How long is your warm up?

warmupYour body doesn’t need 15 – 30 minutes to warm up.

So why is it so engrained into martial arts training that a “warm up” should take so long?

The quick answer is because many warm ups involve stretching.

Apparently someone once believed that stretching at the start of class warms up muscles. Yet for years now we’ve known for a fact that static stretching does nothing to help warm up the body, and there is little evidence to suggest that it prevents injury.

Think about it – how long does it actually take to warm up your body? 3 minutes of jump rope, a couple of rounds of light shadow boxing or some jogging followed by some light calisthenics does the job just fine. You’ll know when your core temperature is up, because you should have a light sweat beading up on your brow.

But when I think of the way many schools warm up (and 25 years ago at my first dojo we did this too), there would be a few minutes of jogging, followed by jumping jacks, pushups, situps and calisthenics. The body would be warm and then we’d do static stretching for 20 minutes as our bodies cooled down!

Finally when we got to the “technique” part of class, we were supposed to be fast and sharp using a body that had more or less returned to regular operating temperature. That’s kind of like expecting peak performance out of race car whose engine is cold.

Do you see the conflict?

Back then as a student I did it because I my sensei told me to. Now that I have my own dojo, I have abandoned the 25 minute warmups in favor of a 5 minute warm up, with static stretching done at the END of class when the body is truly hot and fatigued. That’s the best time for stretching for flexibility…

Remember, things don’t have to be done the same way as they always were – if that were true we’d still be living in caves, making fire and reinventing the wheel. Change is part of development. What could you change about your warm up and class structure to make a positive impact?

17 thoughts on “How long is your warm up?”

  1. I have emailed this to my instructors and will be meeting with them to discuss the merits of your posting. It is certainly worth considering, and perhaps implementing in the near furure. Keep the great ideas coming!

  2. We have been using this warm up method for some time now and it really does work. Some good ideas for all martial artist from you.

  3. That has been my philosophy for sometime now. Our class still does a 15 minute warmup and stretching, which is actually letting the body cool down again. Since I no longer teach classes, I can’t get the head instructor to change it. In my fitness classes I do a 5 minute warmup that incorporates some stretching movements so that by the time the real without begins, everyone is warmed up and stretched out and ready to go. Then after the workout I do about 10 minutes of cool down stretching. Keeps everyone from getting really sore muscles. Depending on the workout, they will still get some soreness, but stretching out after the workout eliminates a lot of that.

    • Absolutely Mark… the cool down stretch does wonders for preventing the body from becoming sore – something I neglected in my 20s and 30s, but now at 40 I realized how important the post-class stretch is.

      There’s a debate about whether it’s “lactic acid build up” or “inflammation” that actually causes the soreness. Either way, stretching after class does the job.

  4. We use basics to warm up our students, starting slowly with static and them moving BPK and slowly speeding the moves up after about 10 minutes, no injuries since doing it this way. It works all of the muscles etc that we actually need ready for training.

  5. We did a lot of static stretching until recently. Now I tend to start the class off with some dynamic stretching, or light kata, or slowly performing a 90° – 180° block / punch exercise, then finish with stretching at the end. Works much better.

  6. VERY true. Stretching for flexibility is completely different than stretching to loosen up the body at the beginning of the class.

    You hit it right on that after the body is warm and the body is limber you can stretch for flexibility at the end of class. I like to use bending glass as an analogy…if you try to push it or bend it when it is cold it will break, once it’s warmed up it will flex with more ease.

    I use some running variations at the beginning, foot work drills, push-ups, compound exercises and in 20mins (with some light stretching, but AFTER the warm-ups to get the blood flowing and body temperature up) you should be tired and then the karate techniques kick in. If you are more creative you can work the exercises from the warm ups and conditioning right into basics.

  7. I could not agree with this more, there was a study done on this very subject a few years ago in Japan. This is how they put it: If you take a rubber band and stick it in the freezer, then go to stretch it, it will snap. Now take that rubber band and soak it in warm water, not only will it stretch it will hold that stretch.

    Since that article I no longer stretch before a workout, rather I ease into it, and stretch after. Almost literally my flexibility doubled overnight. I can kick higher than most of my fellow black belts from a cold stretch (you will not be able to warm up before a real confrontation)

  8. Absolutely correct ~ I use a 5 minute variety of warm ups with exercises that relate to ‘switch & change’ & ‘breaking the line’ that way Students get a warm up while learning skills that are applicable in sparring.

    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City
    NSW Australia

  9. Morning Sensei Stanley,
    I only statically stretch after a class and encourage my class mates to do the same. Sometimes I stretch after warming up in my own time for about 3 minutes to deliberately make my muscles tired before the lesson starts. I don’t recommend this to anyone as it’s just something I do for myself. My idea is that I work harder than I normally would for about an hour and a half. Is this a bad idea?


    • Eche,

      Try this instead – do dynamic stretches after your warm up which will prepare your muscles for working out. Then at the end of class do isometric stretches to tire yourself out and increase your flexibility. After that, do some static stretches to cool down.

      Hope this helps,


      • This is right on. I have been doing it for about 10 years now, the aforementioned method Sensei Jason mentioned.

        I work with 40s year old students, many in their 50s and they can touch their toes and have reduced or eliminated their lower back pain. I have integrated various types of stretching and yoga poses in my classes now and works very well.

  10. Hi Jason,

    I am an osteopath, in private practice for 25 years, and you are perfectly correct in what you say… in fact, in – pretty much – everything you say.

    I have been practicing karate (4th Dan) for 41 years and I remember all the old stretching exercises done at the beginning of each session as a ‘warm-up’. In reality, stretching should come *after* the warm-up. I have to say though, that – as an osteopath – I do believe that it’s necessary to warm up *longer* than your suggested 5mins. Having said that, starting the regular karate technique (marching up and down the hall etc) gently and ‘taking it easy’ to start with, can be considered part of the ‘warm-up’ in itself. However, this shouldn’t be considered and taken as launching into it in a very strenuous way.

    Furthermore (and this is something you missed in your discourse) the type of stretching we used to do was completely incorrect anyway. The old style stretching used to be in which the muscles/tendons were ‘bounced’ (I’m sure I don’t have to go into a detailed explanation, as every karateka of long-standing will/should know exactly what I’m talking about). This is akin to (for example) taking a piece of string between your hands and ‘bounce-stretching’ it… pretty soon, the string easily snaps. This is an example of the sort of forces that is applied to any structure (*including* the muscles/tendons… and *especially* the musculo-tendinous junction) by using this bouncing-type stretch. Stretching should be yes, well after the warm-up but also performed as a steady stretch, with no ‘bounce’.

    However, yes, warm-up comes *before* stretching. Stretching first can quite easily lead to injury. If not immediate trauma, then certainly an accumulation of micro-traumas leading, eventually, to a possible nasty injury at a later date.



  11. Like some that have already replied, I like to use light jogging or shadowboxing interspersed with stance work and basic techniques. After everyone get a sweat, then we up the ante on the workout, gradually working to each person’s potential. During the workout, we take “catch our breath” breaks between rounds or drills, for 1 minute doing a light stretching exercise, then resuming with the workout. The last 5 minutes we spend on cool down and light stretching.

    When I was doing Wushu, we were taught to stretch beforehand….before a “warmup”….and I found myself injuring myself.

  12. I appreciate all your views. I have learnt a lot from all of you. If I have to use an analogy, I believe Warm-up and Stretching are more like co-passengers on a flight. They appear similar, but the purpose of the journey may be quite different.


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