What’s the Difference between warm-up and Stretching?

difference warm-up stretching

If you ask this question to a random person on the street, many people may struggle to give you an answer
Some can have a partial answer, but few will know exactly the difference
The goal today is to give you all the information on this topic, precisely

What’s the difference between warm-up and stretching?
The warm-up aims to prepare your body smoothly before a more intense workout
Stretching is usually done at the end of the session, that time to relax the body (especially to avoid aches)

Obviously, this is just a short answer, with a first idea about the post subject
Keep reading if you wan to know more about this

Warm-up

Definition

The warming up is a preparation for physical exertion or a performance by exercising or practicing gently beforehand.

Wikipedia

It was not easy to find a good definition in a dictionary, Wikipedia has the best, but it’s not perfect

The warm-up is the action to warmth your body by appropriate exercises, for proper functioning during the sport practice or event
Anyway, the definition is easy to remember (Warm-up = bring warmth to the body)

Warm-up goals

The best way to understand the benefits of an efficient warm-up session is probably to practice it 🙂
You can take note of your general condition at the beginning, then do about 15 minutes of warm-up, and notice the changes in sensation that you perceive after

But if you are looking for a more specific definition, like a scientist one, here are the benefits that warm-up will bring to your organism:

  • Your body is globally more responsive to nerve impulses
  • You breathe better, and your body transports blood faster to your muscles
  • It improves your general flexibility (muscles and joints), which will reduce the risk of injury during your session
  • Finally, you are also more focused and attentive to your body, which will also prevent some injuries (sprains specifically)

Warm-up duration

It’s also a frequently asked question:
How long should be an ideal warm-up session?
Is it not to long for a global one-hour session?

The effort duration depends on many criteria, like your state before the practice and the session conditions (duration, content, temperature or weather, etc.)

I can’t give you a typical answer to this question, the best person to give you this answer is probably your coach, who knows everything about the session and the conditions
But we generally consider that an ideal warm-up session can last between 15 and 45 minutes

Warm-up typical exercises

Once again, exercises to do will depend on the following sport session, but there are often similarities that I will explain now

The main goal is to warm-up your muscles and to relax your joints
So, you need to do several simple exercises to respect this goal

Here are a few examples:

  • Knee ascents: lift your knee at chest height, rotate both legs
  • Squats: I advise you to watch a video to avoid the bad movements, but the principle is: standing, then bend the knees by stooping as if you would squat, and back up
  • Lunges: step forward by lowering the body, a video is also recommended, to do the good movement

That’s it for the basics, it’s just to give you an idea of what we are talking about if you already practice that kind of movements
But it’s not visual enough, and probably not obvious to beginners

No worries, the video that follows will be much easier to understand 🙂

Video example

If you do your workout at home, you can find many examples on YouTube
You’ll find everything, whatever your current level or available time to do it
I recommend you to find 2 or 3 videos, corresponding to what you can do and what you expect of your sport sessions

Here is a short example, about five minutes, that will give you a better idea of the type of movements you can do during your warm-up:

Stretching

Let’s move now to the second part of your initial question: what is stretching exactly?

Definition

Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone

Wikipedia

As the name suggests, stretching is the way to stretch your muscles
You can do this by extending yourself, and then retract

You can even do this before your sport session
I told you in introduction that stretching is “usually” done after the practice
But in some specific cases, a few stretching movements before the session can help (before running for example)

Goals

I already give you the answer in the previous parts, but here is a summary of the stretching goals:

  • To recover muscular flexibility after exercise: your body has been highly solicited during the session, it is important to plan a quiet time between exercises of stretching and breathing
  • Relaxation: if you play sports, it’s not to be quite stiff in the following hours. A good stretch will improve your overall condition as a result of this session and will maintain the condition of your muscles over time
  • Wellness: it’s an important part of physical exercise too. At this particular moment, after sport and during the stretching that you will feel most strongly the relaxation and well-being sought during the sport, enjoy this moment 🙂

Example of a stretching session

You need to take about 15 minutes at the end of your session for stretching
Once again, it all depends on the session content that you just finished
Looking for specific advises from your coach is probably the best idea
You can also find tips on Internet for your sport. As always, try to find advises from 2 to 3 serious websites, and compare them.
Don’t follow only one website

For each solicited muscle, you need to stretch it for at least 30 seconds
Obviously, you have to do this for both site (the other arm or leg)

You’ll learn more by watching the following video, but there are basic exercises that you can do:

  • Thighs: raise your foot at the buttocks by holding it with your hand
  • The spine: lying on your back, raise your knees closer to your chest and hold the position with your hands
  • Calves: standing facing a wall, one foot forward, stretch your leg keeping the position

Once again, a visual illustration will be clearer
But if you already done this, you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about

Video

Here is a typical stretching session that you can do after running:

Differences between warm-up and stretching

As usual, I’ll now summarize here all the differences we saw in this part

The moment

A warm-up is done at the beginning of a sport session, even before starting your effort
Stretching is usually done at the end of the session. But in some cases you can try specific movements at the beginning, to improve your performance

Types of movements

During a warm-up, you will do many repetitions of the same exercise, to prepare your body for the session that will follow
At the opposite, during the stretching part, you will often stretch a muscle only once, but longer (between 30 seconds and 1 minute each time)

Goals

The warm-up goal is obvious, to warmth your body for the sport session
That is to say that you will increase your muscles temperature, so that they are “hot” and reactive to practice in the best conditions
You must avoid surprising your body by starting the session directly, this can cause muscle injuries

For stretching it’s the opposite. You’ll seek to put your body in condition to return to the real life, quieter than your workout I suppose 🙂
By doing this, you’ll also avoid the body aches of the next day

Conclusion

That’s it, this is the end of my answer about the differences between warming up and stretching, for a responsible sport practice

I’m not a coach or a doctor, it’s a general answer to the public
For sport players looking to a more detailed answer, I recommend contacting a specialist, in the field you want to improve

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