You wouldn't stretch a rubber band straight out of the freezer, and similarly, you shouldn't challenge your leg muscles with heavy squats or lunges before you've had a chance to warm them up properly.
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 help prevent acute injuries such as sprains. And last but certainly not least, it prepares you mentally, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Leg warm-up exercises should be dynamic (involving movement) and activity-specific whenever possible. For example, hockey players and speed skaters might perform side-to-side skater jumps, while runners and cyclists might do walking lunges and high knees.
But don't get too bogged down in the details — any leg warm-up is better than none at all. And with the four exercises below from D'Annette Stephen, ISSA-CPT, certified personal trainer and founder of Fit Pros Black Alliance, you'll hit all the muscles in your lower body and be prepared for whatever leg day has in store for you.
Try This Quick Leg-Day Warm-Up
Do: each of the exercises below for 20 reps.
1. Jumping Jack
- Start standing with your feet together and your hands at your sides.
- Jump your feet out wider than hip width and simultaneously lift your arms over your head.
- Jump your feet back together as you lower your arms.
This move not only increases your heart rate and warms up your entire body, it also specifically targets your calves as you jump your feet in and out.
2. Good Morning
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Brace your core as you fold forward at the hips, sticking your butt out and keeping your back flat.
- Stop once your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Engage your hamstrings and glutes to raise yourself back up to standing.
This leg-day warm-up exercise stretches your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs) and activates your glutes (aka the muscles in your butt).
3. Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, feet flat on the ground and knees bent.
- On an exhale, squeeze your glutes, press into your heels and drive your hips up toward the sky.
- Raise your hips until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to shoulders.
- Pause here for a moment.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position, lying on the ground.
This exercise targets your entire posterior chain — all the muscles along the backside of your body.
4. Hip Circle
- Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Shift your weight into your right side as you lift your left knee off the ground.
- Circle your hip around in a clockwise direction 5 times.
- Reverse the movement and circle in a counterclockwise direction 5 times.
- Set your left knee down and repeat on the right.