Warming up before exercise provides major benefits. It raises the temperature of your muscles, making them loose and ready for more intense activity. An effective warm-up also increases blood flow, increasing the delivery of oxygen to your muscles and tissues. These physiological changes help to prepare your body for strenuous physical activity.
Here’s a common warm-up routine.
1. Light aerobic exercise
Begin with 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise at a low intensity. The goal is to elevate your heart rate and respiratory rate, as well as warm up your muscles before stretching. Some ideas for light aerobic exercise include:
- Jumping jacks
- Jumping rope
- Stationary bike
- Marching in place with your knees high
For this portion of the warm-up, aim to work up a light sweat but save most of your energy for your main workout.
If you choose to stretch before you engage in physical activity, make sure you work up a light sweat first and get your muscles warm and loose. Avoid stretching cold muscles.
Stretching is generally safe and beneficial for flexibility. Stretching your muscles helps to improve their range of motion, which may enhance your exercise performance. Here are a few basic stretches:
- Seated hamstring stretch for hamstrings
- Knees to chest stretch for buttocks and hamstrings
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch for hips, hamstrings, thighs
- Standing quadriceps stretch for thighs
- Lumbar rotation stretch for lower back
- Corner stretch for chest
- Overhead shoulder stretch for shoulders
- Crossover shoulder stretch for shoulders
This list of stretches is not exhaustive but can get you started.
The stretching part of your warm-up may last about 5 to 10 minutes. Perform each stretch gently, being careful not to overextend your muscles. If any of these stretches causes pain—more than the usual discomfort of exercise—stop immediately and visit a health care provider.
Some people prefer to stretch after they exercise, not before.
3. Activity-specific warm-up
It is thought that the most effective kind of warm-up is one that mimics the movements you’re about to perform. Think of this part of your warm-up as a low-intensity version of what you will be doing during your workout.
If you plan on going for a run, for example, use this time to warm up with a light jog. If you are a slow jogger, warm up with a few minutes on the elliptical machine or a fast-paced walk. If you plan to lift weights, warm up by performing several repetitions at a greatly reduced resistance or weight. The goal here is to prepare your body for the demands specific to your exercise.
Warm-ups should be tailored to the fitness level of each individual. If you are not yet in shape, your warm-up is likely to be shorter and less intense than that of a well-trained athlete. Consider asking a personal trainer, athletic trainer, or physical therapist for guidance.