Seeking Some Good Warm-Up Stretches? Look No Further!

woman stretching her hamstring on a yellow mat
Stretching before and after your workouts will help you stay limber and injury-free.

When it comes to stretching, it can be hard to know what to do, how long to hold each pose or even when to do them.

The key is to use stretches to help you stay limber, remain injury-free and get the most out of your workouts. It's equally important to fit in some warm-up stretches before your workout and effective cool-down stretches afterward.

So, what stretches should you do to warm up for a sweat session? We've got the answers you're looking for.

Stretching Basics

If you stretch a cold muscle too much, you can pull it (resulting in discomfort or even injury). So it's important to be slow and gentle when stretching your muscles, and to start out with some activity to warm them up.

During your warm-up, it's best to avoid static stretching, which is when you hold one stretch position for up to 30 seconds. This can negatively affect your workout. Instead, you want to perform stretches that involve movement, called dynamic stretches, which work to gradually warm up the muscles while increasing their flexibility and the mobility of your joints. This will better prepare you for the workout ahead. Save the static stretches for cooling down post-workout.

Pre-Workout Dynamic Stretches

Ankle Circles

  • Stand facing a wall with your feet staggered and place your palms against the wall.
  • Raise one foot at a time and gently draw a circle with your big toe. Return to the starting position and make a circle in the opposite direction.
  • Repeat a few times, then swap legs.

Leg Swings

  • Stand sideways to a wall or surface and brace yourself for support.
  • Hold your nonsupporting arm out in front of you and swing the same-side leg up toward your hand.
  • Don't worry about reaching your hand; the idea is to stretch the hip muscles and loosen up the hip joint.
  • Swing the leg backward and forward, gradually increasing your range of motion.
  • Keep your stomach muscles tight.
  • Repeat this for 5-10 swings in each direction before switching to the other leg.

Shoulder Rolls and Arm Circles

  • Stand with knees slightly bent.
  • Roll your shoulders forward 5-10 times, then backward 5-10 times.
  • Then perform large arm circles forward 5-10 times, and backward 5-10 times.
  • Keep your stomach muscles tight to avoid moving your torso during these movements.

Neck Turns

  • Stand with knees slightly bent.
  • Move your head to look up toward the ceiling, then down to the floor. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • Then move your head to look over to the left, and to the right. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • Finally, tilt your head sideways, bringing your left ear toward your left shoulder, then the right ear to the right shoulder. Repeat this 5-10 times.

Your post-exercise cool-down period should involve movements that gradually reduce your heart rate and help the blood circulate away from the working muscles (such as walking). It's important to perform static stretches that can help you avoid injury andallow your muscles to recover. This can be followed by some deep breathing for extra Zen points!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.