How Long Should Your Warm Up Be?

Why does it feel like I need 2 hours to Warm Up?

Why do we get hurt? Simply put, load exceeds capacity. When load (what you’re asking your body to do) exceeds capacity (how much your body can handle), things quickly get damaged. An extreme example is falling off a ladder and breaking your wrist. However, load can also exceed capacity more subtly and over a long period of time. This is why your back or neck start to ache after sitting 8 hours a day for a few years.


Conversely, health is when your body can handle what you’re asking it to do, or capacity exceeds load. This balance is what a good warm up is helping us achieve. We’re trying to raise our bodies ability (capacity) to handle a more intense activity (load). This is done by literally “warming” up. A useful analogy is to think of your muscles like a piece of taffy. Before a workout the taffy is really cold, and if you’ve ever tried bending a cold piece of taffy (applied load), it’s more likely to break. If you warm that same piece up first, and place the same amount of load on it, then it will bend and can even stretch with ease. This is why it’s important to warm up before exercise and to stretch after you workout. This way, the body is warm and ready to be stretched.

So how much warm up is enough? The answer to this question is going to be a little bit different from person to person. Generally, in a young and healthy person, just a few low-intensity sets of the activity you want to do should be plenty to warm your body up. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. The goal is to move the joints and muscles that will be getting used just enough to get them warm, and raise your heart rate.

This question becomes a bit harder to answer once our bodies start to get older and begin to accumulate some wear and tear. The most common, and under diagnosed condition in the human body is adhesion. Adhesion forms in muscles and other tissues when they’re overused in repetitive motions. These activities cut off their blood supply which causes them to become “chemically tricked” into laying down scar tissue or adhesion. Adhesion then acts like glue in tissues. As these tissues accumulate more adhesion they become tighter, weaker, and denser (ie: thicker piece of taffy) which will require a lot more “warming” up to get them ready for activity. If it feels like you need to spend 20-40 minutes with the foam roller to warm up it’s likely you have adhesion. Luckily with expert treatment this condition is completely fixable.

Another cause for increased warm-up time is degeneration. As our tendons, bones, discs and cartilage start to degenerate with age they can tear. What you end up with are things like torn labrums, rotator cuffs, herniated discs, a torn meniscus, etc.  This drastically reduces our capacity. Your body will naturally attempt to stay tight around these areas to protect them from damage. This is called protective tension, and it can feel as though no matter how much warm up you do your body is still tight and doesn’t feel ready for activity.


Warming up shouldn’t take very long. Do some light jogging to get your heart-rate up and a few light sets of whatever you’re trying to do that day. If it’s taking forever for you to warm up there might be an undiagnosed problem and you should get checked by a professional.

Author: Dr Doug Rawlick, DC
Phone: 780-965-9735

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