How to Warm Up Before a Workout to Avoid Injuries

by Nicole Lesmeister

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Learn how to warm up before a workout, and perhaps more importantly, why you should. Plus: a fitness instructor’s favorite warm-up exercises.

For many, just the idea of working out takes some serious willpower. Tacking on a warm-up? As in a workout before the workout? Out of the question. It can seem time consuming, and maybe even pointless. However, I’m here to state a case to encourage pre-workout warm-ups.

Why Warm-Ups Are Important

Research in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation confirms that the warm-up is the most crucial part of any workout. But why? The study states that it “increases muscle temperature and blood flow, which contributes to improved exercise performance and reduced risk of injuries to muscles and tendons.” Stretching is also crucial, but you don’t want to stretch “cold” muscles.

So how do you warm up cold muscles, especially if something as calm as stretching isn’t advised to begin with? While it may sound like a chicken-or-egg situation, Jasmine Al-Masri, Head Instructor of LA’s Motivate Studios, has the perfect formula.

How to warm up before a workout - do downward dog to stretch the back of your legs

Tips on How to Warm Up Before a Workout

Clear Your Space

First things first, the physical body and the mental body aren’t entirely separate entities, but intricately interwoven. Jasmine says the first thing we should do before any purposeful movement is to declutter and get your space clear. When your workspace is clear, your mind can become clear, which creates the framework for a high-quality physical workout.

Connect with Your Breath

Yes, purposeful breathing is a part of the warm-up. “Take 10 deep breaths to disconnect from whatever you were just doing,” Jasmine instructs. The mind-body connection can make all the difference in the efficacy of your workout. To maximize your time and effort, be present and in your body for the duration of your scheduled movement.

Move Freely

After you’ve centered yourself, get into some less-structured movement. Jasmine’s favorite way to warm up is “to move the body or dance to a song of your choice that pumps you up and gets your mind right and out of—once again—whatever you were just doing.” She reiterates that it’s important to not just go through the motions, but to really get your head in the right space, congruent with your body and each muscle.

Stretch Dynamically

Finally, it’s time for stretching—but it’s not just about touching your toes or over-extending your muscles. The goal is to lubricate your joints and muscles so that they’re ready to take on heavier work. It’s called dynamic stretching, and Jasmine refers to these moves as activators.

Two women doing side lunges at home before their workout

the Best Warm-Up Exercises

You can practice this warm-up sequence before heading out to work out, or at home before your favorite bodyweight routine. Do it before yoga to get a little more heat moving in the body, or simply complete this warm-up routine when you don’t have time for a full workout.

Here are five of the best warm-up exercises, as instructed by Jasmine:

1. Inchworm

  • Standing at the back of your space, walk your hands down your legs, then walk them onto the floor until you’re in a plank pose.
  • Hold the plank for five deep breaths, do one pushup, then walk back the opposite way you came down. Reach your hands tall overhead.
  • Repeat the inchworm for about two minutes. A fun way to amp it up is to add another pushup in plank.

2. Side Lunges

  • Spread your feet wider than hips’ distance. Bend the right knee into a side lunge and hold for three breaths. Repeat on the left side.
  • Forward fold through center, with hands to the floor or grabbing the outsides of the feet or ankles. Hold for three breaths.
  • Repeat these moves for about two minutes, or until you feel the benefits from the flow. This stretch is great for the groin.

3. Downward Dog

  • Get into a classic downward dog with straight legs. Your heels can lift as high as you need, or can remain flat on the floor.
  • Pedal out your feet by bending your right knee and holding, then repeat on the left side.
  • Rock forward into a plank, tapping one hand to your opposite shoulder and repeating on the other side.
  • Walk your hands back into your downward dog and repeat for 90 seconds. This downward dog sequence warms up your core, shoulders, calves, and hamstrings.

4. High Knees

  • Stand up straight with your core engaged. Lift one knee high and then the other (like an exaggerated, bouncy march, or running in place).
  • Keep up your energy with high knees for 30 seconds.

5. Butt Kicks

  • Lift your heels to meet the back of your glutes for another rendition of marching in place.
  • Continue for 30 seconds.

Not only will completing this warm-up prepare your muscles and body for an efficient workout, but it can also help prevent hyperextension, sprains, pulled muscles, and injury. It also gets the blood and lymphs moving, loosens up your body, and centers your mind for a positive, productive day.


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