The answer may surprise you: a lot. It turns out that a warm-up is an important part of your activity. Taking a few extra minutes to warm up your muscles can reduce your risk of injury and boost your performance.
Benefits of Warming Up
Cold muscles don't move as well as warm muscles. Forcing cold muscles into strenuous activity doesn't usually feel good. You may find that you're more likely to pull a muscle or feel discomfort in your joints. A good warm-up also helps you find a comfortable pace for your workout so you're more likely to finish it.
It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to warm up your body and take each of the major muscle groups through a full range of motion. You'll get the following benefits:
- Increased blood flow to the muscles
- Raised body temperature
- Mental and physical preparation for the activity
Static vs. Dynamic Stretches
Static stretches are movements that you hold for 30, 60, or 90 seconds. Extending a joint as far as it can go for as long as you can hold it elongates and relaxes the muscle. It's a great post-workout activity when you want to relax and help your muscles return to their normal length.
Dynamic stretches look more like exercises than traditional stretches. That's precisely what makes them different from static stretches. They take your joints through the movements and range of motion you're going to use during your activity. This warms and wakes up your muscles, which then increases flexibility, power, and performance when you need it.
Lower Body Dynamic Stretches
Use these dynamic stretches to warm up the muscles in your lower body: quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves.
This exercise targets the hamstrings and hips. Stand straight, holding on to a fence, tree, or chair if you need extra support. Keep one leg on the ground, and swing the other leg as high as you can comfortably. Then, swing the leg as far behind you as you can. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
A dance aerobics classic movement, the grapevine warms up your outer thighs. Start with legs shoulder-width apart. Walk sideways by crossing your left leg over your right leg. Push out your right hip as you move. Repeat this movement until you get to the other side of the room or court. Then, change directions to work the other hip.
Walking is an often overlooked warm-up exercise, but it's a simple way to get your muscles moving. Target the quadriceps and hip flexors by taking extra long steps and keeping your back leg straight until you feel the stretch in the front of your hips. Alternate legs as you repeat this movement to cross the room or court.
Upper Body Dynamic Stretches
Wake up your deltoid muscles and rotator cuffs in your shoulder. Hold your arms out straight at shoulder height. Turn your palms face down and rotate your arms in small circles. You should feel a slight stretch in your shoulders as you move them. Repeat this 10 times moving forward and then switch directions.
This movement is similar to arm circles, but it targets the muscles in your forearm. Hold your arms out in front of you. Keep your palms facing down. Rotate your wrist in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, stretching far enough that you feel the stretch in your forearm. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
This exercise warms up your lower back and abdominal muscles. Stand with your legs shoulder-length apart. Place your hands on your hips. Lean forward from the waist to stretch the lower back. Then move to the left, to your back, and to the right. Repeat 10 times and switch directions.