You may be tempted to jump right into your exercise routine, but doing a short warm-up can be very beneficial. In particular, although it's often overlooked, a knee warm-up routine before your workout or sport can help reduce your risk of injury, minimize soreness and increase performance.
"An effective warm-up will also work on improving your joint proprioception (also known as body awareness), prime your nervous system for your workout ahead and increase blood flow to the specific muscles you will be working in your workout," says Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault.
Aside from the physical benefits, warming up helps prepare you mentally for your workout, which also helps improve performance, according to a February 2018 study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation.
The best warm-up before you exercise should consist of dynamic (moving) stretches and movements, including motions that mimic the activity you'll perform. Try out the mobility moves from Wickham below to get your knees warmed up and ready for action.
Plan on warming up for 5 to 10 minutes but no more 20 minutes. Wickham says that if you have arthritis in your knee or another knee injury, such as patella-femoral pain syndrome, meniscus tears and ITB syndrome, a knee warm-up routine is especially beneficial. Just be sure your doctor has cleared you for exercise.
Try This 5-Minute Knee Warm-Up
"The goal of an effective warm-up is to actively contract all of your muscles around a specific joint, as well as moving your joint through its full range of motion," he says. This 5-minute routine does just that.
1. Knee Full Range of Motion Activation
This exercise is effective in warming up your knee. "Your goal with this muscle activation exercise is to move your knee joint through its full range of motion, while activating all of your muscles around your knee," Wickham says.
- While sitting, hook your right arm underneath the back of your right leg, just above the knee.
- Rotate your foot and knee outward, then extend your knee as far as possible.
- Next, rotate your foot and knee inward and flex your knee as much as possible.
- Perform the above steps in the opposite direction to complete one full rep.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times on each side.
2. Quadruped Plantar Flexion Knee Extension
This move helps increase blow flow to your entire lower body and core. "It focuses on your quadriceps muscles, as well as the front of your ankles and core muscles," Wickham says.
- Start in a quadruped position, hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. The tops of your feet should remain on the mat throughout the movement.
- Press down into the mat with the tops of your feet while extending and straightening your knees as much as possible. Think of getting into downward-facing dog with the tops of your feet still on the floor.
- Slowly lower your knees back down to the mat.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
3. Hamstring-Focused Bridge
"This activation exercise targets the back-of-your-knee hamstring muscles," Wickham says. In addition to your hamstrings, bridges also increase blood flow and warm up your glute muscles.
- Start lying on your back with your knees bent to an angle greater than 90 degrees. Press your lower back into the ground to activate your core muscles.
- Dig your heels down into the ground and point your toes up toward the ceiling.
- Then, lift your hips upward as high as you can without arching your lower back.
- Hold at the top for 3 seconds before slowly returning back to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Best Way to Warm Up Your Knees Before Squats
Squats are a terrific lower-body exercise to strengthen all the muscles that support your knees, as well as your hips and core. It's important you warm up your knees first, however, to prime them for this body-weight exercise.
To warm up your knees for squats, you can do any or all of the exercises above — as well as this mobility move. "This active stretch and activation exercise targets your core, hips and knees," Wickham says.
4. Lunge Diagonal Reach Back
- Start with your heels together and the front of your feet pointing at about a 45-degree angle.
- Step back with your left leg.
- Using your right arm, reach back as far as possible and try to touch your opposite heel.
- This can be challenging, so if you can’t touch your heel, lower back and down as much as you can while maintaining your balance.
- Start off by trying to touch the back of your calf muscles and progress to touching your heel.
- Always keep the motion in your pain-free range.
- Repeat 5 times on each side.
More Ways to Warm Up Your Knees
A few minutes of low-intensity cardio, such as jogging, biking, rowing or a fast walk, can be an effective way to prep your knee for exercise, as well. According to the American Council on Exercise, a good warm-up may have you sweating a little, but shouldn't leave you out of breath or fatigued for your actual workout.
"The most important techniques to include in your warm-up are active stretches and muscle-activation exercises," says Wickham. "Cardio can also be implemented in your warm-up if you have time."
He says to keep the intensity low to medium, and plan on a short duration (just 5 or 10 minutes) to get your blood moving. "Most people don't realize that an effective warm-up can also double as your mobility routine," he says. "In this case, you are completing your mobility routine and warm-up at the same time."
- Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: "The Effect of Warm-Ups With Stretching on the Isokinetic Moments of Collegiate Men"
- Arthritis Foundation: "How Exercise Helps Your Joints"
- JAMA: "Effect of Neuromuscular Warm-up on Injuries in Female Soccer and Basketball Athletes in Urban Public High Schools"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis"