.S.: Electromyographic investigation of muscle stretching techniques. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 12: 322–329 (1980).
Morehouse, L.E. and Miller, A.T.: Physiology of Exercise (C.V. Mosby, St Louis 1976).
Muido, L.: The influence of body temperature on performances in swimming. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 12: 102–109 (1946).
O’Neil, R.: Prevention of hamstring and groin strain. Athletic Training 11: 27–31 (1976).
O’Connell, E.: The effect of slow stretching on flexibility. Paper presented to CAPHER Convention 1964, Bakersfield, California.
Partridge, M.: Electromyographic demonstration of facilitation. Physical Therapy Review 5: 227 (1954).
Prentice, W.E.: An electromyographic analysis of the effectiveness of heat or cold and stretching for inducing muscular relaxation. Journal of Orthopedics and Sports Physical Therapy 3: 133–140 (1982).
Prentice, W.E.: A comparison of static stretching and PNF stretching for improving hip joint flexibility. Athletic Training 18: 56–59 (1983).
Preo, L.: A study to ascertain the facilitory influence of the antagonistic muscle group on the contractual strength of the agonist muscle group at the knee and elbow (Published research paper, Southern Illinois University 1967).
Puni, A.C.: Psychological Preparation for Sports Contests. Figkultura: Sport, Moscow, USSR (1969).
Richards, D.K.: A two-factor theory of the warm-up effect in jumping performance. Research Quarterly 39: 668–673 (1968).
Rood, M.: Neurophysiology reactions as a basis of physical therapy. Physical Therapy Journal 34: 444 (1954).
Saltin, B. and Hermansen, L.: Esophagel, rectal, and muscle temperature during exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology 25: 679–688 (1966).
Sapega, A.A.; Quedenfeld, T.C.; Moyer, R.A. and Butler, R.A.: Biophysical factors in range-of-motion exercise. Physician and Sportsmedicine 9: 57–65 (1981).
Schmidt, P.: Frustration und Vorstartperiode. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Sport Medizin 23: 93 (1975).
Shellock, F.G.: Physiological benefits of warm-up. Physician and Sportsmedicine 11: 134–142 (1983).
Stafford, G. and Kelly, E.: Preventive and Corrective Physical Education (Ronald Press, New York 1958).
Tanigawa, M.C.: A comparison of hold relax procedure and passive mobilization on increasing muscle length. Physical Therapy 52: 725–735 (1972).
Weber, S. and Kraus, H.: Passive and active stretching of muscles: Spring stretch and control group. Physical Therapy Reviews 29: 407–410 (1949).
Wright, V. and Johns, R.J.: Physical factors concerned with the stiffness of normal and diseased joints. Bulletin of Johns Hopkins Hospital 106: 215–231 (1960).
Zuntz, N.; Loewy, A.; Mueller, F. and Caspari, W.: Hahenklima and Bergwanderungen in ihrer Wirkung auf den Menschen. Deutsches Verlaghaus (Bong, Berlin 1906).
About this article
Cite this article
Shellock, F.G., Prentice, W.E. Warming-Up and Stretching for Improved Physical Performance and Prevention of Sports-Related Injuries. Sports Medicine 2, 267–278 (1985). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198502040-00004
- Muscle Spindle
- Antagonist Muscle
- Hamstring Muscle
- Static Stretch
- Golgi Tendon Organ