The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise

By Victoria Smith |

A few minutes of stretching won't cut it. Improve your results and help avoid injury with this five-move routine.

warm up exercises Whether you're taking a group fitness class or exercising on your own, it's tempting to jump right into the "work" part of your workout. Bad idea.

Warming up is a crucial part of any workout-aerobic or strength, says Sabrena Jo, director of science and research content at the American Council on Exercise. "It's especially important for older adults because sudden vigorous work can put extra stress on your heart." Plus, warming up can help prevent injury and even improve your performance at the gym.

Unfortunately, a few toe touches won’t cut it. An effective warmup should take about 10 to 15 minutes, Jo says, adding that people with arthritis or a heart condition may need a little more time. Aim to break a sweat during your warmup, which ensures you’ve elevated your body’s core temperature and effectively prepared your muscles, says Andia Winslow, a certified fitness trainer.

The ideal warmup includes something called a dynamic stretch series, Winslow says. The goal with dynamic stretches is to replicate the same moves you'll do in your workout, helping your body and central nervous system prepare for the real work ahead. Static stretches, where you hold a stretch for a certain period of time, should be saved for your cooldown, Jo says.

Your Action Plan: The Ideal Warmup

Start with at least five minutes of light cardio, like walking or jogging, followed by these five dynamic stretches. Do each move for one minute, focusing on proper form and moving with control.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Warmup Move #1: Squat


How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position. Continue for one minute.

Make it easier: Lower your body onto a chair. Still too challenging? Check out our beginner’s guide to the squat.

Warmup Move #2: Walking Lunge

warmup exercises

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward with your left leg, letting your right heel lift off the floor.

From this staggered stance, bend your front (left) knee to slowly lower your body as far as comfortable. Allow your back knee to bend as well until it hovers a few inches above the floor, but keep your weight pressed into your front heel. Draw your lower belly in, and lift your chest.

Pause, then press through your front (left) foot to bring your back (right) foot forward and return to standing. Continue for one minute, alternating legs.

Make it easier: Perform this move near a wall for support, or do stationary lunges using a chair for support. Troublesome knees? You can lean forward slightly from the waist to reduce stress on your joints or check out more ways to make lunges easier on your knees.

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Warmup Move #3: Arm Circles

arm circlesHow to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Extend arms out to sides at shoulder level with palms facing down. Swing arms forward in a circular motion for 30 seconds, then backward for 30 seconds. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and back, and maintain a very slight bend in your elbows. Continue for one minute.

Warmup Move #4: Shoulder Squeeze

Shoulder SqueezeHow to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. While pulling your elbows back and down, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Imagine you’re squeezing a lemon between your shoulder blades. Hold the squeeze for two to three seconds, then release. Continue for one minute.

Warmup Move #5: Torso Rotation

Torso rotation without weightsHow to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Stretch your arms straight out in front of you, and gently clasp your hands together.

From here, slowly rotate your torso to one side, back to center, and then to the other side. Make sure to keep your shoulders down away from your ears and engage your core. Focus on turning from your waist, not your arms. Continue for one minute. Cautionary note: This move is not recommended for anyone with osteoporosis.

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