For most individuals, the amount of available leisure time to dedicate to self-care and personal growth is becoming increasingly limited. So it makes sense that you would rather spend those valuable moments pushing through a workout that leaves you feeling incredibly empowered — not a warm-up routine that bores you to death.
But devoting just a few minutes to performing warm-up exercises before weightlifting, running, or engaging in other activities could benefit your body and mind, says Barb Puzanovova, a certified personal trainer in Nashville. Here, Puzanovova shares the advantages of warming up before a challenging workout and how to incorporate them into your routine. Additionally, she demonstrates her preferred warm-up exercises that can be done regardless of the activity you are about to undertake.
The Significance of Warm-Up Exercises
Warm-ups can be likened to the entrance ramp you use before merging onto a highway — it’s a gentle transition from complete stillness to full activity, says Puzanovova. In simpler terms, warm-ups help gradually prepare your body for the activity that will make you perspire, by increasing your heart rate, body temperature, and blood circulation to the muscles about to be engaged, she explains. And these increases in temperature and blood flow can then help reduce the risk of injury and optimize your performance, she adds.
In addition, performing warm-up exercises can establish a connection between your mind and body, allowing you to activate your muscles more effectively during your run or weightlifting session, says Puzanovova. “It helps you understand your body’s position in space and connect with different body parts or muscle groups, so you can have a better sense of them when you are actually performing those movements,” she says.
However, the importance of warming up depends on the intensity of the activity. “Let’s say you’re doing heavy lifts or high-intensity interval training that requires significant power — it will be much more necessary to warm up compared to taking a leisurely walk outside,” says Puzanovova. “You may not need a warm-up before a 20-minute stroll.”
The Key Characteristics of an Effective Warm-Up
Step 1. Belly Breathing
Before engaging in any movement, Puzanovova recommends starting your warm-up with diaphragmatic breathing, a practice that promotes relaxation and slows down the heart rate, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Pausing for a brief period to calm your nervous system, especially if you’re exercising following a highly hectic day, can prove incredibly beneficial,” she clarifies. “Simply allowing your body and mind a moment to halt and acknowledge, ‘Alright, we’re transitioning now.’
Step 2. Foam Rolling
Next, consider engaging in a bit of foam rolling on the muscle groups you’ll be using during your upcoming workout, she suggests. Research studies have indicated that foam rolling prior to exercise can result in a slight enhancement in sprint performance and flexibility. Additionally, employing the massage technique can also assist in establishing the mind-muscle connection, according to Puzanovova. However, not everyone has access to or enjoys using a foam roller. If you don’t wish to or are unable to include this practice in your warm-up routine, don’t worry about it, she adds.
Step 3. Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises
Afterward, it’s time to move on to warm-up exercises. The key is to perform dynamic movements instead of static ones. “When people first arrive at the gym or prepare for a run, they often engage in static stretches, meaning they hold positions for a prolonged period,” explains Puzanovova. “However, research consistently shows that dynamic movements, where you move through a range of motion, are generally more beneficial.” By doing so, you’ll enhance your mobility (the ability of joints to move through the entire range without discomfort or compensation). This can help prevent overextension of tight muscles and reduce the risk of injury, as previously noted by Cristina Chan, C.P.T., a corrective exercise specialist and the head of F45’s recovery programming, in an interview with Shape. For example, if you’re about to perform squats, you might engage in warm-up exercises that target your hips, knees, and ankles, as suggested by Puzanovova.
Step 4. Light Cardio (Optional)
At this point, you can either proceed directly into your workout or ease into it by spending two to five minutes engaging in light cardio work, advises Puzanovova. “Having access to something like a stationary bike, treadmill, or rowing machine, where you can increase your blood flow and heart rate, can be extremely beneficial,” she explains. “I often utilize this method when the weather is colder because it is essential to warm up.”
How to Incorporate Warm-Up Exercises Into Your Routine
To clarify, skipping warm-ups does not necessarily mean you are headed for injury. However, there is nothing to lose by incorporating a brief and effective pre-workout routine, says Puzanovova. “If you are someone who typically skips warm-ups, try adding just one or two movements before diving into your routine,” she suggests.
While your specific warm-up may vary slightly based on the activity, workout, or sport you are about to engage in, there are a few essential warm-up exercises that are worth including in any routine.
That’s why Puzanovova suggests identifying three to five pre-workout routines that focus on various joints and muscle sets, which you find most enjoyable. Subsequently, execute these exercises prior to each workout session to ensure that your entire body is prepared and in optimal condition. “By doing so, you avoid pondering upon the ideal technique for a specific task,” she clarifies. “The simpler it is to comprehend, the higher the probability of you actually performing it.
If you believe you require some specific warm-up exercises customized to your needs, Puzanovova suggests participating in online or in-person classes focused on the workout method of your choice, whether it be HIIT or CrossFit, and taking note of how those instructors warm up. “Each instructor will likely have comparable components, but there will also be variations, and we can gain knowledge from those distinctions,” she states. If one of their movements felt incredible for your hips or seemed to enhance your performance, consider incorporating them into your routine, she recommends.
Once you have chosen your movements, set a timer and perform each warm-up exercise for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds, advises Puzanovova. If you were to count repetitions, you might unintentionally rush through them too quickly in order to move on to the main parts of your workout, she explains. “Utilizing a timer could be more beneficial, as you can concentrate on how things are feeling,” she says. “The warm-up provides a fantastic opportunity to check in with your body, assess how things are feeling and moving, and acquire some information before diving into whatever you have planned for the day.”
The Finest Warm-Up Exercises
Uncertain about which movements to include in your pre-workout routine? Consider trying Puzanovova’s preferred warm-up exercises, which she demonstrates below. Remember, the greatest warm-up is the one you will actually perform, so don’t hesitate to eliminate movements that you personally do not enjoy or do not have the time or energy to complete, she advises. “I always prefer to prioritize what you can realistically accomplish.”
Shoulders: Banded Up-and-Over
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides, gripping one end of a resistance band in each hand with palms facing forward.
B. While stretching the band, lift both arms upward towards the sky, retract the shoulders so that the band goes over your head, then lower the arms down to the sides with the band positioned behind the body.
Repeat, switching sides, for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds.
Spine and Shoulders: T-Spine Rotation
A. Begin in a table-top position with wrists beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips.
B. Press into your hands and shift your hips back toward your heels. Lift your left arm off the floor and gently place your left hand on the back of your head.
C. While keeping your hips stationary and your right hand on the floor, rotate your upper and middle back towards the right so that your left elbow moves underneath your chest.
D. Pause, then reverse the motion, rotating your upper and middle back towards the left until your left elbow is pointing towards the ceiling.
Repeat for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.
Modification 1: Remain in the flat surface position and reach hand, rather than elbow, beneath chest with each rotation.
Modification 2: Execute the warm-up exercise while in an elevated knee position with hand pressing against a wall instead of the floor.
Spine and Neck: Feline-Bovine
A. Commence in a flat surface position with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
B. On an exhale, push into the floor with hands and knees and gently curve the spine up towards the ceiling, lowering the head and tailbone towards the floor.
C. On an inhale, lower the belly button towards the floor, arching the back and extending the head and tailbone towards the ceiling.
Repeat for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds.
Modification: Perform feline-bovine while sitting with legs crossed and hands resting on knees or behind the head.
Hips: 90-90 Hip Shift
A. Sit on the floor with knees bent at approximately 90-degree angles, feet resting flat wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing outward. Extend both arms forward, parallel to the chest, palms facing downwards.
B. Push into the left foot and rotate the torso to the right, allowing the knees and sides of the feet to touch the floor. Reach forward with both arms, pause, then rotate the torso back to the center, lifting the knees off the floor.
Repeat for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds, alternating sides.
Modification 1: Embrace the arms into the chest or keep the arms lowered to the floor throughout the warm-up exercise.
Modification 2: Execute the warm-up exercise with a pillow positioned under the buttocks.
Hips and Thighs: Adductor Rock
A. Commence in a flat surface position with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
B. Stretch the left leg out to the side and rest the side of the left foot on the floor. The left foot should be aligned with the hips.
C. Press into the hands and shift the hips back a few inches. Briefly pause, then push through the right knee and left foot to propel the hips forward a few inches.
Repeat for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Hips, Knees, Glutes, and Hamstrings: Reverse Lunge to Elevated Knee
A. Take a position with feet together and hands at the sides.
B. While keeping the core activated, maintain an upright chest and ensure that the shoulders are aligned with the hips. Proceed to take a big step backwards with the left foot and lower the body until the right thigh is parallel to the ground and both knees are bent at 90-degree angles.
C. Apply pressure through the middle and heel of the right foot to elevate the body out of the lunge. Then, bring the left foot forward next to the right foot and lift the left knee up towards the chest. Pause for a moment, then lower the left leg back down and repeat the exercise.
Continue performing the exercise for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the steps.
Modification: Carry out the warm-up exercise with both hands placed on a stable surface, such as a plyo box.
Full Body: Salutations for a Good Morning
A. Assume a stance with feet positioned hip-width apart and place the hands gently on the back of the head, with palms facing forward.
B. Engage the core muscles and pull the shoulder blades down and back. Then, initiate the movement by pushing the hips back to lower the upper body towards the ground. Continue descending until the hips are fully pushed back.
C. With the chest lifted, exert force through the feet to return to a standing position, while contracting the glute muscles at the top of the movement.
Repeat the exercise for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds.
Modification: Instead of positioning the hands on the back of the head, place them on the hips or on a stable surface, such as a plyo box.