The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise

By Victoria Smith |

A few minutes of stretching won’t cut it. Improve your results and avoid injury with this five-move routine.

warm-up lunge

Whether you’re taking a group fitness class or exercising on your own, it’s tempting to jump right into the “work” part of your workout. Bad idea.

Warming up is a crucial part of any workout—aerobic or strength, says Sabrena Jo, a senior exercise scientist with the American Council on Exercise. “It’s especially important for older adults because sudden vigorous work can put extra stress on your heart.” Plus, warming up can help prevent injury and even improve your performance at the gym.

Unfortunately, a few toe touches won’t cut it. An effective warmup should take about 10 to 15 minutes, Jo says, adding that people with arthritis or a heart condition may need a little more time. Aim to break a sweat during your warmup, which ensures you’ve elevated your body’s core temperature and effectively prepared your muscles, says Andia Winslow, a certified trainer and coach.

The ideal warmup includes something called a dynamic stretch series, Winslow says. The goal with dynamic stretches is to replicate the same moves you’ll do in your workout, helping your body and central nervous system prepare for the real work ahead. Static stretches, where you hold a stretch for a certain period of time, should be saved for your cooldown, Jo says.

Your Action Plan: The Ideal Warmup

Start with at least five minutes of steady-state cardio, like walking or jogging, followed by these five dynamic stretches. Do each move for one minute.

1. Squat
Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms either crossed over your chest or extended straight in front of you. Keeping your weight on your heels, slowly push your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself with control. (You can also lower down onto a chair.) Push through your heels to return to standing. Focus on keeping your chest up and not letting your knees buckle in or out. Repeat the movement for one minute.

2. Walking Lunge
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips, and take a big step forward with your left leg. Lower into a lunge, bending both knees 90 degrees, or as far as is comfortable. Make sure that your front knee doesn’t extend far past your toes. (If you have troublesome knees, you can lean slightly forward from the waist to reduce stress on the joints.) Pause, then press through your front heel to bring your back (right) foot forward to meet left foot and return to standing. Continue, alternating legs for one minute.

3. Arm Circles
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Extend arms straight out at shoulder height and swing forward in a circular motion for 30 seconds, then backward for 30 seconds. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and back, and maintain a very slight bend in your elbows.

4. Shoulder Squeeze
Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. While pulling your elbows back and down, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Imagine you’re squeezing a lemon between your shoulder blades. Hold the squeeze for two to three seconds, then release. Continue for one minute.

5. Torso Rotation
Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, arms extended in front of you at shoulder height. Keeping arms extended in front of you, gently rotate your torso side to side. Focus on turning from your waist, not your arms. Continue for one minute. Cautionary note: This move is not recommended for anyone with osteoporosis.

Full-Body Workout Routine for Beginners