How Long Should Your Warm-Ups Really Last?

The length of your warm-up depends on the type and intensity of the workout you have planned.
Image Credit: Oleg Breslavtsev/Moment/GettyImages

Creaky joints and achy muscles can result in pain if you don't properly prepare for a tough workout. Before hitting the weights or heading out for a long run, start with a good warm-up.

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"The ideal way to warm up depends on what activity you are doing, and in many cases, you want to do something identical to the activity that follows, just at a lower intensity," says Jeyco Estaba, regional fitness manager at Mexico's Blue Diamond Resorts. "For instance, if you're running or cycling, this might mean starting with a slow jog or easy spin."

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Alternatively, you can do an activity that's different from the exercise you're about to start, like jumping rope before a weight-training session. The important thing is to get your heart beating faster to get blood flowing to the muscles you'll be using during your workout.

But every workout — and every warm-up — is different. Here's how to figure out the best way to prep your body for your next sweat session.

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“A good warm-up should last from 5 to 10 minutes and work all major muscle groups,” Estaba says. “However, if you're feeling cold or achy, have been siting or immobile for most of the day, you can extend it to 15 minutes or more.”

How Long Should a Warm-Up Last?

Warm-ups are an essential part of your workout. If you jump to quickly into a full workout without warming up, you risk pulled muscles and weakened performance. Warming up pumps nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to your muscles and speeds up your heart rate and breathing.

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"A good warm-up should last from 5 to 10 minutes and work all major muscle groups," Estaba says. "However, if you're feeling cold or achy, have been siting or immobile for most of the day, you can extend it to 15 minutes or more."

Also consider the readiness of your body when determining the length of your warm-up.

"For example, if it's early in the morning you may want to do a longer warm-up (around 5 to 10 minutes), but if it's the afternoon and you've already been up and moving, the warm-up would be a little bit shorter, maybe 3 to 5 minutes," says Clarence Hairston, CPT, coach for Tempo.

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"It just depends on how your body is feeling and how vigorous the activity is that you're going to be doing leading up to the work-out."

How Long Should I Warm Up Before Lifting Weights?

Adding extra weight to your body weight can cause damage in the long term if you're not prepared for it. Estaba recommends 5, 10 or 15 minutes as an effective time to warm up before lifting.

If you're attempting to hit a PR (personal record), you can do a longer warm up to ensure your muscles are properly prepared. However, if you have a lighter lifting day, a shorter warm-up will suffice.

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How Long Should I Warm Up Before Running?

An effective running warm-up should raise your core body temperature. "This is especially important if you're heading into a workout in wintertime," Estaba says. Here are some options, depending on the kind of run you have planned:

  • Easy runs:​ Walk or jog easily and gradually speed up for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Long runs:​ Jog at an easy pace for up to 10 minutes.
  • Speed workouts:​ Jog for up to 20 minutes and follow with dynamic stretching, such as high knees or butt kicks.

How Long Should I Warm Up Before a HIIT Workout?

HIIT is all about working out as hard as you can before resting up for the next round, so your warm up ease you into high intensity so you can train hard without injuring yourself. "Because HIIT is usually very intense, making sure you warm up before your workout is critically important," Estaba says.

Here's a HIIT cardio warm-up you can do before your session that should take no more than 10 minutes:

  • 10 hip rotations/side
  • 6 5-second thoracic reach throughs
  • 3 5-second cat-cows
  • 30 high knees (each leg)
  • 10 squats
  • 10 walkouts
  • 20 glute bridge
  • 30 high knees (each leg)
  • 10 squats
  • 10 walkouts
  • 20 glute bridge

What Are the Stages of a Warm-Up?

For best results, start your warm-up slowly, then pick up the pace to ease your body into movement. Then aim to hit each of the four stages of a good warm-up.

"An effective 10-minute warm-up usually comprises four steps: loosening joints (circular motion movements, rotations), stretching muscles (can be dynamic or static stretching), pumping the heart (like jumping jacks or burpees) and practice movements (like squats or lunges in case of a leg day workout)," Estaba says.

What's the Best Warm-Up Before a Workout?

The best 10-minute warm up before a workout is a combination of stretching and activation of the muscles that you're going to be working.

"For instance, if I'm going to be doing a chest workout, I'd like to stretch the pectoral muscles and then also do some chest activation work," Estaba says. He also likes light cardio, jogging, a jump rope or jumping jacks to get the heart rate going and prepared for a longer workout.

Try This 10-Minute Full-Body Warm-Up

Here's Estaba's go-to 10-minute warm-up. You can also add some foam-rolling beforehand to release any existing tension or soreness in the muscles.

  • 8 head movements up/down
  • 8 head movements side to side
  • 5 head rotations each side
  • 8 forward arm circles, 8 backward arm circles
  • 8 inward hip rotations, 8 outward hip rotations (each side)
  • 2 minutes of jumping rope
  • 8 walkouts
  • 12 deep reverse lunge to knee raise (each side)
  • 15 squats with a 10-rep pulse at the end

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