Squats are the king of exercises, working all the muscles in the legs, as well as the hips, back and abdominals. To do squats properly and without pain, you need to have flexibility in your knees, glutes, hamstrings and back. Before you squat, warm up these muscles with dynamic stretches that mimic the movements of the squat. A five to 10-minute pre-squatting routine can prevent injury caused by lifting with cold muscles and enhance your performance.
Front to Back Leg Swing
This dynamic movement warms up the hip joint and stretches the hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings.
How to: Stand perpendicular to a wall with your inside hand on the wall for balance. Contract your abdominal muscles and lift one foot off the floor. Keeping the leg mostly straight, swing it back and forth, as far as your natural range of motion will allow. You want to feel a slight stretch in the front and back of the thigh. Do 20 swings, then switch sides.
Side to Side Leg Swing
Switch directions with the side-to-side swing to warm up the outer hips and groin.
How to: Hold onto a bar or other stable object that allows clearance for your leg to swing in front of you. Pick up one foot and, keeping the leg mostly straight, swing from side to side in a straight line as far as your natural range of motion allows. Do 20 swings, then switch sides.
Lunges With Upper-Body Rotation
This might feel like a workout in itself, but it's a great active warm up with specific movements that help stretch the muscles used in squatting. You'll target your knees, hamstrings, hip flexors and core with this dynamic stretch.
How to: Take a big step forward with your right foot. Land with a bent knee and come down until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. As you do so, twist your torso to the right as far as is comfortable. Pause for a second at the bottom, then push off your right foot and bring it back to meet your left foot. Now perform the exercise on the other side. Do 10 to 20 reps.
Dynamic Squat Stretch
Before you put any weight on the bar, make sure bodyweight squats are in your pre-game. This squat-stretch sequence will warm up all the muscles and joints you'll be using and help you activate your core, which you will need for your upcoming lifts.
How to: Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart pointing straight ahead. Bend over and reach your fingers toward the ground, keeping your knees slightly bent. You'll feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Place your hands on your feet, then bend your knees to lower your butt as close to the ground as you can, keeping your heels on the ground. Raise your torso, open your chest and press your arms out against your knees. Straighten your legs to go back into the hamstring stretch, then rise back up to standing. Repeat five to 10 times.
Kneeling Glute Stretch
This dynamic stretch improves hip and glute mobility, so you can achieve maximum depth in your squat.
How to: Get on all fours on an exercise mat, then walk your hands a few inches farther in front of you. Take your right ankle and bring it in front and to the side of your left knee with your right toes tucked under on the ground for stability. Your right knee should be in line with your right hand and your right shin should be between parallel and 45 degrees with the top of your mat. Tuck your left toes under. Find a neutral position with your spine, then push your hips back slightly until you feel a stretch in your right glute. Pause, then come back to center. Repeat 10 times, going a little deeper with each rep, then switch sides.