One of the best ways to avoid getting injured during physical activity is to first warm-up properly. Whether you’re trying to fit in a simple walk or a full workout, taking a few extra minutes to warm-up can save you hours of soreness and stiffness later on. It can also boost your heart function and improve your performance.
Workout Warm-Up Don’ts
One of the most common misconceptions about warming up is that you should do static stretches, like a toe touch, before a workout. In fact, the opposite is true. Static stretches or stretches that you hold in one position don’t belong in your warm-up—doing them before a workout can put you at a higher risk of injury and downgrade your performance.
Static stretches have their place in your fitness routine and are best after a workout when they can increase your flexibility and improve your range of motion. They can also help you cool down from cardio and relieve tension from your muscle groups and mind. But for a warm-up, you’ll want to use dynamic stretching.
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a series of movements targeting certain joints and muscle groups. It’s done at a slower pace than a typical workout. Dynamic stretches increase blood flow to the tissues throughout your body. They take anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes to complete and don’t require any special equipment.
By gradually inducing positive stress onto your circulatory system, dynamic stretches invite your body to prepare for exercise without strain. They also allow your muscles a chance to “rehearse” your movements, increasing your power, performance, and coordination.
10 Warm-Up Exercises You Should Know
Certain warm-up stretches are best done in the mornings to start your day. Others you can do right before exercising. Here are 10 dynamic warm-up exercises that can help you get the most out of your daily routine.
Arm circles are a tried and true upper body warm-up, activating multiple muscle groups at once. Hold your arms out parallel with the floor. Move your arms in small, slow circles, increasing the circumference gradually. Do about 20 reps per side, or after about 10 seconds. Reverse directions and repeat the cycle, returning to small circles.
Cat-Cow is best done on a mat or carpeting. Begin on your hands and knees, your shoulders in line with your wrists, hips over knees. Inhale and arch your back, belly drawing down and pelvis up, for a cow pose. On an exhale, round your back and claw through your fingertips, drawing your chin towards your chest for a cat pose. Move through these two poses for about 5 to 10 breaths before returning to a neutral spine.
Butt kicks target your hamstrings and are as simple as they seem. At a light jog, focus on kicking your feet up and behind you, towards your behind. Use short strides, and focus on the height of each kick instead of your speed. Butt kicks can even be done indoors as a quick warm-up.
Straight Leg Lateral Swing
Another popular stretch for runners, the lateral leg swing only requires something to hold for balance. Stand with your hands on a wall or chair. Shift your weight over to your left leg. Keeping your right leg straight, lift it slightly and swing it across the front of your body, then out to the side. Do 10 to 12 reps, moving with control. Switch legs and repeat.
Squat jumps are an advanced warm-up that takes about 30 to 60 seconds. Start in a standing position, then squat towards the ground, moving your arms out in front of you, back straight. Jump into the air, straightening your body into one long line and allowing your arms to swing back for momentum. Land and sink into your next squat to begin again.
Some dynamic stretching examples you’re probably already familiar with are jumping jacks and jumping rope. These easy, old-school exercises elevate your heart rate safely and effectively while reaching most of your major muscle groups. About 50 jumping jacks, or 5 minutes of jumping rope, can activate your whole body and boost your coordination.
Sometimes, the best dynamic warmup is a lighter version of the workout ahead of you. For a run, begin with 2 to 5 minutes at a slow jog instead of a sprint. For martial arts, throw a few kicks and punches at a fraction of your usual strength and speed.
Slow and steady walking lunges wake up the muscles of your legs, hips, and core. Take broad strides forward, allowing your back knee to sink down towards the ground until it touches. Move with control, rising slowly. Complete about 10 walking lunges per side, extending your arms for a greater challenge.
Power skips are one of the most fun pre-workout stretches you can do. They boost your metabolism and heart rate while working your glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, and shoulders. Power skips are more energetic than standard skips. Start with your feet hip-width apart, lift your right leg at the knee, and launch yourself off your left foot. Alternate sides, continuing for about 5 minutes.
For this dynamic stretch, begin in a push-up position with your arms and legs straight. Drawing your heels down, slowly walk your feet up towards your hands. When your feet are as close as possible, walk your hands slowly forward until you arrive back in a push-up pose.
Warming up is one of the most important parts of working out, and it can help you in your everyday life. Learning how to do a few dynamic stretches and using them regularly can help you meet your fitness goals and feel your best while doing it.