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Warm-Ups to Avoid Injuries: Which Ones Should I Do?

Many of us who enjoy keeping fit and staying healthy overlook warm-up exercises in favor of getting straight into our workouts. However, making sure the body is properly prepped for exercise is vital to reduce the risks of injuries like muscle strains, joint damage, or other workout-related issues. If you have a tendency to skip warm-ups or aren’t sure if you are doing it correctly, this article will offer guidance on effective warm-up techniques as well as debunking common myths surrounding warm-up exercises.

The risks of skipping a warm-up

When we are tight on time, it can be tempting to skip warm-up exercises and head straight into the main workout. Depending on your activity, skipping that all-important pre-workout routine can lead to a variety of injuries and long-lasting health issues. The table below shows common injuries associated with different types of exercise.

Type of exerciseCommon injuries
CyclingKnee pain, lower back pain, and hamstring strains
RunningShin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and knee pain
Strength trainingMuscle strains, ligament sprains, and shoulder injuries
SwimmingRotator cuff injuries, neck pain, and lower back pain
Ball games (e.g., basketball, soccer)Ankle sprains, wrist injuries, and finger dislocations

Common correct warm-up benefits

The benefits of a proper warm-up are numerous and can have a significant effect on our performance.

1. Increased blood flow

Warm-ups increase blood circulation around the whole body, which means that oxygen and other vital nutrients are being delivered to your muscles and joints as you prepare to exercise.

2. Improved flexibility

Incorporating dynamic stretching into your warm-up routine can enhance flexibility. Having supple muscles means you reduce the risk of strains and tears.

3. Enhanced performance

We all want to progress with our fitness, and including a good warm-up can actually improve our overall performance. Preparing the body and ensuring we are warm and ready for a workout means we can spring into explosive action more safely and effectively.

4. Injury prevention

If you get hurt during a workout, you’ll have to take multiple reset days, which could derail your goals. By preparing muscles and joints, effective warm-up techniques lower the risks of injuries like strains and sprains during exercise.

Common misconceptions about warm-ups

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding warm-ups and why they are important. It’s good to sort the facts from fiction and approach your warm-up from an educated and informed position.

Myth: the first 10 minutes of the workout is a warm-up

While it’s true that the first few minutes of your chosen activity can raise the body’s core temperature, it’s definitely not an effective substitute for a warm-up. Pre-workout routines include specific exercises that prepare your body for the demands of the workout you’ve chosen to do.

Myth: skipping warm-ups is okay

There is definitely a temptation to skip warm-ups, especially if you are familiar with the workout you are about to do. However, skipping your warm-up might increase the risks of injury and can negatively affect your exercise performance. If you want to prevent injuries and optimize your workout, including a proper warm-up is absolutely essential.

Myth: you can’t overdo warm-ups

While there are proven benefits to warm-ups, you can actually go too far and overdo them. Spending too long warming up might lead to muscle fatigue and reduced overall performance during your workout. It’s a fine balance to get your warm-up exercises just right, and they should always be tailored to the intensity and duration of your chosen upcoming activity.

Different types of warm-ups explained

Before you choose which warm-up routine is best for you, it’s important to know the different types of warm-ups and what effects they have on the body.

Cardiovascular exercises

Activities like jogging, cycling, jumping jacks, and burpees get the blood pumping around your body, increasing your heart rate and body temperature. Performing cardiovascular exercises as part of your warm-up routine will prepare your body for more intense and explosive exercise.

Sport-specific warm-ups

Specific sports and activities use different muscles and types of movements. A sports-specific warm-up will be designed to include movements that mimic the demands of the sport you are about to engage in. Prepping the muscles and joints for your chosen activity can help improve your performance and significantly reduce your risk of sports-related injuries.

Passive stretching

Passive or static stretching involves holding a stretch in one position without any added movement. While passive stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion, doing it before you exercise can be detrimental as it may reduce muscle strength and power, potentially increasing your risk of injury.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching is a type of stretching that involves moving your muscles through a full range of motion rather than just holding a static stretch. Dynamic stretching is more beneficial for warm-up routines than passive stretching because you are activating the muscles you need to use without reducing any strength.

Depending on your upcoming exercise, you’ll want to use different types of warm-up routines. Warming up for a run shouldn’t be the same as warming up for a 30-minute HIIT workout. Here are some recommended warm-up exercises for various activities:

Warm-ups for strength training

The following table gives you some tips on warm-up exercises specifically for strength training.

Bodyweight squats

Bodyweight squats
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, with your toes pointing forward.
  2. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Slowly come back to standing and repeat for 15 reps.

Lunges

Lunges
  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and take a large step forward with the right leg.
  2. Bend your knees, lowering the body until your back knee is a few inches from the ground.
  3. Push back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps on the right, then switch sides.

Arm circles

Arm circles
  1. Start with your arms out straight in front of you in line with your shoulders.
  2. Circle them backward for 30 seconds, then forward for 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat 3 sets.

Shoulder rotations

Shoulder rotations
  1. Start with your shoulders in neutral and arms relaxed by your sides.
  2. Raise your shoulders to your ears.
  3. Rotate your shoulders backward for 30 seconds and forward for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 3 sets.

Warm-ups for running

The following table offers some warm-up exercise ideas specifically for strength running.

Leg swings

Leg swings
  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart.
  2. Place one hand onto a bar or wall for support.
  3. Swing your right leg backward and forward for 30 seconds.
  4. Switch to the left leg and repeat.

High knees

High knees
  1. Stand with your feet hip distance.
  2. Starting slowly, raise one knee at a time as high as you can.
  3. Gradually build up speed while staying balanced and controlled.
  4. Do 3 sets of 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest between sets.

Butt kicks

Butt kicks
  1. Begin standing with feet hip distance apart.
  2. Lightly jog on the spot.
  3. Instead of raising your knees, try to tap each buttock with your heels.
  4. Do 3 sets of 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between.

Hip circles

Woman doing Hip circles
  1. Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip distance.
  2. Place your hands on your hips.
  3. Make large circles with your hips to the left for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat with circles to the right.

Warm-ups for cycling

In the table below, you'll find some ideas for warm-ups specifically related to cycling.

Leg swings

Leg swings
  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart.
  2. Place one hand onto a bar or wall for support.
  3. Swing your right leg backward and forward for 30 seconds.
  4. Switch to the left leg and repeat.

Hamstring stretches

Hamstring stretches
  1. A standing roll-down is a dynamic hamstring stretch.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Starting from the head, gently roll down into a forward fold.
  4. Place your hands or fingertips on the floor if you can.
  5. Keep a slight bend in the knees and slowly roll up again.
  6. Repeat 4 times.

Hip openers

Hip openers
  1. A cossack squat is a dynamic hip opener.
  2. Start with your legs wide and toes facing slightly outward.
  3. Sending your hips back, bend into the right knee, and sink as low as you can.
  4. Keep your left leg straight with the foot planted on the ground.
  5. Press into the right foot to bring yourself up to standing.
  6. Repeat on the left side. Aim for 6 reps.

Warm-ups for swimming

The table below will give you some tips on warm-ups that can help you before swimming.

Arm circles

Arm circles
  1. Start with your arms out straight in front of you in line with your shoulders.
  2. Circle them backward for 30 seconds, then forward for 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat 3 sets.

Shoulder rotations

Shoulder rotations
  1. Start with your shoulders in neutral and arms relaxed by your sides.
  2. Raise your shoulders to your ears.
  3. Rotate your shoulders backward for 30 seconds and forward for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 3 sets.

Leg kicks

Leg kicks
  1. Lay on your stomach.
  2. Place your hands out in front of you, palms down.
  3. Using your back strength, lift your arms and legs off the floor.
  4. Make small butterfly kicks with your legs.
  5. Do 3 sets of 20 seconds.

Warm-ups for ball games

The table below will give you some good pointers on warm-ups for ball games.

Wrist circles

Wrist circles
  1. Hold your arms loosely in front of you.
  2. Rotate your hands fully one way and then the other.
  3. Repeat for 1 minute.

Arm swings

Arm swings
  1. Begin with your arms by your sides.
  2. Starting with the right arm, swing it forward and backward for 30 seconds.
  3. Switch to the left.
  4. Then, try to swing both arms in opposite directions at the same time for 30 seconds.

Shoulder shrugs

Woman doing Shoulder shrugs
  1. Start with your arms hanging loosely by your sides.
  2. Bring your shoulders up to your ears, tensing the muscles tightly.
  3. Exhale and let your shoulders drop, completely relaxed.
  4. Repeat for 8 sets.

Circumstances when skipping a warm-up is justified

While warm-ups are absolutely essential to help prevent injuries and improve exercise performance, there may be some circumstances when skipping or reducing the length of your warm-up might be justified.

  • Short, low-intensity workouts. If you are doing a low-intensity workout, a more brief warm-up might be sufficient.
  • Experienced athletes. Experienced and professional athletes have highly conditioned bodies and may not need to spend as long warming up for less explosive exercise. However, before races and games, all athletes will perform a well-structured warm-up.
  • Warm environment. If you are working out somewhere quite warm, your body might not need such a long warm-up.

To reduce the risk of injury and to maximize your exercise performance, warm-ups are a non-negotiable. Remember to create a warm-up routine that contains exercises specific to your chosen workout to prepare your body for what you are going to do.

FAQ

Key takeaways:
Lunges
  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and take a large step forward with the right leg.
  2. Bend your knees, lowering the body until your back knee is a few inches from the ground.
  3. Push back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps on the right, then switch sides.


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