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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.

Benefits of Warming Up

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.

Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises

Properly warming up before a workout can help you with the following aspects:

  • Decreased risks of injury
  • Increased blood flow
  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved range of motion
  • Improved muscular performance
  • Decreased muscle tension and pain

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.

1. Bodyweight Squats

 

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.

Here is how to do the Bodyweight Squat: 

  1. Begin by planting your feet just slightly wider than hip-width apart, your toes pointing out slightly. Looking straight ahead, engage your abdominal muscles.
  2. With muscle engaged, hinge at the hips first, shortly followed by bending the knees. Continue hinging at the hips and knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Your back should remain completely flat throughout.
  3. Once you're at the bottom of the movement, drive down through your midfoot and unhinge your knees and hips (reversing the movement).

2. Lunge

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.

Here's how to do the Lunge: 

  1. Begin by standing in a split stance, with your right foot around 2 to 3 feet in front of your left foot. Your back should be perfectly flat while looking straight ahead, and your shoulder blades should be pulled back and down. Keep your hands on your hips for balance.
  2. Initiate the movement by bending both the knees and lowering your body. Continue downward until the left knee is almost touching the floor. Your front (right) knee should be pointing straight forward.
  3. Reverse the movement by pushing through your feet, standing back up into the starting position. Alternate the leading leg with your left leg.

3. Jumping Jacks

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.

Here's how to do Jumping Jacks: 

  1. Start by standing up straight, looking straight forward. Your feet should be about hip-width apart and arms at your sides.
  2. As you jump upward, spread your feet out beyond hip-width. At the same time, raise your arms over your head until they nearly touch.
  3. Jumping once again, bring your legs together while simultaneously bringing your arms back to your sides.

4. Push-Ups

 

 

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.

Here's how to do the Push-up:

  1. Balance on your hands and toes on the floor, keeping your feet hip-width apart and your arms shoulder-width apart. Don’t lock your elbows, but instead bend them slightly.
  2. Slowly bend your elbows, continuing down until your face is almost touching the floor. Your elbows should at least be at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Pause at the bottom of the movement before pushing through your hands and reversing the movement.

5. High Knees

 

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.

Here's how to do High Knees: 

  1. Begin with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Your arms should be at your sides with a straight back, facing forward. Brace your abdominals before beginning.
  2. Initiate the movement by bringing the right knee up to your chest, as far as you can get it. At the same time, bring your left hand up.
  3. You’ll then want to quickly reverse the movement while bringing up the alternate limbs.

6. Plank Walk-Out

 

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.

Here's how to do the Plank Walk-Out: 

  1. Begin in a plank position. Your hands should be flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your abdominals and glutes are properly engaged.
  2. Then, start walking out your hands while keeping your feet in the same place. As you go further out, you’ll notice that your heels begin to raise.
  3. Continue walking out with your hands until you’ve gone as far as you can. Try to keep your back from bending, but a slight arch is okay. If you’re feeling your lower back muscles instead of your abs, that means you’ve gone too far.
  4. Hold this plank for a few seconds and walk yourself back with your hands.  

7. Arm Circles

 

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.

Here's how to do Arm Circles: 

  1. Standing up tall, extend your arms straight out to the sides. Bring them up so that they’re parallel to the ground.
  2. Begin to make circles in the air with your hands. The circles should have a diameter of around 1 foot. After 10 or so seconds of this, reverse the movement so that your hands go in the opposite direction.

8. Mountain Climbers

 

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.

Here's how to do Mountain Climbers: 

  1. Begin by going into the high plank position, with your elbows locked. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your toes and hands.
  2. With your abs engaged and back straight, bring one of your knees up to your chest, going as far as you can.
  3. Quickly switch legs, bringing in one knee as you push back the other one. Try doing this as fast as you can without losing form.

9. Bird Dog

 

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.

Here's how to do the Bird Dog: 

  1. Begin on all fours on the ground, with your knees set hip-width apart and hams planted shoulder-width apart. Engage your abdominals.
  2. Choose one of your arms and extend it to the front, pointing straight ahead. Then, take the opposite leg and extend it out behind you. You should strive to keep a straight line from your hand to your foot without anything sagging.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds before reversing the movement and alternating sides.

10. Hip Extensions

 

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.

Here's how to do Hip Extensions: 

  1. Get down on all fours, with your hands and knees in contact with the ground. Your back should be kept straight and your abdominals engaged.
  2. Bring one of your legs back and up, maintaining a 90-degree angle in your knee throughout the exercise. Continue upward until your thigh is parallel to the floor and your feet face straight up.
  3. Pause for a moment before reversing the motion, alternating sides through the reps.

Loosening Up for Greater Gains

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.