How to warm up before exercise

How to warm up before exercise

Warm-ups may seem like a waste of time and for the weaker mortals only (which is everybody else). But while you might be tempted spend that warm-up time exercising at full force and torching fat instead, you’ll find that trying to save that little bit of time will end up costing you a lot more (in injury time).

If you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to work out.

There’s a reason world-class athletes warm-up – Usain Bolt isn’t warming-up before his 100m race for fun. Done right, warming up (and cooling down) has a bevy of benefits. A warm-up should prepare your body and mind for the workout to come. A warm-up should:

  • Raise your body temperature and promote blood flow through your muscles
  • Make your muscles more pliable and contractile
  • Mobilize and lubricate your joints
  • Innervate any muscles that are feeling sluggish
  • Provide an opportunity to practice the skills of the coming workout
  • Leave you feeling ready to perform at your best
  • May reduce your risk of suffering an injury


Warm-ups are made up from a number of components. How much time you spend on each component depends on the type of workout you are going to do. However all components should be part in most good warm-ups… It may seem hardcore, but if you’ve ever taken a workout class or followed a fitness DVD you would have completed all these parts.

1. Pulse raiser

Why do it: During this first step perform a light cardio activity designed to get your heart pumping, blood circulating and increase your core temperature.

How: This should be progressive in that you start easy and build up over a few minutes – for example, a walk, jog and run. This is NOT the workout so don’t do any longer than necessary or you may end up wasting valuable energy – five to ten minutes is usually plenty.

2. Joint mobility exercises

Why do i: Mobility exercises ensure your joints are warmed-up, well lubricated with synovial fluid and running smoothly.

How: You’ve done them before! It’s nothing exotic and unusual – you just don’t know you’ve done them. Examples of joint mobility exercises are shoulder shrugs, waist twists, shallow knee bends, ankle circles; Ten to twenty repetitions of four to six exercises should get the job done but feel free to spend a little more time on joints that are about to be heavily used, or are stiff or sore.

3. Dynamic stretches

Why: While slow, static stretches tend to reduce muscle power and speed, as well as balance, dynamic stretches (stretches done on the move) will actively stretch your muscles, wake them up, and get them ready for exercise.

How: Examples of dynamic stretches include lunges with a twists, squats with an overhead reach and twist, leg swings, duck under/step over, butt kickers, high-knee marching and hurdle walks. Where possible, use movements that mimic the activities of the coming workout.

4. Foam rolling (extra!)

Why: If you have especially tight or sore muscles, you may benefit from including foam rolling (properly called self myofascial release). This is a form of self-massage that can help release adhesions within your muscles and can help increase circulation to the connective tissue and muscle. You don’t need to do this. But if you have a sort tissue restriction that prevents a full range of movement, a few minutes of foam rolling might just help restore normal function. Consider foam rolling as an optional extra.

5. Movement preparation

Why: This component provides an opportunity to practice the skills and techniques you’ll be using in your workout.

How: For a weights workout, this may include some light and progressively heavier sets of the exercises you are going to perform. If you’re running you might do some running drills to improve foot speed or stride length. This is the final transition step from warming up to working out.

How to Warm Up Before Exercise


The answer is… it depends! Generally, not less than 5 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes. Or to be really annoying, your warm-up should be as long as necessary but no longer. Seriously, how long should a warm-up be is a very personal question. It depends on you, what you’re going to do and external factors around you.

The length of your warm-up depends on some of the following factors:

Workout intensity

The harder your workout is going to be, the longer you need to warm-up. For example, if you are going for a jog, a few minutes of warming-up will be adequate. If, however, you are going to be sprinting or lifting very heavy weights, you’ll need a longer warm-up. Adjust the duration of your workout according to how hard you’re going to exercise.


Older exercisers may benefit from a longer warm-up. Older bones and joints are often stiff and sore, so it makes sense to spend some extra time loosening everything up so that movement is more fluid. An increased focus on joint mobility can make an older person’s workout much more comfortable.


If it’s cold, a longer and more thorough warm-up can make for a much more comfortable workout. In addition, being cold tends to drive blood away from your extremities and into your core which is great for survival but not helpful for exercise. A longer pulse raiser may be necessary. On the flip side, if it’s very hot, too much warming up can leave you tired before your real workout begins. Also, muscles tend to be more flexible in warmer temperatures. If it’s hot, a shorter warm-up may be appropriate.

Time of day

An early morning workout is a great way to start your day but also means that you are going from completely inert and spaced-out (not a morning person – become one!) to exercising hard very quickly. If you like to exercise first thing in the morning, you may benefit from a longer warm-up – especially if your workout is going to be intense. As the day progresses and you’ve been moving around more, your joints and muscles will be more mobile so you may not need such a lengthy warm-up (check out best time of day to exercise).

Injury status

Many exercisers carry aches and pains that aren’t serious enough to curtail activity but do require some additional care. If you have an old injury, take extra time warming up that particular area and make sure it’s ready for what is to follow. A neoprene support sleeve can help keep the area warm and provide a modicum of support so you can work out in comfort. If you do have an injury, check with a medical professional that exercise wont exacerbate or aggravate the problem.

Level of fitness

The more fit you are, the longer your warm-up can be and probably needs to be. A fit person can work out much more intensely than a less fit person; weights will be heavier and movement speeds will be faster and ergo more strenuous. Conversely, a less fit person could end up exhausted after an excessively long warm-up. Adjust the duration of your warm up to suit your current fitness level.

How to warm up before exercise was last modified: November 4th, 2020 by the team
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