Whether your preferred method of staying active is through weight training or simple cardio, warm-up exercises are an essential part of any workout routine. A warm-up should condition and loosen the different muscle groups of the body and prepare us mentally for the level of physical activity that’s to come.

Why Warm-Up Before Exercise?

warm up before exercise

It’s important to warm-up before you workout. A good warm-up prepares your heart, lungs, and muscles for the main event: Your workout of choice.

Warming-up causes your muscle temperature to increase which improves muscle elasticity. Blood temperature in the body also rises, and blood vessels dilate increasing your level of endurance and reducing stress on the heart.

Taking the time to warm-up also allows you to mentally prepare for any strenuous workout you plan on putting your body through. During this time you can clear the mind and increase your focus. Sports psychology research indicates that envisioning your success can significantly improve your performance, so take this time to think about how well you’ll do during your actual workout.

The Benefits of Warm-Up Stretches

Benefits of Warm-Up Stretches

We all know that the number one reason to warm-up and stretch is to prevent injury. However, there are a lot more benefits when it comes to warming up. For one, warm-up stretches improve your flexibility. Improving your flexibility can help you better perform everyday activities and help delay any reduction in mobility that comes with age.

Stretching can also improve your posture. Studies have found that regular stretching can help muscle imbalances and lead to better posture by encouraging proper alignment.

Warm-up stretches can also reduce the stress in your muscles. Our muscles respond to stress by tensing up, regardless of physical or emotional stress. Don’t neglect stretching your neck, shoulder and upper back, as these are major trigger points for stress relief.

The Top Ten Warm-Up Exercises

top 10 warm up

Arm Circles

This exercise targets your shoulders, triceps, back, and biceps. Arm circles also increase circulation to your arms, fingers, and shoulders. By doing arm circles, you are engaging in dynamic stretching meaning that you’re stretching as you’re moving.

How to do them: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended out to your sides parallel to the floor. Start circling your arms forward using small, controlled motions. Be sure to keep your shoulders down during this exercise. Make 20 circles, and then reverse the direction, circling your arms backward.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jacks are known as the go-to warm-up exercise because of their ability to raise your heart rate. This exercise actually provides a full body workout by activating all of your large muscle groups. Don’t forget to breathe deeply to engage your core and target your abdominal muscles.

How to do them: Begin by standing with your feet together and legs straight, keeping your arms by your sides. Now jump up and spread your feet beyond shoulder-width apart, simultaneously bringing your arms above your head and clapping them together at the top. Quickly jump again, lowering your arms and bringing your legs back together to return to the starting position.

Knee Lift to Walking Lunges

Knee Lift

This warm-up exercise targets your glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, and chest. The added lunge at the end of this knee lift increases the range of motion in your lower body, improves balance, gets the blood flowing to major muscle groups, and raises your core temperature.

How to do them: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms by your sides. Raise your right knee, grab your kneecap with both hands, and pull your thigh toward your chest. Release it, take a long stride forward with the same leg, and lower your body into a lunge. Pause for a beat, and return to standing by bringing your left (back) foot forward to meet your right foot. Now switch legs, and do the same.

Basic Squats

Basic Squats

Squats target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings in one single movement. You’ll probably find yourself doing squats as part of your actual workout, but doing a few during your warm-up routine helps your body adapt to the movement for optimal use later on.

How to do them: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hands at your chest. Lower your hips back and bend your knees into a squat (as if there is an imaginary chair you’re going to take a seat on). Bring your butt down to knee height, or lower if you feel comfortable doing so. Be sure to keep your chest high and core tight to keep your ab muscles engaged. Use your heels to push back up and return to the starting position.

Walk-Outs

With this warm-up stretch, you’ll work on your flexibility, mobility, and strength. Walk-outs are especially useful for stretching the hamstrings and activating your core. Try to keep a good pace to get your heart rate pumping!

How to do them: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides.  Bend your hips to reach your hands to the floor; crawl out to a high plank position. Pause for a couple of seconds with shoulders over your wrists and abs engaged. Walk your hands back to your feet and stand up.

Butt Kicks

Not only does this warm-up exercise work the hamstrings, but it also effectively works the glutes and stretches your quads to prepare for intense movement. Butt Kicks fire up your heart rate and boost your metabolism to burn more fat during your workout.

How to do them: Start with both feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Keeping your weight on your left leg, bend your right leg and bring your foot to your glutes. Lower your right leg back down to the floor. Now shift your weight to the right leg, bend your left leg and bring your foot to your glutes. Once you are comfortable with this movement, increase your speed so that you are hopping from one foot to the other. Continue alternating between legs.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers are the ultimate full body warm-up exercise! They are effective in getting your heart rate up in a timely manner and work for nearly every muscle group in the body. This exercise targets your deltoids, biceps, triceps, chest, obliques, abdominals, quads, hamstrings, and hip abductors.

How to do them: Start by placing both hands on the floor shoulder-width apart and both feet together behind you resting on the balls of your feet. Keeping your left foot on the floor, bend your right knee and bring it in towards your chest. Move your right leg back to the starting position, and switch by bending your left knee and bring it in towards your chest. Continue alternating between your right and left leg. Try to increase your speed gradually, and make sure that the leg that is moving never touches the floor.

Alternating Hamstring Stretch

This warm-up stretch should be a part of your everyday fitness routine. By stretching your hamstring muscles, you can achieve strong, limber thighs that support the rest of your muscle groups, and prevent injury during your workout.

How to do it: Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Extend one leg straight in front of you, foot flexed and heel resting on the floor. Bend down to stretch hamstrings while sweeping your arms down toward the outstretched foot and up over your head. Switch sides to warm up your other leg.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose

This warm-up stretch is a powerful hip-opener that can help increase flexibility and the range of motion in the hip joints. Pigeon Pose stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen.  It is a deep stretch that can be felt in specific upper-leg and hip muscles.

How to do it: Start at Table Top position. Slide your right knee forward between your hands and let the right foot slide over your left. Slide your left leg back, lowering the hips towards the floor. Slowly walk your hands forward to lower the torso and head to the floor. If your head doesn’t reach the floor, support it with stacked hands or fists. Move as deep into the posture as you can while still maintaining full deep breathing. Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths. Then slowly walk your hands back under your shoulders and slide your right knee back into Table Top position. Now repeat on the other side.

Cobra Pose

This stretch is best known for its ability to increase the flexibility of the spine. Cobra opens the chest and strengthens the core body, reducing stress and fatigue before any workout. It also firms and tones the shoulders, abdomen, and buttocks.

How to do it: Lie on your belly, with your chin on the mat. Your palms should be flat on the floor by your shoulders, and your legs should be together. Pull up your kneecaps, squeeze your thighs and buttocks, engage your core, and press the pubic bone down into the floor. Without using your arms, inhale and lift head and chest off of the floor, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Drop your shoulders down and back and press your chest forward. Breathe deeply and hold for 2-6 breaths. Now exhale, and slowly lower your chest and head back down to the floor.

What are Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises?

Dynamic warm ups

Dynamic warm-up exercises are popular among coaches and athletes. These warm-up exercises get the joints moving one at a time, then all together. Dynamic warm-up exercises take the body through progressive movements that loosen, and then later stretch your muscles.

The key to warming up is to increase your heart rate slowly. In doing so, you lubricate your joints to improve your range of motion and elasticity. These dynamic warm-up exercises and stretches will enable you to be workout ready within a few minutes.

Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises and Stretches

Walking Lunges

Walking Lunges

How to do them: Stand upright with your feet together. Take a sturdy step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. The back knee should point toward the ground, but should never actually touch the ground. Your front knee should be directly over the ankle, never surpassing the toes. Press your right heel into the ground, and push off with your left foot to bring your left leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side. Do this for a few counts before moving on to your next dynamic warm-up.

Alternating Toe Touches

How to do them: Start by standing with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend at the waist, and with your right hand, reach down to touch your left toes. Hold for three seconds and then bring your upper body back up. Switch, taking your left hand and reach down to touch your right toes. Hold again for three seconds. Continue alternating sides for a few counts.

High Knees

High Knees

How to do them: Stand up straight with your feet about hip-width apart. Hover your hands just above your belly button with your palms facing the floor. In one quick motion, drive your right knee up to meet your right hand, bringing the same leg back to the ground and immediately bringing the left knee up to meet your left hand. As you are alternating knees, you want to do it with a hopping motion, staying on the balls of your feet the entire time. Keep your core tight to engage your abdominal muscles.

Air Squats

How to do them: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and your toes pointed slightly outward, your arms should be hanging loosely by your side. Bend your knees and squat down as if you were sitting into a chair. Keep your weight on your heels and keep your core tight. Try to touch your glutes to your calves to the best of your ability. As you lower down, you can either raise your arms straight in front of you or keep them bent in front of your chest. Straighten your legs and squeeze your butt to come back up, lowering your arms back to your side. Keep a good pace while doing this, but don’t compromise your form.

Burpees

Burpees

How to do them: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of you, just inside your feet. Shift your weight onto your hands. Jump your feet back to softly land on the balls of your feet in a plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Jump your feet in towards your chest so that they land just outside of your hands. Reach your arms overhead and explosively jump up into the air. Land softly and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep. During this dynamic warm-up, be careful not to let your back sag or your butt stick up in the air, as both can keep you from effectively working your core.

Push-ups

Push-ups

How to do them: Start by getting down on all fours. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on your exercise mat. Use your upper body to pull yourself up into plank position. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause for a beat, then push yourself back up. Make sure to keep your core tight to engage your abdominal muscles.

Foam Rolling

Foam Rolling

How it’s done: Start by keeping your hips on the floor and place the roller on the middle to upper back. Slowly shift your body around in search of points that are more sensitive—usually between the shoulder blades. If you feel the tension in your lower back, you can move on to stretching this area next.

Upper Body Warm-Up Exercises

Upper body warm up

Shoulder Warm-Up Exercises

Overhead Shoulder Stretch

Overhead Shoulder Stretch

How to do it: Raise your right arm overhead. Bend the elbow and place the palm of your left hand on your right elbow. Push your right elbow down with your left hand, and stretch your right arm down your back to the best of your ability moving the right palm down your back for a deeper stretch.

Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion

How to do it: Lean up against the wall, keeping your back completely flat on the wall. Raise your arms back towards the wall, making a semi-circle motion with your arms as you reach the back of the wall. Slowly bring your arms back down by your side. This is one rep.

Windmills

Windmills

How to do them: Stand in a wide stance with both feet pointed to one side at a 45-degree angle. Start with your dominant hand and stretch it over your head. Keeping your raised arm perpendicular to the floor, maintain a flat back as you hinge at your hips and bend your torso to the side. With your non-dominant hand, reach down and touch your toes. Bring yourself back up and switch sides. You may do this exercise with a kettlebell for added intensity.

Back Warm-Up Exercises

Back warm up

The Egg Roll

The Egg Roll

How to do it: Lie on your back on your exercise mat. Hug your knees to your chest, gently rock back and forth and gaining momentum each time. Do so until you are rolling over the entire length of your spine with each rock back and forth. Try to roll for about 30 seconds or more.

Cat/Cow Stretch

Cat Cow Stretch

How to do it: Lower yourself on all fours on your exercise mat. Slowly round your back and breathe out through your mouth. Then, arch your back and inhale through your nose. Do 10 repetitions to effectively warm-up your back.

Spiderman Stretch With Rotation

How to do it: Start in a push-up position. Plant your left foot next to your left hand. Turn to the left and raise your left arm up toward the ceiling. Return to a push-up position. Repeat on the right side. Do 10 repetitions on each side.

Leg Warm-Up Exercises

leg warm up

Leg Swing

How to do it: Start in a standing position, lift your right foot up and begin to swing it back and forth. Keep your core tight to engage your abs 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.

Stutter Steps

How to do them: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your left leg back and raise your hands above your head. Do a standing crunch by bringing your left knee towards your chest while simultaneously bringing your arms down toward your knee. Repeat for 10 reps and then switch sides.

Run in Place

Run in Place

Running in place is an effective cardiovascular exercise that warms up the body, burns calories and increases aerobic fitness. The best part about this warm-up is that you can run in place anywhere, and at any time, and still get some of the benefits of a regular run.

Sports Specific Warm-Up Exercises

Sports Specific Warm-Up Exercises

Just like there are different athletes for different sports, there are also different warm-up exercises for different sports. Warming up before a game or training session allows all athletes to condition and be better prepared to perform at their maximum level.

Here, we break up some of the previously mentioned warm-up exercises according to which sports division they pertain the most to, as well as mention some new sport-specific warm-ups.

These dynamic warm-up exercises prepare each athlete’s body for performance.

Soccer Warm-Up Exercises

Soccer Warm-Up Exercises

High Knees

This warm-up develops strength and endurance of the hip flexors. It also helps soccer players with improving strength and endurance in their quads. High knees stretch the hip extensors and glute muscles.

How to do them: Stand up straight with your feet about hip-width apart. Hover your hands just above your belly button with your palms facing the floor. In one quick motion, drive your right knee up to meet your right hand, bringing the same leg back to the ground and immediately bringing the left knee up to meet your left hand. As you are alternating knees, you want to do it with a hopping motion, staying on the balls of your feet the entire time. Keep your core tight to engage your abdominal muscles.

Butt Kicks

Butt kicks do an excellent job of working your hamstrings and butt muscles. This is a great soccer warm-up because it trains the hamstrings to contract forcefully as the feet strike the ground, which leads to quicker lifting and swinging of each leg and an increased turnover rate.

How to do them: Start by plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. Keeping your weight on your left leg, bend your right leg and bring your foot to your glutes. Lower your right leg back down to the floor. Now shift your weight to the right leg, bend your left leg and bring your foot to your glutes. Once you are comfortable with this movement, increase your speed so that you are hopping from one foot to the other. Continue alternating between legs.

Toy Soldier

The toy soldier stretch is a dynamic stretch that effectively warms up your quads, hamstrings, and glutes—key running muscles. This exercise increases body temperature and heart rate, preparing your whole body for the soccer match that lies ahead.

How to do it: Step forward with your right foot, and swing your left leg out in front of you, keeping your chest as high as you can go. Keeping your back straight, reach out with your right hand to try to touch your left toes. Lower your left leg down a little bit in front of you. As you step forward, swing your right leg up to repeat the movements on your right side. Keep alternating sides.

Ladder Scissors

The Ladder Scissors exercise improves agility. It is a calisthenics and cardiovascular exercise that primarily targets the calves, while also targeting the glutes, groin, hamstrings, hip flexors, outer thighs, and quads.

How to do them: Start by facing the ladder on the right side. Place your right foot in the first box. Jump off both feet at the same time and rotate your right foot to the outside of the next box and your left foot inside the first box. Now jump again off both feet. Rotate your right foot into the second box and your left foot outside the first box. Continue this in-out scissor motion the whole way down. When you’re done, work your way back down the ladder with the left foot instead.

Basketball Warm-Up Exercises

Basketball Warm-Up Exercises

Squats

Along with making your legs, trunk, and lower back strong, squats will teach your body proper biomechanical alignment. Basketball players tend to naturally squat wrong because they bend forward instead of sitting deeply with their hips. It is recommended that when doing squats, a basketball player should only squat down until the knees are at 90 degrees since that’s the range of a defensive stance.

How to do them: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hands at your chest. Lower your hips back and bend your knees into a squat (as if there is an imaginary chair you’re going to take a seat on). Bring your butt down to knee height, or lower if you feel comfortable doing so. Be sure to keep your chest high and core tight to keep your ab muscles engaged.  Use your heels to push back up and return to the starting position.

Walking Lunges

Lunges are an excellent way to work on a basketball players leg strength. They also help to work on flexibility in the hips and lower back area. Walking lunges are a really good warm-up exercise to do for players that want to improve their quickness, strength, and speed.

How to do them: Stand upright with your feet together. Take a strong step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. The back knee should point toward the ground, but should never actually touch the ground. Your front knee should be directly over the ankle, never surpassing the toes. Press your right heel into the ground, and push off with your left foot to bring your left leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side. Do this for a few counts before moving on to your next dynamic warm-up.

Box Jumps

If you want to improve your basketball skills over time, take advantage of opportunities to train with plyometric exercises. Plyometrics for basketball can help you develop a solid strength base, increase your vertical jump, improve your speed on the court, and enhance your reaction time.

How to do them: Stand in an athletic position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, at a comfortable distance from the box. When you’re ready to jump, drop quickly into a quarter squat, then extend your hips, swing your arms, and push your feet through the floor to propel yourself onto the box. Do your best to land softly (minimal noise) to avoid injury.

Pull-Ups

Warming up with Pull-Ups can significantly improve your jump shot. An effective jump shot creates full extension through the lats, back, shoulders, and wrist. A pull-up, done properly, mimics such movement and builds essential all-around back strength.

How to do it: Hang from a bar that holds your bodyweight with either an overhand or underhand grip. Pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up. Finish by pulling with your arms. The key is to return to the fully extended position after each rep.

Golf Warm-Up Exercises

Golf Warm-Up Exercises

Shoulder Circles

This warm-up exercise conditions your shoulders and shoulder blades, which allow you to properly swing a club with speed, strength, and accuracy.

How to do them: Hold a choked-down iron in your hand and swing it in vertical circles with your arm fully extended. Do 10 swings with each arm, alternating between forward and backward motions.

Leg Sweeps

This is a great way for golfers to warm up their thigh and hip muscles. Leg Sweeps improve the role of the pelvis when it comes to a proper swing.

How to do them: Using an iron for balance, stand on one foot and sweep the opposite foot from side to side in front of your body. Do 10 swings, then switch legs.

Field-Goal Kicks

These kicks are effective in warming up the key muscles in the legs, improving stability, and power.

How to do them: Balancing with an iron at your side, stand on one leg while swinging the other backward and forward as if you were kicking a ball. Keep both as straight as possible and do 10 kicks on each leg.