The Ultimate Guide to Warm Up Exercises
Page last updated: 14th August 2023
Warming up correctly (along with including a proper cool down after your workout) is one of the most important steps in caring for yourself during your fitness journey. It can be all-too-easy to skip stretching before your workout, but with a wealth of fantastic benefits, it should be considered an exercise essential that you never fail to incorporate into your routines. Learn more here.
What Is A Warm Up?
A warm up is a crucial first step in preparing your body for physical activity. There are different forms warm ups can take, from pre-workout stretching to a brisk walk, but the process should gradually ease your body into exercise, slowly increasing your heart rate and getting your body moving in order to get ready for more intense movement.
And it’s not just fitness fans that benefit from warm ups - many people who rely on their voice for work or pleasure, such as singers, actors and radio presenters will often warm their vocal chords up first in preparation.
The Benefits Of Warming Up: Why Is It Important?
There are several physical (and even psychological) benefits to warming up, but the main focus is on preparing your body for more strenuous activity. Warm ups should increase the temperature of your muscles and body, and increase your heart rate and respiratory rate. This benefits your muscles by providing:
- Increased blood flow
- A boost of oxygen and nutrients
- More flexibility and pliability
So, by easing your muscles into exercise gently through a warm up, you’re making sure they’re in the ideal state for more intense movements or exercise. This in turn means you’re less likely to incur an injury, or feel aches and pains after your workout (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS).
Some studies have also shown that warming up can actually improve your physical performance, helping you to work out more effectively and with a better range of motion.
What Is A Dynamic Warm Up?
You may be tempted to perform static stretches as you warm up, but this isn’t really the best method (although it’s a fantastic way to cool down after your workout). Dynamic stretches and warm ups are most likely to get your body ready ahead of your main exercise session - this means active movements that will build up your heart rate and temperature. So any movement that gradually prepares your body for your main workout is likely to be a dynamic warm up. Examples of good pre-workout stretches and exercises include:
- Brisk walking
- Jumping jacks
- Shoulder rolls
How To Warm Up
The best type of warm up for you can depend on the workout or exercise you’re about to do, although the best starting point is almost always light cardio, such as a brisk walk, gentle jog, or a slow spin on a bike. Start gently and build up intensity over about five minutes, until you’re working up a sweat. From here, you can focus on actively stretching the body parts you’re most likely to be using during your workout. So, if you’re about to start lifting, prep with movements like shoulder rolls and squats. If you’re going for a full body workout, you could move on to jumping jacks, planks or lunges.
Some people also integrate foam rolling into their warm up, focusing on the key areas they’ll be using in the workout. Learn more about foam rolling with our guide.
The main points to remember when warming up are to:
- Keep moving, so you build up your heart rate and start to work up a slight sweat
- Achieve a full range of motion, so you’re prepping your body for the workout it’s about to perform
- Start gently and build up the intensity as you progress
How Long Should You Warm Up For?
The exact length of your warm up may well depend on the intensity of your workout or exercise session. The more vigorous your workout, the longer your warm up should be. Generally, between 5 - 10 minutes is advised.
Dynamic Warm Up Ideas
Shoulder warm ups
Your arms and shoulders get a lot of use, yet, without a proper warm up, they may be the parts of the body most likely to be injured during a workout (particularly the precious rotator cuff muscles around the joint). Get the blood flowing to your shoulder joints before you work out with these shoulder warm ups and stretches:
- Shoulder rolls: standing straight with your shoulders back and arms heavy by your sides, start by simply rolling your shoulders up, back, down and forwards in a smooth motion, feeling the gentle stretch through the joint. Repeat around 10 times before switching direction
- Arm rolls: keeping your arms straight, roll them forwards, upwards, backwards (as far as is comfortable) and back down again, repeating several times in a slow, smooth motion
- Open arm criss cross: starting with your arms stretched out to the sides at shoulder height, smoothly pull them both inwards, crossing over each other to touch the opposite shoulder, before gently pulling them back. Repeat around 10 times
- Active lat stretch: stand with your back against a wall with your feet placed about a foot in front, knees bent slightly. Put your palms together, hold your arms out at shoulder height and bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Keeping your back and head pressed against the wall, arms still bent and elbows pushed together, lift your arms up and over your head until (if possible) your fingertips touch the wall. Gently lower down and repeat around 10 times
Upper body warm ups
Many of the shoulder warm ups above will also help towards preparing your upper body for exercise, but other movements you might want to add in could include:
- Thoracic extensions: place a foam roller or rolled up towel horizontally across the middle of your mat. Lie with your knees bent, positioned so the towel or roller sits about halfway up your back just below your shoulder blades. Very slowly and gently lower your head and upper body over the roller a few inches so you feel a stretch, then ease back to starting position. Repeat around 10 times
- Jump rope: a particularly active warm up, but great for easing your way in, start slowly and build up speed over around 3 - 5 minutes
Yoga push ups: starting in a standard push up pose, push your hips up to the ceiling pulling your head and shoulders in towards your knees until you’re in a downward dog yoga position (looking like an upside down V). Hold for a few moments before lowering to start position. Repeat around 10 times.
Running warm up
Along with a brisk walk, there are a few dynamic movements and stretches you can perform ahead of a run that will make sure your joints and muscles are prepped and ready to go. Check out our best warm up exercises for runners guide for ideas, including squats, hip rotators and knee hugs.
Deadlift warm up
While the upper body and shoulder warm ups above will be particularly useful ahead of performing deadlifts, there are other movements you can also include to prepare your body:
- Squats: Perfect for prepping your hips, glutes, hamstrings and more, squats are a fantastic movement that you’ll definitely be needing for your deadlift. Check out our guide to squats if you’re not sure how to do these
- Lunges: Another great way to get your lower body ready for a deadlift is lunges. Our lunge guide provides more on how to do these
Lat pulldowns: These are perfect for prepping your core and upper body. Learn how to do them with our lat pulldown guide.
General, full body workout warm up
If you’re looking for a full body warm up that will get you ready for any kind of workout, then our functional mobility warm up is an excellent place to start. This includes the following stretches and movements:
- Lying torso twists
- Lying head to knee movements
- Slow burpees with squats
- Wave push ups
- Figure 4 stretches
Watch the video below for the full warm up.
Hip and back mobility warm up
Get your hips and back ready for your workout with the warm up stretches featured in this video. Keep the movements active and fairly fast, so you’re helping to build up your heart rate and work up a slight sweat:
- Knee Hug: Hold this for 5-10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times
- Lumbar Mobility Knee Rocks: 5-10 each side
- Hip and Thoracic Rotations: 5-10 per side
- Thread the needle: 5 reps per side
- Half Kneeling Thoracic Rotations: hold for 5 - 10 seconds and repeat 5 times each side
Don't forget to cool down after your workout too - it's just as important as warming up! Learn why and get the best cooldown exercises in our beginner's guide to cooldown exercises.
Warming up is just the beginning of your fitness journey - find a gym near you and get going today. If you’re not sure where to start, then consider booking in a session with one of our expert Personal Trainers, they’ll be able to provide advice, guidance and support for improving your fitness. Not ready for the gym yet? Then download the free PureGym app (even if you’re not a member!) - it has many more workouts tailored for beginners.