What is the Best Way to Warm Up?

Learn how to warm up before exercise, what is the best way to warm up, and whether cardio, stretching or something else is best.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #86

What is the Best Way to Warm Up?

So, you walk into the gym or decide you’re going to head out for a run. What do you do first? Some arm swings and leg swings? Touch your toes for awhile? Run in place for 60 seconds? Do a bout of yoga?

Sometimes it can be confusing to figure out how to get your body ready for exercise, so in this article, you’ll learn how to warm up before exercise, the best way to warm up, and whether cardio, stretching or something else is best.

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Why You Should Warm Up

In the episode “How To Warm-Up and Cool-Down”, you learned that when you warm up, several things happen to help prepare you for exercise, including:

Dilation of blood vessels. As your blood vessels dilate, or get bigger, your heart doesn’t have to work so hard to deliver blood, and you have less risk of high blood pressure during exercise.

Increased temperature. When you stretch a cold rubber band, it can snap. The same is true of muscle. By warming your muscle tissue, you increase muscle elasticity and range of motion, and you also allow your muscle to contract more efficiently while reducing risk of strains and pulls. In addition, oxygen in warm blood becomes more readily available to muscle tissue.

Better cooling. In the same way that the air conditioning in your car works more efficiently when your car is warmed up, when you break a sweat during your pre-workout warm-up, you’ve successfully activated your body’s built-in cooling mechanisms.

Hormone production. As you warm-up, your body begins producing hormones like epinephrine, endorphins, growth hormone and testosterone, all of which increase the energy available for your workout.

Mental focus. Clearing your head with a warm-up allows you to focus more on the difficult or technical exercise or movements that will occur in your physical activity, and it also gives you a chance to mentally review your workout, game, or match.

What Not To Do During A Warm Up

Before you learn the perfect way to warm up, it’s important to learn what not to do when you warm up.

In “Does Yoga Burn Calories?”, you learned that while yoga may certainly not burn significant calories, the type of stretching you do in yoga (which is also called “static stretching”) can lower your stress levels and your blood pressure, help you relax, and improve your flexibility. This is why I start every day with a morning stretch routine – not because it’s going to help with exercise, but because it’s a very relaxing way to start my day.

In fact, multiple research studies have shown that static stretching, in which you go into a stretching position and hold it for 5, 10 or 20 seconds, can actually inhibit the amount of force that a muscle can produce and limit your physical performance in any jumping, running or lifting activity you may be doing after that stretching session. And further data has shown that static stretching doesn’t even reduce your risk of injury, which is one of the primary reasons that you may have been led to believe you should do static stretching before exercise!

So if you’re getting ready for a run, warming up for weight training, or doing anything other than a relaxing yoga or stretching session, static stretching is not a good way to warm up. However, especially for activities that require improvements in flexibility, such as swimming, gymnastics, or ballet, static stretching can be an effective way to cool down.

How To Warm Up Properly

In contrast, dynamic stretching, also known as ballistic stretching, is a stark contrast to static stretching in terms of its ability to adequately prepare you for an exercise session. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session.

Of course, it’s important to know exactly how to dynamically stretch! Here are five perfect dynamic stretch moves to get you started. To warm-up, simply do one round of each.

Leg Swings:

Hold on to a wall, bar or anything else that adds support, then swing one leg out to the side, then swing it back across your body in front of your other leg. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Frankenstein Walk:

Keeping your back and knees straight, walk forward and lift your legs straight out in front while flexing your toes. For a more advanced version, you can do this with a skipping motion. Walk for 10-20 yards.

Walking Lunges:

Step forward using a long stride, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes. Lower your body into a lunging position by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Then push forward, take a giant step, and repeat for the opposite leg. To make this motion even more effective, twist and look back towards the leg that is behind you once you’re in the lunging position.

Bent Torso Twists:

Stand with your feet wide apart, then extend your arms out to the sides and bend over, touching your right foot with your left hand. When you’re bent, keep your back straight and your shoulder blades pulled back. Then rotate your torso so your right hand touches your left foot. Keep both arms fully extended so that when one hand touches your foot, the other hand is pointing to the sky. Keep rotating like this for 20-30 repetitions.

Deep Body Weight Squats:

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and your arms held out in front of your body. Then drop as low as you can, pushing your butt out behind you, keeping your knees behind your toes and swinging your arms back. Stand and bring the arms back to the starting position. Complete 10-15 deep squat repetitions.

Just like a rubber band, a muscle is always more pliable when it is at a higher temperature, so if you want to train your body to move through a greater range of motion during your dynamic stretching, you can do 5-10 minutes of light cardio before beginning this dynamic stretching warm up routine.

If you have more questions about static stretching, dynamic stretching or how to warm up before a workout, then share them in Comments or on the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page!

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.