Don't skip over the five most important minutes of your workout.
When it comes to warming-up before a workout, cutting corners just won't cut it, especially if improving performance and lifting heavier are part of your goal. So while it may be tempting to get right to it the second you walk out of the locker room, taking a few minutes for a dynamic warm-up can help improve your strength, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, speed, flexibility, and even aid in injury prevention, explains Christi Marraccini, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House in New York City. (Love Marraccini's look? Get her sporty style with this matching set from SHAPE Activewear: Dynamo Ensemble sports bra; $51, and Dynamo leggings; $78, shapeactivewear.com)
The primary purpose of a proper dynamic warm-up is to ready your muscles, joints, and central nervous system for the demands of your upcoming workout, explains Marraccini. "A well-rounded warm-up routine will tune you in to your body, address any underlying muscular imbalances, and enhance overall movement quality by preparing the muscles and joints to work," she says.
Plus, because joint mobility is a must when it comes to performing weighted exercises safely, prepping your joints before a lifting session can actually help prevent injury, she says. One review published in BMC Medicine found that a warm-up routine significantly cut down the risk of lower-body injuries in female athletes, by getting the blood flowing and therefore helping muscles and connective tissue become more elastic. The result: less snap, crackle, and pop.
The concept is that the warm-up should mimic the movements you're about to do, so there's no static stretching involved here. And there's science behind why: Research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that dynamic stretching can help you lift more weight in comparison to both static stretching or no stretching at all.
With all this in mind, we asked Marraccini to put together a dynamic warm-up you can do for maximum gains and minimum hurt. Take 5-10 minutes to get fired up with these full-body movements, and then proceed to slay your regularly scheduled routine.
First, Foam Roll
Before anything else, give your muscles some love with myofascial release using a foam roller or lacrosse ball, says Marraccini. If you only have two minutes, spend one of those minutes on each foot kneading a lacrosse ball along the arches, balls, and heel to loosen your entire posterior chain. Not only is this something you can do at your desk before schlepping to the gym, but it will help dissipate lactic acid build up (a.k.a. why you feel so tight and sore) and restore the length of the muscles in the entire lower body, she adds. (If you're a runner, you might want to avoid foam rolling your IT bands.)
If you have a little longer, spend 1-2 minutes on each of your limbs. When you hit a trigger point, sit and work on that spot until it slowly dissipates, says Marraccini. Afterward, you'll have increased range-of-motion, so it's worth the time before diving right into your dynamic warm-up.
Dynamic Warm-Up for Weight Lifting
Thoracic Spine Rotation
Improve the mobility of your torso, specifically your thoracic spine (middle and upper back) with this move that will also reduce stiffness in your mid to lower back. Because all lifts require core stability and flexibility, this move will help improve everything from your deadlift and your snatch to your power-clean and your shoulder press.
How to do it: Start on all fours with your fingers spread slightly. Place left hand behind your head, and move right hand outstretched on the ground in front of you. Rotate left elbow to the sky while exhaling, stretching the front of the torso, and hold for one deep breath, in and out. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps. Switch arms and complete 10 reps on the opposite side.
The scorpion stretch primarily targets the middle back and to a lesser degree the lower back, quads, and chest- which makes it great for any workout routine that includes squats, bench press, or good mornings.
How to do it: Lay down with chest flat on the floor and arms spread out to your side in a T. Take your right foot off the ground and cross it over to your left side as far as you can without your upper back coming off the floor. Hold for 1 second, bring foot back down, and repeat with left foot. Alternate back and forth for 10 reps total per side.
Inchworm Into a Lunge with a Twist
Adding a twisting lunge variation to the inchworm will add a level of difficulty to the movement. The lunge will prepare your quads, hamstrings, and glutes for the demands of leg-day, while the twist will stretch your middle and upper back and warm up your rotator cuffs and shoulders for any weighted shoulder exercises.
How to do it: Begin by standing straight up with your feet hip-width apart. Then bend down from your hips trying to touch the floor with your palms. Maintaining the straightness of your legs, move your hands forward until you are in a straight arm plank, being sure to keep your hips and back form a straight line and not sagging. Step forward with right foot as you twist your torso toward that forward-facing knee. Return to center and come back to standing. Repeat lunge and twist on the other side before coming to standing. That's one rep. Repeat for 6 reps on each side.
Runner's Lunge with a Twist
Lunging isolates your quads and hamstrings and forces you to work on core stabilization and balance. This movement is great for nearly any type of workout you have planned.
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on your hips. Step forward with right foot and bend knees at 45-degree angles into a lunge position. Twist your upper body right and left two times with control. Face forward and push through heels to return to standing. Repeat pattern on opposite side. That's one rep. Repeat for 20 lunges on each side.
Front & Back Leg Swing
Warm up those hip flexors, extensors, and hamstrings with some side to side leg swinging action that'll hurt so good after a day of sitting at your computer.
How to do it: For this, you'll probably want something stable to hold onto. Begin standing, feet parallel with left side closest to wall, pole, etc., and 3-4 feet of space in front and back of you. Raise straight right leg in front of you as high as you can (aiming for hip height), and then let it swing behind you. Keep swinging, gradually increasing range of motion. Do 10-15 reps, then switch sides.
Side-to-Side Leg Swing
The side to side motion will increase hip joint range-of-motion, while preparing the body for any wide-stance moves like kettlebell swings, sumo deadlifts, side lunges, or lateral sprints.
How to do it: Position your body so instead of being angled perpendicularly to the wall, you're facing it. Lift right leg and cross it in front of your body to the left as high as you can then swing it out to the right. Keep swinging, gradually increasing range of motion. Repeat for 10-15 reps, then switch sides.
High knees are a great way to work your calves, quads, hamstrings, shins, and abs. Plus, you'll get your heart rate going as you head into the heart of your workout.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend arms at your sides as if running. Then, quickly drive right knee up toward chest, then switch bringing left knee up. Pump arms back and forth as if running. Continue for 30 seconds.
Butt kicks are basically the inverse of high knees; instead of bringing your knees up, you bring your heel back as if you are trying to kick your butt, which will warm up your whole lower-body with emphasis on your quads.
How to do it: Stand with arms bent by your sides as if running, and begin slowly jogging in place, kicking on foot after the after behind you to kick your butt. Every 5 seconds pick up the pace until you are moving as fast as possible by the end of a 30-second interval.
Finishing up these dynamic stretches with a sprint or fast-paced jog is a great way to activate fast-twitch fiber muscles and prepare the body for exercise. If you're outside or on a track or have more space, progress from a jog to a sprint over the course of 100 meters. Then, repeat twice more. If space is limited, jog back and forth from a designated point A to point B twice, run back and forth between the same points two times, and then sprint between them two times.