Gone are the days of starting with stretches. That’s old school. Today it’s about warm up sets. You must first warm up your body before stretching. When you get moving to warm your body before stretching, it will be easier, more productive and less likely to cause injury, and your workout will be as well.
The one time I started stretching without warming up, I pulled a muscle.
I was late for a class, and missed the five minute warm up sets. But I jumped in and immediately joined the dynamic stretching segment, which were walking lunges. With the first lunge, something in or around my right quad muscles “popped”. It took weeks to recover, so I learned that lesson: always warm up before doing any kind of stretching.
Old school PE—Phys Ed—would have us stretch and then warm up, but exercise science of today has learned that’s actually backwards. Now it’s about warming up and then stretching dynamically.
Warm Up Before Stretching to Prevent Injury
So when it comes to stretching it’s best to do most of your stretching after exercise, and warm up and prime your muscles before exercise. That means to get your cardio up while alerting the muscles you’re going to use to get ready to get strong.
Alert your muscles that you’ll be calling on them to work hard.
Here’s what pros do to warm up body and muscles to handle what’s to come, without injury. They get their body warm doing light cardio and using the muscles that are going to used during the workout.
With no-weight squats, you’re signaling to your quads, hamstrings and glutes that it’s time to go to work.
If you’re going to do a lower body workout, then you want to do some high knees, light jogging in place, jumping jacks and squats with just body weight. You’re now signaling to your quads, hamstrings and glutes that it’s their work shift, so they’ll begin to rev up and demand increased blood flow from the heart through the circulatory system and into those muscles.
Here are some of our favorite warm up exercises.
Super Simple Warm-ups that Work
Yep! Good ole fashioned jumping jacks is a gentle warm-up that gets your heart rate up quickly with less impact than jogging on a treadmill.
Jumping rope, jogging in place, “football feet” or high knees are all easy cardio you can do to warm up quickly.
Quick Cardio Warm Ups
- Jogging in Place – an easy way to warm up
- High Knees – either slowly by bring each knee to check while walking, then more rapidly speeding up to jogging while bringing knees up high.
- Football Feet – rapidly running in place with very fast vigorous running feet: small moves as fast as you can.
- Squat Jumps – These are great vigorous cardio warm ups that incorporate the squat muscles.
Squat Jumps are my personal favorite for warm ups and for grabbing quick bits of fitness throughout the day. I make it a habit to do 20 of these and 10 pushups several times throughout the day, and any time I start to get sleepy from too much sitting.
It’s difficult to injure yourself while performing a proper squat and yet it heats up the largest muscle groups in your body: primarily your glutes, (3 gluteus muscles) and hams (3 hamstring muscles), secondarily your quads (4 quadricep muscles).
Squats also stretch lower back muscles which help lower back issues as well.
Squat Jumps Work These Muscles
- Glutes (3 gluteus muscles)
- Hams (3 hamstring muscles)
- Quads (4 quadriceps)
One of my fitness trainers resolved his lower back issues with squats.
Jump Squats – a.k.a. Squat Jumps
I love jump squats. I start each morning with 10 push-ups and 10 jump squats and 30 fast paced squats done in the time it takes the water to get hot for my shower. This 1 minute routine totally awakens and invigorates me immediately, and it always amazes me how I can go so quickly from having just been asleep, to wide awake and totally pumped for the day, even before my morning shower.
One Minute Warm-up Routine
- 30 Squats
- 10 Squat Jumps
- 10 Push-ups
Warning: If you have any shoulder pain or shoulder issues, you’ll want to bypass or modify these, and do them only after you’re already warmed up from some of the cardio.
You can do modified pushups from your knees or from a surface that allows you to be at a gentle 45 degree angle, such as leaning in plank position again a wall, rail, desk or sturdy chair.
Light lunges in place or walking lunges without weights, but be careful not to overextend until your body is really warmed up.
Warm-up with Light Weights
You can also warm up your focus muscles by performing the action without weights, then light weights to start.
Warm-up for Smith Machine Squats and Lunges
Example: if you’re going to do Smith Machine squats at 100 lbs total (e.g., 40 lb bar + 30 lb on each side), you could start with:
- 20 squats – no weights
- 20 squats – light weights (e.g., just the bar at about 40 lbs
- 20 squat jumps
- 20 lunges-in-place – (10 each side, no weights)
- 20 lunges-in-place – (10 each side, light weights).
Warm-up for Chest Press, Flys and French Press (aka skull crushers)
Example: If you’re going to do chest presses, flys and French presses at your medium and heavy weight, you could warm-up with:
Chest Press Warm Up Set
- 20 chest presses – no weights
- 20 chest presses – light weights
- 20 flys – no weights
- 20 flys – light weights
- 20 french presses – no weights
- 20 french presses – light weights
So these are just some examples to jumpstart your creative use of dynamic movements using little-to-no weights that will warm up the key areas you’re going to work.
It’ like priming the pump… you’re getting your muscles fired up and ready to go, and you can apply this same principle to any exercises.
Please visit our Facebook Page and share your favorite warm-ups, we’d love to hear!