Doing a proper warm up before activities such as sports, skiing, or running is super important to prepare your muscles and joints. This will not only prevent injury, it will actually help in your performance too.
So what is a “proper” warm up? Let’s start with what it is NOT. It is NOT static stretching. Static stretching is the type of stretching where you hold a position still for a certain period of time. This type of stretching prior to activity is not really helpful in getting your body ready for what it is about to do, and it has actually been shown in studies to DECREASE muscle strength and performance in the short term after stretching. So, while static stretching potentially has its place in your overall fitness regimen, it should generally be done following activity, not before.
So what should you do instead? A dynamic warm up! This effectively allows your body to build heat and your tissues to lengthen through movement, not held positions. It should be done at sub-maximal effort and work your body 3-dimensionally to ensure it is ready to work in a way you will be asking it to do at higher force with whatever activity you are gearing up for. For example, if you are playing basketball, you will be moving forward, pivoting, twisting, etc, so you should work your muscles into those various planes from the get go. I recommend this type of warm up even for activities that are a bit more controlled in a single direction (such as running which is primarily done in the sagittal or front to back plane) because while your body may just be going this direction, your muscles still have to work 3-dimensionally to control the movement around your joints.
Great. Now that we know why we should do a dynamic warm up, what does that look like? There are a lot of variations you could use, but I am going to walk you though one that gets most of you body fired up with 5 main movements. I’ll show you a few bonus add-ons to these too.
1. Walking Lunge: Take a large step forward and then bend both knees to sink your body down toward the floor, keeping your torso upright. Take the back leg all the way forward to take your next big step forward and repeat.
- Bonus Option A: Lift the same arm as your back leg as you lunge to get a deeper stretch through that entire side.
- Bonus Option B: Hold your lunge long enough to rotate your torso towards and then away from your front leg.
2. Traveling side lunge: Take a large step out to the side and bend into that knee (other leg stays straight.) Let your hips go backward and keep your knee more or less over your ankle. Shift your weight to the opposite side and lunge in that direction. Then, press through the foot you are lunged into and flip your body 180degrees to face the back and immediately lunge into that side. To simplify this, think: lunge towards (the way you’re going), lunge away, flip!
3. Knee to chest–>quad stretch: Bring one knee up toward your chest, hugging it in toward your body with your hands and then swing that same leg behind you, grab your foot with your hands and find a stretch through the front of your thigh. Step forward with that leg and repeat on the other side. Try to avoid tipping your pelvis forward or backward during these movements.
4. Alternating front kicks: Kick forward with one leg, step onto it, and kick with the other side. Reach your opposite arm toward the leg that is kicking. Try not to “tuck” your pelvis and keep your knees relatively straight.r pelvis and keep your knees relatively straight.
5. Inchworm: Roll down through your spine until your hands reach the ground. Walk your hands out to a plank and then walk your feet in toward your hands, keeping your tailbone lifted towards the sky.
- Bonus: Add a push up in your plank position
These can all be done over a 20-30 foot stretch, and I suggest doing each exercise a few laps through. The whole process shouldn’t take more than ~5 minutes though. Feel free to add other variations or other exercises depending on the specific activity you are warming up for, but keep the general principle in mind that you are warming and lengthening your tissues through active movement at a mild to moderate effort level. Then, go have fun with the main event!