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At the gym and need some inspiration or want to change your routine? The best warm-up exercises are found in…
Looking for the best warm-up exercises? News flash: you’re in the right place. While half-hearted stretching or PE lessons at school might come to mind, there are actually a variety of fun, dynamic ways to warm up your muscles that, whether you’re a professional athlete or a beginner, are key for a whole host of reasons, from injury prevention to to increase performance.
Then picture the scene: you’re wearing your best gym leggings and ready to get through one of your favorite workouts. But now your mind has gone completely blank about which warm-up exercises to start with.
That’s where this article comes in. We’ve asked the experts for their take on which warm-up exercises cut it all, plus whether they’re actually as important as everyone thinks — and you might be surprised. Keep scrolling for personal trainer advice Alin Ursache and Jen Buddingtonpersonal trainer and level 3 Hatha Yoga teacher, both working at PureGym.
Warm-up exercises: your complete guide
What is a warm-up exercise and how long should it take?
To go back to the basics, we start with a definition. Warm-up exercises are simply a series of movements you do before a workout to prepare your body for exercise. The best part? They really only need to be five to ten minutes for you to reap the benefits.
You can make a warm-up routine your own – that is, you can pick and choose which moves you prefer from those suggested at the bottom of this page (there is no one-stretch-fits-all). As Ursache says, “the best warm-up exercise is the one you enjoy doing, because you’re more likely to stick with it over another you don’t enjoy”.
He goes on to explain, “As long as there’s some form of stretching in your routine targeting the muscles you’re going to work, along with a cardio-elevating activity, you’ve got a solid warm-up.”
Is warming up important?
Short answer: yes. “Warming up is critical to achieving optimal performance,” reveals Ursache. He also shares that they are super helpful when it comes to preventing injuries, like the one above, that keep you from exercising.
Research from 2007 supports this, as it suggests that a “warm-up and stretching has the most positive outcome in injury prevention.” So other than injury prevention – where else are they important?
Well, including mobility exercises in a warm-up is good because it helps “lubricate the joints, while a low-intensity aerobic activity raises the heart rate,” Ursache goes on to add.
Buddington tells us that warming up is important because it’s beneficial for “increasing blood flow, making sure your muscles get oxygen and slowly increasing your heart rate, which minimizes the stress on your heart.”
“In addition to preparing your body for aerobic or anaerobic activities, a warm-up will also help you focus, which is an important part of getting the most out of a workout,” says Ursache.
If you needed another reason to add to the list, a 2015 review found that “a dynamic warm-up can increase power, strength and overall performance.”
Count on us.
What happens if I don’t warm up?
Good question. While both PT experts have emphasized the importance of warm-ups, we wanted to know: are they important and what happens if you skip a warm-up?
Buddington reveals that skipping a warm-up can increase stress on the cardiovascular system. A recent study found that of those who did not warm up before exercising on a treadmill, 70% had abnormal EKG readings. “This is due to insufficient oxygen supply to the heart – essentially, their hearts were not ready to perform at the high speeds required for the intense exercises.”
If they had warmed up, they would have prepared their body for the intense workout. So, does the type of warm-up exercises you do matter, and should they differ depending on your choice of exercise? Another yes (we explain the different heating types below). As Buddington explains, “Static stretching has actually been shown to negatively impact performance and decrease muscle strength.”
However, she adds that it is not completely wrong – static stretches do improve flexibility, so they are not worth swinging altogether. A 2018 study found that stretching improves blood flow and that “this improved circulation aids muscle recovery.” Sounds good to us.
What is the difference between dynamic and static warm-up exercises?
A traditional approach to warming up is of course stretching, aka a static warm up. This literally means standing still while you stretch.
Dynamic stretching is a more modern approach to warm-up that takes the form of dynamic stretching – an active, movement-focused warm-up that may not sound exciting but definitely is.
Need more explanation of the difference between old and new? Simply put, “dynamic stretches are ‘controlled movements’ that target specific muscle groups, ligaments and soft tissue safely before the demands of the exercise or activity.” Buddington explains.
While static stretches “are held in a single position for a period of time, usually between 15 to 45 seconds,” Ursarche tells us, think calf stretch or a cat’s knee stretch.
Including static stretches is a great way to increase range of motion, as it involves “moving a joint as far as it can go and holding it in that post for a certain amount of time.” Remember, but not for too long.
But Ursache warns against keeping static stretches to a large extent. Recommend holding stretches anywhere between 10 to 90 seconds, since, as mentioned above, longer durations have been indicated to be counterproductive during warm-ups.
Now that you’ve learned more about the pros and cons of working out, here are some sample videos to help you try it from home or the gym.
The 10 best warm-ups to do before exercise
Our two experts share their top ten warm-up exercises to choose from for your next workout, plus Ursarche explains Why they are good warm-up exercises.
1. Arm circles
“This exercise helps improve the mobility and flexibility of the shoulders and helps the shoulder muscles and joints prepare for physical activity.”
2. Downward dog to the runner’s lunge
“This exercise stretches and strengthens the muscles of the legs, hips, hamstrings, quadriceps and back but also involves the upper body and helps you mobilize the wrist and shoulder.” The video below has a few others to try there as well.
3. Leg swing forward
A good warm-up exercise to warm up and stretch the hip joint and muscles. It’s also good for your hamstrings. Start slowly and work your way up to a full range of motion.
4. Cat cow stretch
Increase your overall mobility with this stretch. Breathe in and out while gently warming up the spine to prevent back pain and release tension before starting your workout.
5. Cross trainer
“The cross trainer is an effective way to warm up. The movement passes through all the major joints, and this will mobilize all the joints in a single exercise. The intensity should be light to moderate, and the key is to engage both arms and legs, rather than pushing with your legs and barely holding the handles. A good practice is to alternate pushing with pulling to fully engage your upper body.”
6. Jumping jacks
“A great way to mobilize your legs and shoulders and prepare for exercise, but they can also be a very effective cardio booster.” If you have any knee problems this is not recommended.
7. Hamstring mobility + Thoracic rotation
“This exercise allows you to fully engage the legs and core. Thoracic rotation can help open up the chest, improve breathing, and reduce tightness and pain in surrounding joints.
Can be perfect to do before squats as it helps in depth but also mobilizes the upper body. In the case of barbell squats, a full-body warm-up can make a huge difference in your performance because your core and arms will stabilize the barbell on your shoulders.”
8. Squat floor touch
“The squat will fully mobilize your leg and help prepare you for your leg workout. Touching the floor is a way to check if you went deep enough when squatting.”
9. Overhead stretch
“The overhead stretch work on your upper body helps release stiff shoulders, but it also targets the chest, forearms or triceps to a lesser degree.”
Start by interlacing your fingers above your head. Then turn your palms upwards while pushing your arms back and up. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax and repeat. Easy.
10. March on site
“This exercise is good for mobility, endurance and coordination. It also helps you improve your balance while being an effective cardio booster.”
Nice warm-up – next stop? Time to crush your choice of gym workout.