Your time is valuable, so it may seem sensible to jump right into your workout as soon as you get to the gym. However, going right into your workout is like starting your car on a cold day and immediately trying to race it. Your body, like your car, needs time to warm up to perform at peak proficiency. The best way to prepare your body for upcoming exercise is to start each fitness session with a routine of pre-workout stretches.
There is a lot of confusion around what constitutes warm-up stretches before a workout or what the best pre-workout stretches are. Many athletes even believe stretching before a workout can be harmful and refuse to do it. In this article, we’ll set the record straight and show you 10 good pre-workout stretches that will help prime your body for a great exercise session.
The Great Pre-Workout Stretch Debate
If you grew up in a certain era, you probably remember doing a familiar list of static stretches before gym class, baseball practice, dance class, or your high school track-and-field workouts. For decades, static stretching was the name of the game before starting any fitness endeavor. Static stretching, by the way, refers to stretching where you hold a stretch for a certain length of time, usually 10 to 30 seconds.
More recently, however, static stretching before a workout has fallen out of favor. Research suggests that static stretching before a workout can actually lead to decreased strength and power during a workout. Most importantly, static stretching doesn’t seem to prevent injuries.
This is not to say that static stretching is bad. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine states that “For most adults, an exercise program including aerobic, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercise training is indispensable to improve and maintain physical fitness and health.” However, it’s all about when you stretch. Most fitness experts now believe that the best time to perform static stretching is after a workout when your body is warm and your muscles are more pliable.
So, Does This Mean No More Pre-Workout Stretches?
Not so fast. Just because static stretches aren’t good pre-workout stretches, it doesn’t mean you can ignore warm-up stretches before a workout altogether. Today, most fitness experts suggest a routine of dynamic stretches. As the name implies, dynamic stretching is a stretch that incorporates movement and puts muscles through a range of motion.
Why should you add dynamic stretching to the beginning of your fitness routine? Dynamic stretching:
- Gradually increases your body temperature
- Slowly increases your heart rate
- Wakes up your muscles, joints, and tendons
- Primes your nervous system for movement
- Helps prevent injuries
How to Build a Dynamic Stretching Routine
Commit to performing dynamic stretches before every workout. Ideally, warm up for 10 to 15 minutes before you begin your workout. Choose five to 10 dynamic stretches and perform each dynamic stretch 10 to 20 times. You may also want to consider starting each warm-up session with five to 10 minutes of a slow, easy cardio movement – like walking, cycling, rowing – before moving into more specific dynamic stretches.
Finally, when devising your routine, consider warm-up movements that will come into play in your workout. For example, if you are planning some heavy squatting, warm up with air squats to prep your quads, glutes, and hips. Planning on pull-ups, bench press, push-ups, or other upper body work? Focus on dynamic stretches that open up your chest and warm up all the small rotator cuff muscles in your shoulders.
Your pre-workout stretches don’t have to be the same each time. Pick and choose your favorites. To get you started, take a look at 10 of our favorite pre-workout stretches for beginners and beyond. These good pre-workout stretches are excellent for athletes of any level.
As previously mentioned, start your dynamic warm-up routine with a slow and easy bout of cardio. Use this time to gradually increase your heart rate and wake your body. Take five to 10 minutes to walk along the track, jog down the street, cycle on a stationary bike, or use the elliptical. Don’t let your breathing get too heavy. You should be able to hold a conversation the whole time during this warmup.
Perform 10 to 20 jumping jacks at a slow, leisurely pace. Focus on warming up your shoulders, hips, and lats. This will also start prepping your body for jumping and other explosive movements.
Warm up your glutes, quads, and hips with this dynamic stretch. Again, go slow. Sink deep into your squat and start powering your quads by standing up tall. Add your arms into the mix by performing a squat and reach. Here you touch the ground with your hands at the bottom of the squat and reach up to the sky at the top of the movement.
4.Lunge and Twist
Lunge forward and slowly twist from side-to-side. You can either lunge in place or find an empty lane at the gym. The lunge will give a nice stretch to your hip flexors, groin, hamstring, and glutes. Adding the twist will warm up your low and mid-back. Try to sink lower into the lunge after a few reps and keep your spinal twists gentle.
Time to get your heart and lungs ready for your workout. Find an empty lane at the gym and perform a high-knee jog. The goal is to bring each knee as high and close to your chest as possible. Keep your feet light and fast and pump your arms to get your entire body involved. Pick up speed as you go.
High-knees and butt-kickers are often performed one after the other. Instead of pulling your knees high and into your chest, lean forward and jog, trying to tap your glutes with your heel on each step. Again, think about fast, light feet and add in arm pumps as you progress down the lane.
Your shoulders come into play on nearly every type of upper-body movement. Make sure they are warm and ready to go. Perform several rounds of arm circles. Start with small arm circles forward than backward, then gradually increase the size of the arm circles. At the end, perform wide, swinging arm circles, both forward and backward.
Many aerobic and dance classes include side reaches into their warm-up stretch routine. Simply move one arm overhead and bend sideways, following the motion of that arm. Switch and perform the same motion with the other arm. This is one of the best pre-workout stretches for your lats as well as your serratus anterior, a muscle that sides alongside your ribs.
If you sit for long periods during the day, it’s crucial to stretch and warm up your hips before you work out. This includes your adductor and abductor muscles. To perform hip rotations, start in a standing position. Lift one knee to your chest then drag the knee to the side away from the body before lowering your leg back to the ground. Your knee should make a circle in the air through the movement. Perform 10 to 20 reps and then switch legs.
10.Plank Walk Outs
Start in a standing position. Bend over and place your hands on the ground. Slowly, walk your hands forward until you are in a push-up position. From here, walk your hands back toward your body. You’ll feel a nice, long stretch in your hamstrings. The plank walk-out includes several modifications. Instead of walking your hands back, you can walk your feet forward at the end of the stretch, turning the movement into what is known as the inchworm stretch. At the bottom of the stretch, when you are in the push-up position, you can choose to lower your hips and gently arch your back to stretch your hips. (Think cobra pose in yoga.) Finally, you can pause at the top of the movement and let your heels sink into the ground to give your calves an extra good stretch, too. This is the beloved downward dog yoga pose.
Don’t Forget Your Post-Workout Stretching
Pre-workout stretches will require you to add a little more time to your fitness routine, but it is so worth it. By adding even 10 minutes of dynamic stretching to your workout, your body will be warm and ready to go when you start your exercise routine.
Still want to improve your mobility, flexibility, and coordination? Add static stretching to the end of your workout. Static stretching is a great way to help cool down your body after a tough exercise session. It helps to transition your muscles, joints, and nervous system back to a resting state.
If you need help putting together a dynamic stretching routine, ask a staff member at your gym for help or take a group exercise class. Every experienced class instructor will start their class with a series of good pre-workout stretches.