If you’re short on time, you may feel tempted to skip a warmup and jump right into your workout. But doing so can increase your risk of injury, and put more strain on your muscles.
When preparing for any kind of exercise, whether it’s a cardio workout, strength training, or a team sport, it’s important to take a few minutes to ease your muscles into exercise mode. Doing so can help you reap many fitness rewards.
Here’s a look at the benefits of warming up and examples of warmup exercises that you can try before kicking your workout into high gear.
What are the benefits of warming up before a workout?
Warmup exercises can help get your body ready for more strenuous activity and make it easier to exercise. Some of the most important benefits of a warmup include:
- Increased flexibility. Being more flexible can make it easier to move and exercise correctly.
- Lower risk of injury. Warming up your muscles can help them relax which, in turn, can lead to less injury.
- Increased blood flow and oxygen. Having more blood flow helps your muscles get the nourishment they need before launching into more intense work.
- Improved performance. Source show that warmed up muscles can help you work out more effectively.
- Better range of motion. Having greater range of motion can help you move your joints more fully.
- Less muscle tension and pain. Muscles that are warm and relaxed may help you move more easily and with less pain or stiffness.
What is a dynamic warmup?
You may have heard of a dynamic warmup and static stretching and wondered how they’re different and when to do them.
A dynamic warmup is done at the start of your workout routine. It’s meant to prime your body to work at a higher intensity.
A dynamic warmup focuses on actions similar to the movements you’ll do while you work out. For instance, you can do movement-based stretching like lunges or squats, or light movements like riding a bicycle or jogging.
Dynamic warmups can help build strength, mobility, and coordination, which can all help improve your workout performance.
What is static stretching?
Static stretching is most effective at the end of your workout. It consists of stretches that are held for a period of time to help lengthen and loosen your muscles and connective tissue. This is different from a dynamic warmup because you keep your body still.
Static stretching can help increase your range of motion and flexibility. Some examples include:
- triceps stretches
- hip flexor stretches
- lying hamstring stretch
You can do a sport-specific warmup, or you can try the following warmup exercises that include a broad range of movements. Together, these exercises can help prepare your muscles for most workouts.
You can start off slowly with an easier version of each exercise before moving into a more challenging phase of the move.
Squats are a versatile exercise that target many of the muscles in your lower body, including your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
You can make the first few squats easier by going down halfway. Then, you can slowly increase the difficulty so the last few repetitions are full squats.
Once you’ve warmed up, you can up the intensity by holding weights when you do your squats.
To do a squat:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and turn your toes to face forward or out to the side slightly.
- Engage your core, keep your back straight, and slowly lower your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Pause briefly with your knees over, but not beyond, your toes.
- Exhale and stand back up.
- Do 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Planks are an excellent warmup for building core and back strength, as well as improving balance and posture. Once you’ve warmed up, you can challenge yourself with variations such as the forearm plank and side plank.
To do a plank:
- Get into a pushup position. If you’re a beginner, you can start by doing a plank on your knees. If you’re more advanced, you can try doing a plank on your forearms. If you’re somewhere in between, you can try doing a high plank with your arms fully extended.
- Keep your palms and toes planted firmly on the ground. Keep your back straight and your core muscles tight. Don’t let your head or back sag downwards.
- Hold your plank for 30 seconds to 1 minute
This exercise works your lower body and can help strengthen your legs, glutes, and hips. You can make the first few lunges easier by only going halfway down, and then progress to the full lunge.
After you’ve warmed up, you can increase the difficulty by doing a set using dumbbells or opposite hand reaches.
To do a side lunge:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Press into your right foot as you step your left foot over to the left.
- From here, squat down while bending your left leg and keeping your right leg straight.
- Pause briefly with your left knee over, but not beyond, your toes. Lift your hips and return your left foot to the starting position.
- Perform a lunge to the right side. This is 1 rep.
- Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps
This classic exercise works your upper body, core, and glutes. To make it less challenging, you can do pushups on your knees.
Once you’ve warmed up, you can increase the difficulty by pausing in the lower position for a few seconds.
To do a pushup:
- Position yourself in a high plank position, at the top of a pushup, with your palms flat on the floor and hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders positioned over your hands. Your back should be flat and your feet should be together behind you. Keep your abs pulled in.
- Slowly lower your body down toward the floor. Don’t let your torso or back sag. Your elbows may flare out during this movement.
- Once your chest or chin almost touch the ground, press up and straighten your arms. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid hyperextension.
- Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
This exercise involves several movements that can help loosen and warm up your triceps.
To do a triceps warmup:
- Extend your arms out to the sides so they’re parallel to the floor, keeping your palms facing down.
- Keep your arms straight and rotate them in backward circles.
- After 20 to 30 seconds, rotate your arms in forward circles.
- After 20 to 30 seconds, turn your palms to face forward and pulse your arms back and forth.
- After 20 to 30 seconds, repeat the pulsing movement with your palms facing backward, up, and down.
- Do 1 to 3 sets of these movements.
Jogging leg lifts
Jogging leg lifts can help get your heart pumping and improve circulation throughout your body.
Depending on the space you have available, you can jog in place or run back and forth. Do each segment of this exercise for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can reduce the intensity of this exercise by doing it at a walking pace.
To do jogging leg lifts:
- Jog at a slow pace.
- After about a minute, jog while lifting your knees up toward your chest for at least 30 seconds, or jog while kicking your feet upward toward your buttocks.
- Return to jogging at a slow pace.
How long should a warmup be?
Try to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes warming up. The more intense your workout is going to be, the longer your warmup should be.
Focus first on large muscle groups and then perform warmups that mimic some of the movements you’ll do while you’re exercising. For instance, if you’re planning to run or bike, do so at a slower pace to get warmed up.
The bottom line
Although often overlooked, warmup exercises are an important part of any exercise routine. Your body needs some kind of activity to get your muscles warmed up before you launch into your workout.
Warming up can help boost your flexibility and athletic performance, and also reduce your chance of injury.
You can either do slower versions of the movements you’ll be doing during your workout, or you can try a variety of warmup exercises, like the ones suggested above.
If you’re new to fitness or have a medical condition or a health concern, be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.