10 Best Warm-Up Exercises to Do Before You Work Out

Properly warming up your body before a workout can reduce injury risk and help you make the most out of your training session. But much of how we’ve been taught to warm up contradicts what our bodies really need before a workout. For a proper warm-up, it is critical to ensure you have stability through your movement so that injuries don’t occur. There are several highly valuable movements you can do to prepare your body correctly.

Traditional stretching exercises that have you push the limits of your range of motion, such as reaching your toes, may not be ideal if they're not combined with other movements. Static stretches like these tell your body to relax the muscles that are protecting your joints. This message is not always helpful, especially when you need protective mechanisms for stability during heavy lifting sessions.

Many people think of a warm-up as a way to get the blood flowing while making the muscles and tendons more pliable. While this is partially true, a warm-up should also activate your central nervous system (CNS), preparing it for the work ahead. One excellent way to do this is through dynamic movements similar to what you will be doing during your workout.

These more active movements will get your CNS ready for the workout while increasing your range of motion and stability. Remember that each individual's body and needs are different regarding range of motion, joint stability, and mobility. Listen to your body when performing warm-up exercises—nothing should be painful.

Try these 10 warm-up exercises before your next workout. 

1

Bodyweight Squats

Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Bodyweight squats help warm up the glutes and hip flexor muscles, the quadriceps, abs, calves, and hamstrings. Bodyweight squats are an excellent warm-up if you plan to do any loaded squats during your workout. Since squats are a compound full-body movement, they help warm up multiple muscles at a time and get your central nervous system ready for work.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outward.
  • Place your hands on your hips or in front of your body.
  • Hinge your hips backward while bending your knees and keeping the weight on your heels. Lower your hips toward the floor. Maintain a straight back.
  • Continue lowering until you feel a stretch in your quadriceps. Pause and hold for a count of one before returning to the starting position by pushing through your heels and extending your hips.
  • Repeat 10 times.
2

90-90

The 90-90 movement will help open up the hips through internal and external rotation. While this move might look like a passive stretch, it's actually an active movement that also stretches the gluteus muscles.

If you have any pinching pain in this position, stop right away and talk to a professional.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Sit on the ground and place your right leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle and your left leg behind you at a 90-degree angle.
  • You should be able to sit up tall and straight. Your left knee should line up with your left arm if you raise it straight, and your hip and shoulder should line up.
  • Place your right hand beside you, palm down, and fingers pointing behind you to support your posture.
  • Pay attention to your knee and ankle on your right (front) leg. If this is challenging as is, stay here.
  • Keep your chest high and hover over your right knee by leaning forward. Do not let your knee raise off the ground, but instead push the knee and ankle into the ground actively.
  • You should feel a deep stretch. Hold here and actively push your knee and ankle into the ground for 5 seconds. Raise back up to an upright position.
  • Repeat the movement five times before switching legs and repeating on the other side.
3

Bird Dog

Bird Dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The bird dog exercise is excellent for warming up your abs and lower back. This movement will activate the core muscles that support your spine in preparation for your workout. Your glutes and hip flexors will also benefit from this movement.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Get onto all fours on the ground with your knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders.
  • Contract your abs and keep your spine in a neutral position, pulling your shoulder blades back and down towards your hips.
  • Raise and lengthen your left leg until it is straight back and in line with your hips while raising and straightening your right arm at the same time until it is parallel with the floor. Your head and shoulders should be aligned and straight.
  • Slowly lower your arm and leg to the starting position and switch sides.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.
4

Banded Row

Row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Movements performed at the back of your body are sometimes hard to feel correctly. The mind-muscle connection is vital for results and proper form. Performing a banded row will help to activate your back muscles. Banded rows also warm up your shoulder joints and shoulder blades.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Place a resistance band under your feet and hold the handles in your hands. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly out.
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees and bend forward at your hips. Keep your core engaged and your back flat.
  • Pull the handles of the resistance band back, leading with your elbows and bringing your shoulder blades closer together. Feel the contraction in your upper back and hold for one count.
  • Release slowly to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
5

Inchworms

Inchworm

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The inchworm exercise helps strengthen the muscles in the front body and stretch the muscles in your back body. Your whole body will become engaged during this movement, which is excellent for an active warm-up. The stabilizing muscles in your shoulders, hips, glutes, quadriceps, and core will all start to fire up and prepare your body for your workout.

Step-by-Step Instructions 

  • Stand tall in a natural stance.
  • Hinge from your hips and touch the floor with your fingertips or palms, if you can.
  • With your legs straight, walk your hands as far forward as you can without letting your hips sag.
  • You should end with your hands under your shoulders in a plank position.
  • Slowly walk your hands back to your feet and straighten back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
6

Wall Angels

Wall Angel

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Wall angels are a fantastic dynamic stretch for your spine, upper back muscles, and joints. This active stretching warm-up movement can also help relieve achy and tight neck muscles. Wall angels challenge your thoracic spine and shoulder mobility. This movement is perfect if your workout contains squats, overhead pressing, or other exercises that rely on your thoracic spine mobility.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand against a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and walk your feet out two or three steps. Keep a slight bend in your knees.
  • With your core engaged, raise your hands next to your ears and place your shoulders and arms flat against the wall.
  • Push your arms by sliding them up the wall above you while maintaining contact with the wall.
  • Lower your arms down slowly and repeat the movement.
  • Repeat for 10 repetitions.
7

Lunge with Hip Opener

Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This type of lunge with a hip opener movement is unlike a typical lunge. The lunge with a hip opener adds rotation and abduction in the hip rather than just flexion and extension at the knees and hips. This warm-up lunge is an active movement that helps build stability in the hips to prevent injury and get you ready for hinging movements like the squat and deadlift.

Try to perform this movement in a smooth and controlled manner. Practice will make this more fluid instead of in steps.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand tall and take a long stride forward with your right foot, leaving your left foot behind.
  • Lower your torso toward the floor while bending your right knee and lowering your left leg almost to the floor.
  • Open your right knee slightly by rotating it to the right. Make sure to keep your right foot planted.
  • Slightly open your left leg by rotating it gently and slowly to the left. Hold for a count of one before returning to the starting position. Switch sides and repeat.
  • Try 10 repetitions on each side.
8

Gate Opener

Gate Opener

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The gate opener exercise targets the muscles of your lower body, pelvis, and core. This exercise improves mobility and range of motion in your hips while creating stability and balance. Using the gate opener exercise for your warm-up will help prepare the psoas muscles that run from your lower back region through your pelvis and to your femurs. These muscles help stabilize your back, and activating them in your warm-up will protect you from injury during exercises that cause you to flex at the hip joint.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward or slightly outward.
  • Keep your arms by your sides and engage your core, pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Transfer your weight to your right side and raise your left knee to near your belly button height. Move your right leg in and across the midline of your body. Your left knee should cross over your right leg.
  • Next, move your raised left leg out (abduction) to the left, opening your hip as far as you can. Keep your core engaged and your hips pointing forward.
  • Slowly return the knee to the center and then lower back to the starting position by lowering your foot to the ground.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Perform 10 gate openers on each side.
9

Arm Circles with Reach

Arm Circles

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The shoulder joints are very mobile and are prone to injury. Since many of us spend the majority of the day sitting and working in front of our bodies, our shoulders can become tense and weakened over time. Properly warming up the shoulders by dynamically moving the joints and tissues before a workout is essential to prevent injury and activate the muscles.

Arm circles are a classic warm-up exercise that you may have performed in gym class. Adding a reach will help increase your range of motion and further warm up your shoulders.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand tall with your core engaged.
  • Focus on your shoulders while slowly reaching your arm back behind you until you must flip your arm around, so your palm is facing forward.
  • When you reach behind you and need to flip your palm to face up, reach as far back as possible while keeping your hips straight.
  • Flip your palm forward and circle your arm overhead until it is straight out in front of you. Again reach forward, trying to increase your range of motion while maintaining a straight core.
  • Repeat 5 times and then reverse the motion for another 5 repetitions.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
10

Prone Cobra

The prone cobra movement used during a warm-up is a variation of the cobra pose used in yoga. This exercise is an isometric hold that is excellent for relieving back pain and preparing your body for movements in the thoracic and lumbar spine.

This exercise is corrective and is particularly helpful before a workout after a day spent at your desk. It is important to get your shoulders into external rotation during this exercise, so don't skip the thumbs-up motion with your palms facing outward.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Lay on the ground on your stomach with your hands by your sides, palms facing down.
  • Lift your chest and torso off the ground as far as you can, keeping your chin tucked into your chest. 
  • Lift your arms off the ground, thumbs pointing up to the ceiling to open your shoulders. Your palms should be facing away from you.
  • Breathe through your nose and keep opening your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds or longer, if you can. Build up to holding this pose longer, up to 3 minutes at a time.
  • Repeat the movement until you've held the contraction for a total of 3 minutes. Take breaks between sets if you need to.
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  2. Zmijewski P, Lipinska P, Czajkowska A, Mróz A, Kapuściński P, Mazurek K. Acute Effects of a Static Vs. a Dynamic Stretching Warm-up on Repeated-Sprint Performance in Female Handball Players. J Hum Kinet. 2020;72:161-172. Published 2020 Mar 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0043