Lots of people—especially exercise novices—jump right into their workouts without properly warming up. That go-getter attitude is great, but this isn’t the smartest approach. Like stretching, warming up is important to maximizing the benefits of your workout and minimizing your risk of hurting yourself.
Many of your muscles go relatively unused for lengthy periods of time. If you exercise when you wake up in the morning, they’ve been inactive all night long; if you exercise after work, they likely didn’t get much use all day. Your muscles rest in a contracted state, or in some degree of extension where they stay most of the day (like for using a computer).
If you immediately start exercising these “cold” muscles, it’s not hard to injure them. And that’s not only painful, it can also lay you up and prevent you from exercising for days or even weeks.
Also, warming up helps boost your central nervous system function and enhance your blood circulation and oxygenation. This in turn improves your physical and mental performance, allowing you to achieve greater benefits from exercising.
Here are some tips to help you get in a proper dynamic warm-up before working out:
How to Do a Pre-Exercise Warm-Up
- Warm up before you stretch, because static stretching of cold muscles poses the same risks of pulls, tears, and other injuries
- Consider the following tips relative to your fitness level, as they’re just generalizations; some of the recommendations may be too short or too easy if you’re at a level of serious training, or some of them may be too much if you’re just starting out
- Use a foam roller, concentrating on tender points; if you don’t have a foam roller—get one! It’s a great investment
- Jump rope, do jumping jacks, or even just jump up and down for a minute or two
- Loosen up your arms by swinging them around and doing shoulder rotations with your arms extended straight out to the side
- March in place for a few minutes, keeping your back straight and lifting your knees high; add in some forward and backward shoulder rolls while you’re at it
- Do a few lunges to each side and swing each leg back and forth several times
- Touch your toes, stand back up, then stretch straight up, all in a fluid motion, 10 times in a row
- Perform 10 or so squats and as many push-ups (if you can’t do real push-ups, do them leaning against a wall or on your knees instead of your toes)
- Review these stretching tips and stretch after you warm up, but before you exercise
- Start with a few reps/few minutes of a less strenuous version of the exercise you’re about to do; for example, if you’re lifting weights, start out with lighter weights; if you’re going for a run, start with a brisk walk, then increase to a jog, and then run
- Remember to do some similar cooling down and stretching after your workouts, too