10 Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises to Prime You for Your Workout
Last Updated: May 30, 2017
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Let’s just go ahead and say it: Nobody likes warming up. It’s kind of boring and time-consuming and not nearly as “intense” as you want your workout to be, but it’s incredibly important. In fact, the warm-up is probably the most overlooked aspect of just about everyone’s training regimen. Here’s what most people's normal routine looks like: walk around the gym listening to music or chatting, head for the dumbbell rack, do some toe touches and arm swings, then start throwing weight around. But check out these 10 moves and see what you should be doing instead.
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Before we get into the benefits of warming up, let’s go over some basic rules for putting together a good warm-up.
RULE 1. Start with soft-tissue work. Doing some foam rolling to start your workout helps muscles to not feel so tight and stiff by massaging sore spots, breaking up muscle damage caused by your previous workout and facilitating blood flow. There are three to four big areas to target with your foam roller: quads, lats, glutes and pecs. But you can roll out anything that feels sore.
RULE 2. Go from single-joint to multi-joint movements. Don’t start off with big multi-joint movements like squats or lunges. Rather, start off small and gradually work your way up.
RULE 3. Go general to specific. Let’s say it’s Monday and you have deadlifts slated for your first exercise. Don’t go straight into light deadlifts (specific). Start with other movements to increase your body temperature and improve your joints’ ranges of motion. Then you can get more specific based on the demands of your workout that day.
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RULE 4. Put a premium on breathing. Breathing is vital to your workout, so make sure to focus on it throughout both your warm-up and workout. The diaphragm plays an enormous role when it comes to overall body positioning and functionality, so be sure to give it some attention.
RULE 5. Be dynamic. A good warm-up will always involve more dynamic activity toward the end to help bring it all together. The human body is incredibly complex, and good movement involves a lot of working pieces. In order to adequately prepare yourself to train, you need practice coordinating activity across multiple joints (or the entire system).
RULE 6. Make it specific to you. You are incredibly unique, and your warm-up should reflect that. Generic warm-ups (and workouts, for that matter) can get the job done, but the best results come when it’s written just for you with your specific limitations and needs in mind.
Related: Examples of Warm-Up and Cool-Down Exercises
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REASONS TO WARM UP
REASON 1. Warming up increases blood flow. Blood flow is important for increasing your body temperature, waking up your central nervous system and telling your body that it’s time to work out. Plus, the more prepared your body is to work out, the less likely you are to injure yourself.
REASON 2. Warm-ups improve your range of motion. The warm-up is the time to address limitations in your range of motion. For example, if you have limited range of motion in your internal hip, squatting is going to be incredibly difficult for you. Thus, your warm-up should employ specific drills and exercises to grant you access to range of motion you may not normally have. Once you have that motion, then you can learn to use it. Movement quality is equally important, but just because you don’t move well doesn’t mean it’s a range-of-motion issue. Many times the problem stems from not knowing how to do something, so you’ll have to include exercises that allow you to practice. For example, you may try back-to-wall shoulder flexion to teach yourself proper overhead positioning.
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REASONS TO WARM UP
REASON 3. Warm-ups allow you time to learn to move. Once you’ve freed up your range of motion a bit, it’s time to learn how to best use it. Start with a small focus to improve your capacity to move, and then use the remainder of the warm-up (and the workout) to solidify that new range. Think of it this way: When you get access to unexplored territory, your brain has no idea what to do with it. It’s like stumbling upon an uninhabited island that you know nothing about. In order to learn more about the island (or range of motion), you have to first have access to it and explore. The proper warm-up exercises will help you do just that. Because, ultimately, range of motion is pointless if you don’t have the capacity to use it and control it.
What follows is a basic warm-up that should help just about everyone move better, feel better and perform better. But remember, the best warm-up is the one that’s written just for you. Give the following exercises a go and see how you feel.
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Start on all fours with your hands pressing into the floor, then arch your back to the ceiling. Tuck your tailbone underneath you and press your knees into the floor. Next, drift forward so you’re out over your hands a little without losing the arch in your back. Hold this position for five breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, and focus on reaching further and further with each exhale. It’s also important you pause after each exhale for three to five seconds. Perform two to three sets of five breaths.
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HIP LIFT WITH REACH
This exercise targets your hamstring and adductor muscles to help you reposition your pelvis. Start lying on your back with your feet up on the wall and a small ball between your knees. Your knees and hips should be at 90-degree angles. Use your hamstrings to push your knees upward about two inches. As you do this, you should feel your pelvis rotate backward (posterior pelvic tilt) and come off the ground slightly. From here, pull your left knee back and push your right knee forward. Now lay your right arm on the ground over your head and reach your left arm out in front of you as far as you can. Lastly, take your right foot off the wall and take five breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth with a three- to five-second pause after each exhale. Perform two to three sets of five breaths.
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SIDE-LYING GLUTE MAX
To start, lie on your left side with a resistance band wrapped around your knees. Place your feet against the wall on top of a foam roller, scoot your butt down toward the wall and bend your knees a little. From here, take a big breath in through your nose, and as you do, pull your left knee back and push your right knee forward so your right knee is in front of the left one. On your exhale, while keeping both feet on the wall, lift up your right knee. Hold this position for five breaths and focus on pulling your left hip further back on each inhale and driving your right knee up on each exhale. Perform two to three sets of five breaths and switch sides.
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3.5 MONTH BREATHING WITH BAND
If you aren’t solid in the center of your body, everything else around it will fall to pieces. This exercise works on your core by focusing on breathing without having to flare your rib cage and go into lumbar extension. To start, loop a resistance band around a pole and lie on your back with a handle of the resistance band in each hand. Bring your knees up toward your chest, but keep your lower back on the ground. Keep your knees close together, pull your toes back toward your face and let your heels rest on your butt. Now pull the band as you straighten your arms down by your side. Hold for eight breaths before returning to start.
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LEG LOWERING WITH BAND
This is another core exercise to help solidify the center of your body. You’ll keep the resistance band around the pole like the last exercise. Lie on your back with your feet straight up in the air, quads squeezed and toes pulled back toward your face. Hold on to the handles of the band with each hand and pull the band down by your side. Then lower one leg toward the ground. Don’t let your lower back come off the ground, and focus on using your obliques to control the motion. Don’t feel as if your heel needs to reach the ground either -- only go as far as you can with good control. Perform eight reps on each leg.
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HALF-KNEELING QUAD STRETCH WITH STICK
There’s a constant tug-of-war going on between muscles. Some are stiff and strong, while others are looser and weaker. If you’ve ever played tug-of-war, you know who’s going to win this battle: the stiffer, stronger muscle. This happens in our bodies as well and leads to certain imbalances that we want to eliminate. This exercise pits your obliques against your quads. Most people have much stiffer quads than abs, so this exercise engages your abs and loosens your quads at the same time. To start, get in a half-kneeling position with your shoulder, hip and knee stacked on top of one another. Lay your back foot flat and tuck your tailbone underneath you. Hold a stick out in front of you throughout the entire process and hold each side for 30 seconds.
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Lie on your left side with your right hip and knee flexed to 90 degrees across your body and your right knee resting on top of a foam roller. Straighten out your left leg, reaching through your heel, and grab underneath your ribs with your right hand. Take a big breath in and, on the exhale, use your right hand to pry your chest and torso open. Reset on your inhale and repeat for a total of eight reps. Repeat on the opposite side for an additional eight reps.
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SIDE-LYING ROTATION REACH
The setup for this move is very similar to the rib roll, with one major exception: You’ll be starting in the “rolled open” position and never resetting. If you’re on your left side, reach your left arm out in front of you. Hold that position and take your right hand from your left knee and reach back and to the right, following your hand with your eyes (aim for 10 on a clock). You’ll do eight reps per side.
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A lot of people think the inchworm is about hamstring flexibility, but it’s also about thoracic flexion, reversing your lumbar curve, upward scapular rotation and core stability. Start off with a basic forward fold, then walk your hands out as far in front of you as you can while maintaining a good position. Once you reach the out position, take a full breath in and out, and then walk your feet up to your hands. That’s one rep. Repeat for a total of eight reps.
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Seeing as how we spend a lot of our lives on one leg (walking), it’s important that you’re not only stable on one leg, but that you can control motion in multiple planes. To do this exercise, stand on one leg and reach out and tap your heel in front of you as you squat down. Then take your leg out to the side so you resemble a speed skater. Finally, bring your leg back behind you (you’ll tap your toes instead of your heel on this one). Try not to reset at all during this process and go through the cycle three times on each side.
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After you’ve mastered this warm-up routine, you’ll want to incorporate more specific drills based on what you’ll be doing that day. For example, if you have heavy deadlifts, you’ll want to hit a few light sets to prep yourself for that specific activity. As multipurpose as this warm-up is, however, remember that the best warm-up is the one written just for you. So if you give this a try and aren’t satisfied, then get assessed by a qualified coach and have him write you a specific warm-up.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
How do you warm up? What are some of your favorite exercises to get your blood flowing and your heart rate up before diving into a workout? Do you hop on the treadmill for a bit? Focus on joint mobility? Tell us how you prep yourself for a workout in the comments below.
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