PT-Recommended Warm-up Exercises to Prevent Common Injuries During Workouts
Learn about the importance of warming up before strenuous exercise and get warm-up exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Ever been cruising through a workout when, out of nowhere, you feel a sharp or shooting pain that makes you stop what you’re doing? There are a lot of different causes of exercise-related injuries, and it’s possible that not warming up — or not warming up properly — before a workout can play a role.
Whether you’re an elite athlete, casual runner, getting ready for a rec league soccer game, or are brand new to exercise, warming up before an activity can help prevent injuries and optimize your exercise performance. Here, learn more about how to create an effective warm-up routine for you, especially with exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.
Benefits of Warming Up Before Exercise
Whether you’re crunched for time or just excited to jump into a workout, it’s best to take a few minutes to warm up before exercise. Warming up has several benefits, including:
Increasing blood flow to muscles. This increases body temperature and brings more oxygen to the muscle groups you’re preparing to engage, allowing them to contract and relax more easily. A higher body temperature basically means you’re more mobile and flexible, says Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. This allows you to perform more strenuous tasks with more ease and can improve athletic performance. This is supported by a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which found that warming up improved performance in 79% of participants.
Reducing risk of injury. Colder, stiffer muscles are more likely to be sprained or strained during exercise, according to research from BMC Medicine. Doing a warmup increases joint range of motion and decreases muscle tension so your muscles can contract more easily the warmer they become. “As oxygen comes to muscle groups, it decreases their stiffness before activity and makes them more flexible,” says Dr. Shaw.
Preparing you mentally. “I talk to my patients about the importance of self-talk before exercise a lot,” says Dr. Shaw.If you go straight into a workout without warming up, you might jump to conclusions about what your limit is, she explains. But a warmup gives your body the chance to anticipate changes in your environment, which improves your mental capacity to handle anything that comes your way or changes, according to research from the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. “It allows you to adapt faster and respond quicker to challenges that might arise during a workout,” says Dr. Shaw.
Types of Warmups
There are many types of warmups, most of which fall into two categories: cardio and dynamic.
Cardio warmups get your blood flowing and prepare your cardiovascular system. “I recommend starting with lighter cardio — something like walking, riding the stationary bike, or doing walk/jog intervals,” says Dr. Shaw. “The key is to ramp up slowly so you can get your cardiovascular system prepared before jumping into high-intensity aerobics.” Try butt kicks, high knees, jumping jacks, or mountain climbers to help increase your heart rate and activate the muscles that you'll primarily rely on during your workout.
Dynamic warmups involve “moving while you stretch” or putting your body through different ranges of motion to engage several different muscle groups. This mimics the movements you’ll perform in your workout and gives your body a chance to practice at a slower pace in a low-stakes environment, helping to reduce the chances of injury during a workout. “This is a good type of warmup to do after a cardio warmup,” says Dr. Shaw. Try movements like downward dog to planks or walking lunges with twists to get your body ready. (More examples below).
A balanced warm-up routine often includes both cardio and dynamic elements. It doesn’t have to be a specific length of time, but five to 10 minutes or so is usually a sufficient start. The most important thing when choosing a warmup is to do something that’s similar to what you're preparing to do in your workout, explains Dr. Shaw. If you’re warming up for a run, do something that includes some walking or jogging. If you’re preparing to lift upper body weights, focus more on core engagement along with arm and shoulder movements.
Warming Up vs. Stretching: What’s the Difference?
While warming up and stretching are similar in some ways, they serve very different functions. A warmup refers to targeted movements and activities before a workout to help loosen muscles and prepare your body for higher-intensity movement to prevent injuries. Stretching — specifically static stretching — is intended to increase flexibility and is best reserved for after a workout.
Static stretching involves stretching a single muscle group, nearly as far as you can, and holding that position for about 30 seconds. Since you’re stretching the muscle group beyond its typical range of motion, it helps to increase flexibility in that area. You might be familiar with some common static stretches, such as toe touches, butterfly stretch, or quad stretch.
While static stretching can certainly be a part of a healthy warmup, Dr. Shaw cautions against just using static stretching to warm up. “Static stretching is more a matter of lengthening muscle fibers, which really makes it more appropriate for a cool down after exercise,” she says.
In fact, some research shows that static stretching can decrease power and your ability to perform agile movement. It doesn’t bring blood flow or oxygen and nutrients to a targeted area, and it doesn’t prepare your muscles for what they’re about to do in your upcoming workout. Running, for instance, requires fast muscle contraction. Static stretching just helps lengthen the muscles, but it doesn’t do anything to improve their ability to contract rapidly.
That’s not to say that static stretching is harmful. If it feels good for you, it’s a great component to include in a warm-up routine, but it shouldn’t be the only component of your warmup. It’s best to stretch after you’ve already completed your warmup.
The following exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are good options to include when warming up. They activate specific, large muscle groups to help prevent exercise-related injuries. These exercises are a good starting place if you’re not sure what to include, or they can supplement other warm-up activities, such as jogging or biking.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
Downward Dog to High Plank
Downward Dog to High Plank
Downward Dog to High Plank
Downward Dog to High Plank
PT Tip: Mentally Prepare
“I find that a lot of people tend to forget about the mental preparation aspect of exercise, but it’s a really important piece of the puzzle,” says Dr. Shaw. You can think of it like eating popcorn. You don’t just eat a bag of popcorn kernels. You have to put the bag in the microwave, heat the kernels fully, and then you can enjoy the snack. “Those steps are kind of like doing a pre-workout warmup. You have to prepare your cardiovascular system, muscles, and your mind.” Mentally preparing for what you’re about to do sets you up for success in both your warmup and your workout.
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This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
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Fradkin, A. J., Zazryn, T. R., & Smoliga, J. M. (2010). Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1), 140–148. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181c643a0
Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P., & Morrissey, D. (2012). The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Medicine, 10(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-75
Van Raalte, J. L., Brewer, B. W., Cornelius, A. E., Keeler, M., & Gudjenov, C. (2019). Effects of a Mental Warmup on the Workout Readiness and Stress of College Student Exercisers. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 4(3), 42. doi:10.3390/jfmk4030042
Popp, J. K., Bellar, D. M., Hoover, D. L., Craig, B. W., Leitzelar, B. N., Wanless, E. A., & Judge, L. W. (2017). Pre- and Post-Activity Stretching Practices of Collegiate Athletic Trainers in the United States. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2347–2354. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000890
Park, H.-K., Jung, M.-K., Park, E., Lee, C.-Y., Jee, Y.-S., Eun, D., Cha, J.-Y., & Yoo, J. (2018). The effect of warm-ups with stretching on the isokinetic moments of collegiate men. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 14(1), 78–82. doi:10.12965/jer.1835210.605