Tacking on a few minutes for a warm-up at the beginning of your workout routine might seem like a tough sell -- after all, on some days just finding 30 minutes to hit the elliptical is an accomplishment. But adding a warm-up to your workout -- especially if you're an athlete preparing for an important event -- will pay off in some big ways: more speed, fewer injuries and a better bod.
Warm-ups can directly impact your performance during an event, especially if you commit to a regular routine. In a 2008 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," wrestlers who completed a four-week series of dynamic stretch warm-ups improved their performance across the board compared to wrestlers who used a static stretching warm-up. They were measured on several exercises -- including a medicine ball underhand throw, pullups, pushups and situps. Those who used the dynamic stretching method were stronger, faster and more flexible the next time they hit the mat.
Aerobic exercises such as running and biking certainly help your heart and lungs, but they can also leave your muscles feeling tight. Warm-ups that incorporate stretching fight against that stiffness and make it easier for you to go longer and faster during your next workout. The warm-up's impact is noticeable even in small increments. A 2012 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" asked three sets of volunteers to ride a stationary bike for 10 minutes: one group completed a five-minute dynamic stretching warm-up, a second group completed a static stretching warm-up and a third control group rested during the warm-up period. Those who completed the dynamic stretching warm-up had more limber hamstrings and quadriceps, while the control group and static set saw no significant improvements.
The muscle soreness and lethargy you feel after a challenging workout are normal, but they can also kill your motivation to get up and go the next day. Proper warm-ups will reduce recovery time so that you stay committed to your workout routine. A 2007 study published in the "Australian Journal of Physiotherapy" split volunteers into four groups -- those who performed a warm-up and cooldown before a 30-minute workout, a group that only warmed up, a group that completed only a cooldown and a control group that only performed the main exercise. Those in the warm-up group felt reduced muscle soreness for up to 48 hours later, but those who only cooled down didn't notice any pain reduction.
Although the direct relationship between warm-ups and injury prevention has been debated, recent studies support the practice and have found that preconditioning your muscles before a challenging workout is worthwhile. A 2007 study published in "Sports Medicine" indicated that stretching and warming up before starting a run or jumping into the pool can deter injuries. But you should complete the warm-up and stretches at least 15 minutes before the workout begins to gain the full benefits.