It may seem silly to you to warm up before exercising — it's like that old myth about how you're supposed to idle your car in cold weather before you drive it. However, it really is important. Warming up your legs increases blood flow to the muscles and loosens the joints. Not only does this help you perform better, but it will also prevent acute injuries such as sprains.
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Warm-up exercises for the legs should be active and activity specific whenever possible; for example, hockey players and speed skaters might perform side-to-side skater jumps. But don't get too bogged down in the details — any leg warm up is better than none at all.
1. Light Cardio
A warm up before your warm up? That's right. Dynamic leg warm-up exercises and stretches can be done with cold muscles, but it's better to ease into them.
After a 5-minute jog or jump roping session, your muscles are starting to get warm and ready. Then, organize your warm up exercises in terms of intensity, starting with the least intense, and gradually increasing intensity.
1. Leg Swing
Leg swings are an excellent gentle leg warm-up exercise you can do to encourage range of motion in the hip joints, glutes, hip flexors, IT band and quads.
HOW TO DO IT: From a standing position, lift your right foot up and begin to swing it back and forth. Keep your abs contracted and your leg straight. Only swing as far as you can without your torso moving. Increase the range as your muscles and joints warm up. Do 20 swings, then switch legs.
Once complete, swing the leg side-to-side in front of the standing leg, in the same fashion. Do 20 swings, then switch sides.
Read more: 7 Dynamic Stretches to Improve Hip Mobility
2. Frankenstein March
Scare your friends and warm up your hamstrings at the same time with this move.
HOW TO DO IT: Traveling forward, kick your right leg straight out in front of you, extending your left arm and trying to touch the fingertips of your left hand with your right toes. Keep the leg as straight as possible. Land on the right foot, then move forward, extending the left leg and right arm. Continue to alternate, taking 20 steps in total.
3. Quad Walk
This dynamic move warms up your quadriceps and hip flexors.
HOW TO DO IT: Take a step forward with your right foot and pull your left foot in toward your left buttock as far as you can. Next, step forward with your left foot, pulling your right foot in toward your right buttock. Repeat for a total of 20 steps.
If you know how to do the dance move by the same name, then you're ready for this warm-up drill that prepares your legs for lateral movement and improves agility.
HOW TO DO IT: Moving to your left, cross your right foot in front of your left foot, take a step with your left foot, then cross your right foot behind your left foot. Repeat the sequence, speeding up the movement as you go. Do about 20 crosses, front and back, then switch directions.
5. Ankle Pops
Don't forget about your ankles. Head off twists and sprains with this move.
HOW TO DO IT: Take a slight bend in your knees. Lightly bounce up off your toes, and land on your toes before coming down onto your whole foot. Repeat, moving forward for 10 to 20 jumps. Then reverse, moving back to your starting point.
Read more: What Are Three Different Types of Stretches?