When you have a big workout on tap, it can be tempting to just dive right in and get to the good stuff – the first 400-meter repeat, the gnarly hill climb, the seemingly impossible deadlift, or the tempo miles that’ll help you get used to running at race pace.
And while the meaty part of your workout is the part you’re most likely to look back on come race day, there’s another crucial piece of the workout puzzle that’s easy to overlook or skip entirely: the warmup.
Here’s why you should always warm up before a workout – and exactly how to do it.
Why the Warmup is Essential
“When we work out, whether we’re lifting weights or going for a run, we’re stressing our joints and ligaments and are adding a load to our bodies,” explains Mary Johnson, founder of Lift.Run.Perform. “A warmup will help prepare the body for these new stressors by gently introducing blood flow to the muscles, increasing body temperature, and gradually bringing the heart rate up.” As the body warms up, oxygen is delivered faster to the muscles and the heart, thereby helping them become even more efficient – and ultimately improving your performance.
Plus, warming up helps muscles contract and relax faster, and studies have suggested a correlation between warming up and improvements in muscle strength and power due to lowered viscous resistance. “Simply put, warming up allows us to move better and helps our muscles become more effective and efficient,” says Johnson. It’s science.
How to Work Your Warmup
It’s important to tailor your warmup to the workout or activity you’re about to do. “If you’re heading out for short, hard sprints, you’ll likely need at least 20 to 30 minutes to feel properly warmed up,” says Johnson. “But if you’re about to run a marathon, you probably don’t need to spend a great deal of time warming up before you run. A short rolling session and dynamic exercises should do the trick.”
Though research is torn on whether it’s best to foam roll before or after a workout, Johnson is a fan of both – but definitely before a workout.
In addition to a few minutes on the foam roller, Johnson says to consider the temperature of where you’ll do your workout. “If it’s a cold, icy day, you need to warm up longer than you would if it’s 85 degrees and sunny,” she says.
And don’t be afraid to mix it up a little with dynamic and locomotive activities. “If you’re warming up for an aerobic activity like running or cycling, make sure to throw in three to five strides or gentle 20-second pickups to promote more blood flow to your system,” Johnson says.
From there, just listen to your body. “If you’ve warmed up and you’re just not feeling great, bag the workout or come up with a low-level alternative.” Don’t push through pain or extreme fatigue – give your body some TLC so it’ll work hard for you on game day.
How Not to Warm Up
First, never skip your warmup. “If the biggest benefit of a warmup is increasing performance, why would you want to skimp on that? It’s too important,” Johnson says. But definitely skip static stretches before a workout.
“When you stretch, your body creates micro-tears in the muscles, which – if done properly and methodically after a workout – eventually improve flexibility,” Johnson says. “Stretching before a workout essentially damages your body before trying to perform. That doesn’t make much sense.”
And if you’re a runner, consider swapping out your gear after your warmup. If you wear racing flats for a track workout, don’t warm up or cool down in those same shoes – opt for regular trainers instead.
The 15-Minute Warmup Every Athlete Should Try
Dynamic Warmup from Mary Johnson on Vimeo.
- Foam roll for 5–8 minutes
- Cat/camel six times in each direction
- Slow hip rotations on all fours
- Slow ankle rotations
- Leg lower six times on each side
- Hip flexor mobility
Dynamic warmup exercises, 25 yards in each direction:
- Knee hug to chest
- Leg cradle
- Lunge with rotation toward your knee
- Bear crawl
- Reverse walking lunge
- Regular skips
- Side shuffle
“This warmup looks like a lot, but it only takes about 15 minutes,” says Johnson. After the dynamic exercises, runners can begin a 10- to 15-minute jogging warmup before doing a hard workout. If you have an easy run on tap, begin running after completing the dynamic exercises. “The key is to feel nimble and alert after warming up,” Johnson says.
Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.