7 Warm-Up Exercises You Can Do Before Any Workout

These warm-up exercises will get your body and mind feeling prepped for your upcoming workout — and potentially reduce your risk of injury.

Woman Doing Cat-Cow Stretch
Photo: Getty Images

For most folks, the amount of free time available to dedicate to self-care and personal development is becoming increasingly limited. So it makes sense that you'd rather spend those precious moments pushing through a workout that leaves you feeling incredibly powerful — not a warm-up routine that bores you to tears.

But spending just a few minutes working through warm-up exercises before lifting, running, or tackling other activities could do your body and mind some good, says Barb Puzanovova, an ACE-certified personal trainer in Nashville. Here, Puzanovova shares the benefits of warming up ahead of a tough workout and how to mix them into your routine. Plus, she demonstrates her favorite warm-up exercises that can be performed regardless of the activity you're about to carry out.

The Importance of Warm-Up Exercises

Warm-ups can be thought of as the on-ramp you use before merging onto a highway — it's a gentle transition from being completely stagnant to being totally active, says Puzanovova. In other words, warm-ups help gradually prepare your body for the sweat-inducing activity you're about to tackle, increasing your heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow to the muscles you're about to work, she says. And these increases in temperature and blood flow can then help reduce the risk of injury and maximize your performance, she adds.

Plus, performing warm-up exercises can help establish a mind-body connection that allows you to best activate your muscles during your run or lifting session, she says. "It helps you be able to know where your body is in space and connect to different parts of your body or muscle groups so you can feel them better when you actually are doing those movements," she says.

That said, the importance of warming up depends on how demanding the activity is. "Let's say you're doing heavy lifts or high-intensity interval training that has really intense power demands — it's going to be much more essential to do a warm-up there than if you're going for a leisurely stroll outside," says Puzanovova. "You may not need a warm-up to take a 20-minute walk."

The Key Features of an Effective Warm-Up

Step 1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Before doing any movement, Puzanovova suggests starting your warm-up off with diaphragmatic breathing, a practice that promotes relaxation and slows the heart rate, according to the Cleveland Clinic. "Taking a moment to settle your nervous system, particularly if you're working out after a really busy day, can be super helpful," she explains. "Just giving your body and mind a moment to pause and be like, 'Okay, we're switching gears here.'"

Step 2. Foam Rolling

Then, consider doing a bit of foam rolling on the muscle groups you'll be utilizing during your upcoming workout, she recommends. Studies have shown that foam rolling before exercise can lead to just a small improvement in sprint performance and flexibility, and using the massage technique can also help you start to establish that mind-muscle connection, says Puzanovova. Still, not everyone enjoys — or has access to — a foam roller, so if you don't want to or can't include the practice in your warm-up routine, don't sweat it, she adds.

Step 3. Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises

After those practices, it's time to move on to warm-up exercises. The key: Performing dynamic — not static — movements. "One of the biggest things people want to do when they first get to the gym or before a run is to hop into some static stretches, meaning you're holding things for a long time," says Puzanovova. "But what research typically shows is more ideal than that is doing dynamic movements where you're moving through a range of motion." In doing so, you'll help increase your mobility (a joint's ability to move through its entire range of motion without pain or compensation), which can prevent tight muscles from being over-extended and potentially lead to injury, Cristina Chan, C.P.T., a corrective exercise specialist and the head of F45's recovery programming, previously told Shape. So if you're about to power through squats, for example, you might do warm-up exercises that target your hips, knees, and ankles, suggests Puzanovova.

Step 4. Light Cardio (Optional)

From there, you can either head straight into your workout or ease into it with two to five minutes of light cardio work, says Puzanovova. "Just having something — a stationary bike, treadmill, rowing [machine] — where you can increase your blood flow or heart rate can be super helpful," she explains. "I typically will use that when it's colder outside because you literally need to warm up."

How to Incorporate Warm-Up Exercises Into Your Routine

To be clear, you're not destined for injury if you bypass warm-ups, but you won't have anything to lose from doing a short-and-sweet pre-workout routine, either, says Puzanovova. "So if you're someone who typically skips a warm-up, maybe start to add just one or two movements that you do before your jump in," she adds.

While your exact warm-up may vary slightly depending on the activity, workout, or sport you're about to take part in, there are a few staple warm-up exercises worth including in any routine. That's why Puzanovova recommends finding three to five warm-up exercises targeting different joints and muscle groups that you enjoy most, then performing these before each workout to ensure you get your entire body primed and ready. "That way you're not stuck thinking, 'What's going to be the perfect move for this particular thing,'" she explains. "The easier it is to figure out, the more likely it is you'll actually do it."

If you feel like you need a few specific warm-up exercises tailored to your needs, Puzanovova recommends taking online or IRL classes on the workout method, whether it be HIIT or CrossFit, and taking note of how those instructors warm up. "Every instructor will probably have similar elements, but there will be some differences too, and we can learn from those differences," she says. If one of their moves felt amazing for your hips or seemed to help you perform better, consider incorporating them into your routine, she suggests. (Related: The Dynamic Warm-Up for Weight Lifting That Will Improve Your Performance)

Once you have your moves selected, set a timer and perform each warm-up exercise for 30 to 60 seconds, suggests Puzanovova. If you were to count reps, you might unintentionally power through them too quickly in order to get to the main portions of your workout, she says. "Putting on a timer might be more helpful, [as] you can focus on how are things feeling," she says. "The warm-up is a great chance to be able to check in with your body, see how things are feeling and moving, and get some information before you dive into whatever you have planned for the day."

The Best Warm-Up Exercises

Not sure what moves to include in your pre-workout routine? Try giving Puzanovova's go-to warm-up exercises, which she demonstrates below, a shot. Remember, the best warm-up is one you'll actually do, so don't be afraid to nix moves you don't personally enjoy or don't have the time or energy to complete, she says. "I always like to prioritize what is it that you're going to be able to do realistically."

Shoulders: Banded Up-and-Over

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides, holding an end of a resistance band in each hand with palms facing forward.

B. While pulling the band taut, raise both arms up toward the ceiling, pull shoulders back so band goes over head, then lower arms down to sides with the band on the back side of body.

Repeat, alternating sides, for 30 to 60 seconds.

Spine and Shoulders: T-Spine Rotation

A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.

B. Press into hands and shift hips back to heels. Lift left arm off the floor and place left hand gently on back of head.

C. Keeping hips in place and right hand on the floor, rotate upper and middle back toward the right so left elbow travels underneath chest.

D. Pause, then reverse the movement, rotating upper and middle back toward the left until left elbow is pointing toward the ceiling.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Modification 1: Stay in the table-top position and reach hand, rather than elbow, underneath chest with each rotation.

Modification 2: Perform the warm-up exercise while in a high-knee position with hand pressing against a wall rather than the floor.

Spine and Neck: Cat-Cow

A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.

B. On an exhale, press into the floor with hands and knees and gently round spine up to the ceiling, dropping head and tailbone toward the floor.

C. On an inhale, drop belly button toward the floor, arching back and extending head and tailbone toward the ceiling.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Modification: Perform cat-cow while sitting with legs crossed and hands resting on knees or behind head.

Hips: 90-90 Hip Shift

A. Sit on the floor with knees bent at roughly 90-degree angles, feet resting flat wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing outward. Extend both arms out in front of chest, palms facing down.

B. Press into left foot and rotate torso to the right, allowing kees and sides of feet to come to the floor. Reach forward with both arms, pause, then rotate torso back to center, lifting knees off the floor.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds, alternating sides.

Modification 1: Hug arms into chest or keep arms lowered to the floor throughout the warm-up exercise.

Modification 2: Perform the warm-up exercise with a pillow placed under butt.

Hips and Thighs: Adductor Rock

A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.

B. Extend left leg out to side and rest side of left foot on the floor. Left foot should be in line with hips.

C. Press into hands and shift hips back a few inches. Pause briefly, then press through right knee and left foot to send hips forward a few inches.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Hips, Knees, Glutes, and Hamstrings: Reverse Lunge to High Knee

A. Stand with feet together and hands at sides.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step backward with left foot and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through mid-foot and heel of right foot to rise out of the lunge, then step left foot forward next to left and drive left knee up to chest. Pause, then lower left leg down and back to perform the next rep.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Modification: Perform the warm-up exercise with both hands resting on a stable object (such as a plyo box).

Full Body: Good Morning

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands resting gently on the back of head, palms facing forward.

B. Engage core and pull shoulder blades down and back. Then, send hips back to lower upper body down to the floor. Continue lowering until hips are fully pushed back.

C. Keeping chest up, push through feet to return to standing, squeezing glutes at the top.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Modification: Place hands on hips or on a stable object (such as a plyo box) rather than back of head.

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