A brisk pre-run walk or a few bodyweight squats before leg day may feel like a waste of time—especially if you’re barely able to squeeze a workout into your day. But it’s best not to skip your warm-up exercise: Spending a few extra minutes prepping your body for more intense movement is a small price to pay for some big potential benefits. Below, why you should be warming up and how to do it properly, according to several pros, plus step-by-step instructions for 10 best warm up exercises recommended by experts.
Why is it important to warm up?
- It primes your body.
- It can help reduce risk of injury.
Getting your blood pumping can also help you avoid pulling, straining, or tearing a muscle during your workout. According to Max Frankel, a certified trainer based in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, increased blood flow leads to more flexible muscles, which helps you avoid injury.
- It can lead to better performance.
“In my experience, personally and professionally, a proper and planned warm-up can lead to increased performance, whether that means lifting more weight, running farther, or general exercise output,” Frankel says.
Indeed, a 2010 Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study found that doing a low- to moderate-intensity lower-body warm-up helped participants improve their performance, possibly due to greater muscle activation. And more successful workouts might just help you stick with your exercise routine so you can crush your fitness goals (and, not to mention, hit your Streak in the Paceline app to unlock rewards and earn up to 5% cash back¹ with the Paceline Card).
- It can help with the mind-muscle connection.
Warming up causes your mind to focus on activating your muscles. “By going through the moves in a bodyweight fashion, you’re creating the muscle memory, which will then be more effective when used with heavier weights,” says Miriam Shestack, CPT, Equinox Group Fitness Instructor and running coach based in New York City. “It also gives people an opportunity to practice more complex movements before adding load,” she says.
How to Warm-Up Properly
A typical warm-up should consist of three parts: a period of aerobic exercise, followed by stretching, and ending with some activity similar to the workout, recommends Jim White, CPT, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist based in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Your warm-up should have a strong focus on increased blood flow and body temperature through dynamic stretching and aerobic exercise, increasing range of motion and flexibility, and preparing movement-specific muscles and ligaments for the workout ahead,” White says.
Aerobic activity: Start off with some cardio. For example, White recommends walking on a treadmill at an incline; every minute, increase the incline. Continue for five to 10 minutes.
Stretching: Dynamic stretches (active movements) help increase your body temperature better than static stretches (ones you hold), White says. They also help you stretch more muscles and body parts at once, according to Frankel. “I would recommend these for no more than 3 to 5 minutes,” he advises. (Still, static stretches do have a time and place: They’re great after your workout, during a cool-down.)
Specific Movements: End your warm-up with exercises tailored to the kind of workout you’re doing. “For instance, if you’re about to perform bench presses, doing lighter load bench press movements should be performed before heavier lifting begins,” White says.
Plan Your Routine
Directions: After your aerobic activity, White and Frankel recommend choosing two to five of the exercises below and doing 5 to 10 repetitions per exercise with 30 second rest intervals between sets. Do three sets of each movement.
Remember to match them to your planned workout: “For example, if you’re doing a workout that primarily focuses on legs (such as squats and lunges), you want your warm-up to mimic those exercises (such as squat touches and walking lunges),” Frankel says.
1) Walking Lunges
- Step one foot directly in front of you as far as you can comfortably. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and core tight.
- Bend both knees until your back knee is close to the ground.
- Stand up, step forward with the opposite foot and repeat steps 1 and 2. Continue to alternate legs.
Modification: Do a half or quarter lunge, bending your knees slightly or as deep as is comfortable.
2) Moving Inchworms (AKA walkouts)
- Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and bring your hands or fingertips to the ground.
- Begin placing weight on your hands and slowly “walk” your hands forward into a plank position with a tight core and your hands directly under shoulders.
- Slowly and with control, bring your hands back to your feet and return to a standing position. Repeat.
Modification: To reduce strain on your back, start in a kneeling position instead of standing.
3) Squat Touches
- Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and hips, with your hands at your sides, fingertips pointing down.
- Squat down. Stop when your fingertips touch the ground. (You’ll put your fingertips straight down, in between your legs, as if you’re attempting to pick something up off the ground.)
- Slowly stand back up. Once you’re standing straight, reach your hands up as if you were touching the ceiling. Repeat.
Modification: To reduce knee or back strain, do a slight squat/knee bend and touch your knees, then return to standing.
4) Toe Touch Twists
- Start standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly bring one leg up to hip level, keeping your knee as straight as possible and flexing your toes.
- Simultaneously, extend your opposite arm and twist to touch your toes with your fingertips. Return your leg and arm to the starting position.
- Repeat exercise with alternating arms and legs.
Modification: To reduce back and knee strain, lift your knee instead of kicking your leg straight.
5) High Knees
- Run in place, bringing your knees up and your heels in front of you.
6) Downward Dog to Runner’s Lunge
- With your arms and legs about shoulder-width apart, get into the downward-facing dog position with your palms on the ground and arms and legs straight.
- Swing your right leg to the outside of your right arm/hand, creating a sort of one-legged
push-up position, with your arms straight and hands under your shoulders.
- Swing your right leg back to return to downward-facing dog, stretching deep into the balls of the feet.
- Switch and bring your left leg to the outside of your left arm/hand, again creating a sort of one-legged push-up position.
- Swing left leg back to starting position, repeating the back and forth stretching positions.
Modification: For a more advanced stretch, try digging deeper into your heels on down dog, and try bringing your legs even farther forward on the lunge. For an easier exercise, do not swing your legs forward towards your arms. Instead, rotate between downward-facing dog and a push up position.
7) Starfish Stretch
- Stand with your legs as wide as possible, arms extended to the side.
- Twist opposite arm to opposite leg, reaching as low as possible (to your knee, ankle, or the floor).
- Stand back up straight, extending arms backwards and squeezing shoulder blades.
- Repeat exercise, alternating arms.
8) Walking Knee Lifts
- Start standing with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Bring your right leg up towards your chest with both arms.
- Release your right leg and take a step forward with your right leg.
- Immediately bring your left leg up towards your chest with both arms.
- Release your left leg and take a step forward with your left leg. Continue alternating sides.
Modification: For a more advanced exercise, incorporate a lunge into the movement with the leg that is walking forward. For an easier option, alternate bringing each leg up towards your chest without walking forward.
9) Lunges With Overhead Side Reach
- Start by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Lunge backwards with your left leg while bringing your right arm up and over your head to the left, letting your left arm hang down.
- Return to the starting position.
- Lunge backwards with your right leg while bringing your left arm up and over your head to the right, letting your right arm hang down.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
10) Half Kneeling Hamstring Stretch
- Start in a kneeling position with your right knee on the ground and both arms reaching up.
- With your right knee on the ground, sit back on your right foot and stretch your left leg out straight in front of your body with your left heel to the ground and arms dropping to the floor.
- Switch between having your left leg bent and arms up to left leg stretched out and arms to the ground for all repetitions.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Here’s How You Should Be Warming Up—And Why is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.