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February 08, 2022 10 min read
Warming up before physical activity is something we're taught from grade school. A good warm-up is, after all, one of the best ways to improve our performance.
A good warm-up will get your blood pumping, loosen up your tendons, and activate the central nervous system, while priming your muscles for the training you're about to do.
Below we’ve outlined some of the best warm-up exercises you can do to get the most out of your workouts.
A pliable, warmed-up, and ready-to-go body is going to perform much better, and over the long run, lead to better results—whatever your goals. But first, let’s take a closer look at what exactly goes into a warm-up, and how we can optimize it.
If you’re looking to reduce your chances of injury and also get the most out of your workouts, there’s no easier way to accomplish these goals than to start warming up.
But a good warm-up also runs counterintuitive to a lot of the things we’ve learned.
For example, stretching where you’re meant to see the limits of your range of motion isn’t going to be the best idea if you’re doing some heavy strength training. Static exercises relax the muscles around your joints, but you need protected joints when you’re planning on performing heavier lifting.
Properly warming up before a workout can help you with the following aspects:
The key is to incorporate dynamic warm-ups that get your body moving. Static stretches also have their place, but it’s usually better to keep them for the end of a workout.
A dynamic warm-up should both get your blood pumping, and also activate your central nervous system to the right muscles.
For example, if you’re planning to do heavy squats, it can be a good idea to do some bodyweight squats or lunges in your warm-up.
Aerobic activities such as jogging or jump ropes can also activate the right muscles and nerves.
Knowing this, it’s best to pick and choose warm-ups that complement your workout. Here are some of the best warm-ups you can do, but for them to be really useful, take into account the exercises you’ll be performing in your workout. Then, choose some warm-up movements that activate similar muscle groups to the main workout exercises.
The squat is one of the most important and fundamental exercises anyone can do. The American Council on Exercise considers squatting to be one of the five main foundational movements in day-to-day life.
This means that bodyweight squats can do a lot more than just prepare you for heavier squatting. If you’re looking for functional fitness in a pinch, simply squatting down is one of the best things you can do.
As a compound movement, the muscles worked are the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and the core—but there’s a long list of other muscles that are activated to lesser extents. Because of this activation across a large part of your body (especially the posterior chain), the bodyweight squat will definitely get you working up a sweat.
If you want to challenge yourself a bit more, then a goblet squat with a dumbbell or kettlebell is also a good idea. However, the lower weight means that your form has to be top-notch to really take advantage of this exercise.
Another useful functional exercise, the lunge differs from the squat by working each leg independently.
Since it’s a unilateral exercise, the lunge will help you avoid overtraining your more dominant side. This kind of overtraining causes muscle imbalances that can lead to lopsided aesthetics and even injuries down the road.
But more than just being a unilateral exercise, the lunge is also a fantastic way to hit your lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
The hip flexors also play an important role as they’re stretched in the lunge. This increases their flexibility and also balances out the tightening that occurs after sitting for long periods of time. Lastly, the core muscles are used to keep your body balanced.
A gym class classic, jumping jacks are a tried and tested method of getting your body warmed up.
They especially hit your glutes, quads, and hip flexors, but almost all of your body is involved in some way.
The unique thing about jumping jacks is that they’re a plyometric exercise, meaning that they require jumping or explosive movements.
Plyometrics help to develop explosive strength due to the rapid stretching and shortening of muscles.
Bone density can improve after incorporating plyometric exercises into one’s routine.
Another gym class classic, the push-up is one of the simplest and most effective upper body, bodyweight exercises out there.
Along with the triceps and biceps of the arms, push-ups will also hit your pecs, deltoids, glutes, and the erector spinae.
Because this is such a fundamental movement, there are plenty of variations for you to experiment with. You can even perform plyometric push-ups by pushing hard enough to raise your upper body off the floor.
Although a simple exercise, high knees are well geared to get your blood pumping and sweat dripping.
This warm-up primarily targets the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hip flexors. If performed explosively, high knees can even build power in the lower body. Your core is also used to keep you balanced throughout the exercise.
The plank walk-out is basically the ab wheel exercise without the ab wheel. But even though it forgoes the equipment, it still remains an amazing substitute. In fact, it might even be a better option for many people because it allows you to train anti-extension correctly.
With ab wheels, it often happens that the wheel gets ahead of you and your spine can’t keep up, allowing it to cave in instead of remaining flat.
The walk-out provides the same benefits at a slower pace, ensuring that your back is kept straight throughout the movement.
This is a common warm-up for the upper body muscles, especially if your shoulder joints are going to be needed for heavy lifting. It’s a useful exercise because it activates the rotator cuffs, which are injured a lot of the time.
This is also an extremely simple warm-up that’s great for beginners and experts alike.
This move packs a big bang for its buck. Requiring no equipment and being simple to perform, mountain climbers work almost your entire body while also raising your heart rate.
There are few warm-up exercises that can measure up to this movement.Not only do they work several different muscle groups, but mountain climbers will also build cardio endurance, agility, and core strength. Even if you’re not planning to work out after, it’s a great exercise to include in a morning routine.
This funny-sounding exercise is a great warm-up for your erector spinae muscle. This is the back muscle that extends all the way from your skull, down your spine, and to the hips. This long muscle is necessary for a variety of spine-centric movements, such as flexing, extending, and rotating the spine.
Along with the erector spinae, the rectus abdominis (6-pack muscles) and obliques are also engaged.
The glutes are a more minor muscle group that’s involved when you raise your leg. Similarly, the traps and delts are activated when you raise your arm to the front.
This is an exercise that sees a lot of use by physical therapists and trainers since it’s a terrific way of strengthening the lower back.
It’s seen as a safe exercise to perform when recovering from back injuries, and so it’s a good way to not only reduce back pain but also keep it from happening.
Hip extensions come in many different flavors, but here we’ll be looking at the quadruped hip extension—also known as the donkey kick.
This exercise mainly targets the largest of the glutes, the gluteus maximus.
The hamstrings and two smaller glute muscles also activate in order to help the movement.
Donkey kicks have great carry-over benefits to other exercises and sports, making them a great option for warming up.
For example, the hip extensors and hip flexors directly used by hip extensions are necessary for things like swimming and running. The movements we go through on a daily basis aren’t enough to keep the hip flexors challenged, and so it’s necessary to add some sort of conditioning to keep them strong.
Hip extensions will also help build our balance and also help to prevent injuries, especially in the lower back.
These exercises, if incorporated properly, are going to be one of the surest ways of increasing your performance in the gym.
Remember to strike a balance between static and dynamic exercises, and to focus on the workout at hand to get the most out of your muscles and bones.
But of course, a solid warm-up routine is only one part of the puzzle. If you want to really perform on the next level, cool-downs are equally important. A good cool-down will help you avoid aches and pains, and will get your heart rate and blood pressure back to normal levels.
Furthermore, stretching your muscles while they’re still warmed up is a good way to minimize lactic acid buildup, which means less stiffness and cramping.
This means that you’ll also be able to hit the gym harder, and more often. However, after the cool-down comes the most important part: enough rest.
You can only properly develop your fitness and strength if you’re getting enough sleep on a consistent basis.
It’s important to work hard in the gym, but it’s equally important to do all the work that’ll support your training program.
Putting in the work for these supports might seem like a waste of time—especially at the beginning—but they will pay off in the long run. Not only will your workouts be elevated, but so will your physique and overall well being.