It’s arguably the most important part of your workout, and you’re probably doing it wrong.
Whether you’re new to exercise or not, including a proper warm-up in your routine can greatly improve your training and allow better and faster progress toward your fitness goals. Your warm-up should be like a rehearsal for your workout, preparing your muscles, joints and central nervous system for exercise. Think of it like putting oil on a tight screw to help loosen it up.
The purpose of a warm-up is to increase blood flow to the working muscles, increase flexibility and range of motion, and prepare the body for activity while reducing the risk of injury. Five minutes on a treadmill or an elliptical isn’t going to cut it. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
Start by using a foam roller to reduce tension, especially in tight areas such as the hamstrings and IT band. Spend about five minutes massaging both your upper- and lower-body muscles.
Next, move on to dynamic movements that will not only pump blood through your working muscles but also increase the range of motion through your joints. This activity should include movement through multiple planes (front, side and rotational), as well as the upper and lower body. It’s important to do dynamic movements instead of holding static stretches because your body isn’t warm yet, and stretching tight muscles increases risk of injury. Here are some good warm-up exercises to get you started:
1 Spinal twist: Lie on the floor with your right leg bent and your right foot at your left knee. Place your left hand to your right knee and gently guide the knee towards the floor, as you reach your right arm away from you, placing it on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on your left side.
2 Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling as high as you can, then slowly lower them until your back is flat on the ground. Repeat for 20-30 reps.
3 Shoulder internal/external rotation: Holding a stick or band in both hands and keeping your arms straight, take both arms back behind you as far as they will comfortably reach without leaning forward. Bring both hands back to the front of your body, then repeat this move up to 30 times.
4 Leg swings: Swing your left leg forward and back, then side to side, while maintaining an fully extended spine. Do 10 of each swing on both legs.
After you’ve run through some full-body dynamic movements, the final portion of the warm-up is to actually perform some of the exercises you will be doing at a lighter load or lower intensity. For example, if you’re going to lift weights, you will want to do a few sets of the exercises with a light weight, just to prepare the muscles. If you are going to be running or performing another cardiovascular activity, start with a light jog or easy calisthenics.