How to Warm Up Properly and Avoid Injury

Getting hurt sucks!

We exercise to lose weight, build muscle, and feel better about ourselves, right? Well, it’s pretty tough to do any of those things lying on a couch with a pulled hamstring/groin/face.

Okay you can’t pull your face, but I’m trying to prove a point here so shut it. 

Everyday I cringe as I watch people wander into a gym, immediately lie down on a bench, and start cranking out their workout with heavy weight within seconds.  These are the people that end up hurting themselves and missing weeks/months due to ignorance/apathy (Which is worse? Don’t know, don’t care!)

Luckily, you’re smarter than the average bear, which is why you’re reading Nerd Fitness.

Today, you’re gonna learn all about the importance of warming up BEFORE every workout.  On top of that, I’ll even teach you HOW to warm up.

Let’s GOOOOOOO!

Why warm up?

Above all else, the most important thing you can do when working out is warming up properly.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Come on.  Surely it’s not the MOST important thing…”

To which I’d reply: “First, don’t call me Shirley.  Secondly, if you don’t have enough time to warm up, then you don’t have enough time to work out.”

Boom! (as my arch-nemesis Joel would say).

So WHY is it so important? 

Think of your muscles like rubber bands.

If you spend all day sitting at a desk, hunched over a keyboard, those rubber bands have gone almost completely unused.  Now, combine this lack of movement with some cold winter weather – your bands are now extra tight and constricted.  Then, go to a gym and immediately start lifting heavy weights or sprinting really fast – those cold, unstretched rubber bands get pulled apart very quickly and will snap. #Fail

So, what about just regular, static stretching then? Unfortunately, just doing static stretching before a workout can overextend those muscles and actually rob them of the power and strength necessary for your actual workout.  #failagain

For that reason, dynamic warm-ups are the winner!

Think of it like a pregaming for your muscles – except replace “alcohol” with “awesome.”   By jumping around and getting your muscles loose, active, warm, and ready for action, you will keep yourself strong and injury free.

On top of that, doing a dynamic warm up can help activate your central nervous system, priming your muscles for body for a great workout that produces your best effort.

Add “improved blood circulation” to the list of benefits of warming up, which will help you perform well in each exercise.

Need another reason?  When your body is properly warmed up, your muscles and joints are ready for maximum flexibility, which means you can perform each exercise with PROPER form (like deep squats, for example) that maximize results and minimize risk of injury.

So, whether you are running or strength training…a proper warm up is probably the most important 5-10 minutes of your day. 

Still with me? 

Good.  Let’s take you through my favorite warm up.

The Dynamic Warm Up

Now, this warmup video I have below is relatively advanced, so you might need to make adjustments to suit your level of fitness.  In fact, this particular warm-up might be more difficult than your actual workout.  THAT’S OKAY.

Do what you can, adjust the exercises in this warm up so you can complete it, and go from there.  See the next section for some suggestions on how to scale this warm-up to your level.

Dynamic Warm-Up Video

Here is this warm up written out:

  • 2-3 minutes of jump rope (who cares if you mess up, push yourself!)
  • 50 jumping jacks (pull your shoulder blades back, extend arms and really focus on the movement)
  • 20 body weight squats
  • 5 lunges (each leg)
  • 10 hip extensions
  • 5 hip rotations each leg (like you’re stepping over a fence)
  • 10 forward leg swings (each leg)
  • 10 side leg swings (each leg)
  • 10-20 push ups (scale based on your level of fitness)
  • 10 spiderman steps (each leg)

Yes, there is a lot of work put on your hips, butt, legs, and core.  As nerds/desk jockeys, these tend to be the muscles that are the tighest and least active, and thus most susceptible to an injury.

If your arms and chest are particularly tight or sore, you can throw two more movements as well: 

  • arm swings (holding your arms straight out to the side, and then swing them and cross them in front of your chest)
  • shoulder rotations (holding your arms straight out to the side, and move your arms in a circular motion, making bigger circles each time).

When it comes time for your workout, if you are doing heavy strength training (with barbells or dumbbells), make sure you do some warm up sets before jumping into the weight you’ll be training with for EACH EXERCISE.  Always start with a set using just the bar to work on your form and get your body used to the movement.  Then, do a few sets of just a few reps with increasing weight (but won’t tire you out) and THEN start your workout.

To answer your first few questions…

What if I don’t have a jump rope? Suck it up and go buy one!  They’re dirt cheap, and a helluva way to start off any warm-up.  Yeah, you might have crappy coordination, and you could even end up with bruised shins (and a bruised ego) to start out.  Stick with it, improve your coordination, and get your body primed in just a few minutes.

Steve, I can’t do jumping jacks/I live on the second floor.  Now, if you happen to be pretty overweight or live on the upper floor of an apartment building, then jumping jacks might not be an option for you.  That’s okay – the reason I love jumping jacks is because they work out all four of your limbs at once and get you bouncing around.  So instead, channel your inner Chuck Norris and do punches and kicks with each leg.  I don’t care if you can’t kick higher than your shins and your punch wouldn’t kill a fly…just get those limbs flailing and warmed up!

Um, your warm up is tougher than my actual workout!  The dynamic warm up above is designed for people who are doing serious training.  If you are doing heavy deadlifts and squats and overhead presses, a proper warm up could keep you out of a career-ending injury.  However, if you are just getting started with exercise and you’re only doing body weight exercises, obviously 20 real push ups during your workout isn’t possible…

THAT’S OKAY.  Think of the above as the warm-up you aspire to complete.  In the meantime, do the best you can.  Let’s say:

  • jump rope for 30 seconds,
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 10 squats
  • 5 lunges
  • 5 elevated push ups or 5 wall push ups
  • Follow the rest of the routine as planned if possible.

In this routine, your warm-up will act as part of your workout, as you’ll be doing the same functional movements.  Do the BEST you can, keep track of your results for your warm up too, and improve with each workout.  With enough consistency and persistency (not a word, but rhymed better sounded way better than persistence), you’ll be busting out the full warm-up routine before kicking ass at your actual workout!

Any more brain busters?

Hopefully this is a post you bookmark, as it’s probably one of the more important ones I’ve ever written.

What other questions can I answer for you about warming up properly?

I’m here to help!

-Steve

PS – In last week’s post, I talked about the three keys of success at Nerd Fitness: Education, Inspiration, and Support.  Well, I want to try something new around here.  Starting this week, Nerd Fitness is going to follow that structure each week.  Each Monday, you’ll find a post that educates you on how to live a better life.  On Wednesdays, you’ll find a post that inspires you to live that better life.  On Fridays, you’ll get a post full of support, including success stories and wins from your fellow rebels who are kicking ass and taking names.

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  • Kharisma Putra Kartono

    Thank you for the post. I really like the point when you suggest rebels to follow the warm up routines according to our own level because each person has his/her own unique physical fitness level.

  • CJ

    It takes me 10-15 minutes to get to the gym from my house and I would feel more comfortable doing this warm-up routine at home than at the gym in front of everyone; would that be too long of an interval between “warm-up” and “work out?”

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  • Colton Bridges

    Great info an great blog. Love the energy . An now I will go warm up properly. I was wondering if you knew if arm rotation warm up and military press are ok for rotater cuffs. Stupid injury in iraq so I been easy with it lol

  • Avis.Wendorf

    Great post! I do a dynamic warm-up similar to this with my trainer but it is just a handful of moves and goes pretty quick. I think if I did the above warm-up I’d be too tried to exercise! But I definitely want to try this as my fitness level improves :)

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  • Rebbekah

    I didn’t know I wasn’t warming up properly, so glad I found this. I would just stretch for five minutes and get going on my running for 40min.-1hr. I really messed up my hip and knee joints without properly preparing my body. Ah well, hopefully with this new workout things’ll get better.

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  • Kaydee

    Last time I did a major exercise, I didn’t warm up first. I was SO incredibly sore for nearly 2 weeks (not kidding). Anyone possibly reading this, warming up is MOST definitely important. Start doing some extreme workouts before warming up and see what I mean, though I hope you won’t because you’ll for sure regret it. Just wanted to share that experience.

    Also, I feel this post really gets on my level and speaks to me. You keep my interest because the posts seem really down to earth, real and they for sure keep a smile on my face. I’m new and already in love with this website.

  • dido

    this is one bad warm up.. too hard too little too short, all over the place and nothing is properly warmed up.. a general note on warm-ups. take your time… work all the joints in full range of motion more than once.. and do it SLOWER.. after that you can proceed to a warmup like this.. if its your leg day.. the upper body is not properly warmed up with this routine….

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  • Erich

    I hate jump rope and I’m doing my warm-up in a gym which doesn’t really have room for a jump rope (nor do they have any). So I don’t really find your answer to the question “What if I don’t have a jump rope?” unsatisfactory.

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  • brista

    Do more jumping jacks.

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  • Tony Keyworth

    I ride a fixed gear bike so don’t have the option of starting a ride on an easy gear so this type of simple dynamic warmup has become an integral part of riding particularly first thing in the morning. Not only does this get your heart and other muscles in a good place to turn the pedals it also stimulates digestion and speeds up the rate at which you feel the benefit of food and in my experience it also blows away the mental cobwebs never a bad thing when riding a bike.

  • Orange County Chiropractor

    Thanks for sharing the warm up ideas and technique of warm up..

  • Prabu Rajasekaran

    Awesome workout. Feels good doing it.

    Thank you, Nerd.

  • Kalernor

    How about if I just randomly decide to do some pull ups do I have to warm up before EVEN THAT?!

  • Betsy

    Can yoga stretches count as an effective warm up?

  • 鸣钟

    really useful article, like+1

  • Dasha

    I need to know how to stretch my calves because they cramp up just from walking! Please help!

  • holybell0

    You can do calf raises and toe bends.
    Calf raises: Stand on your toes like you are trying to tip toe. Then rest your heel back on the ground.
    Toe bends: Rock back and forth on your heels.

    I usually do 20 for each. It’s up to you. Look on YouTube if you don’t understand my descriptions. :)

  • Carrie

    This is incredibly useful! Love it! You should be recognized in every high school kinesiology class. You’re incredibly straightforward with easy to understand concepts and realistic goals. You appeal to everybody.

  • Duncan

    Really funny, Thanks shirley!

  • Lindsey

    quick question. I found this post after reading your “Beginner Body Weight Workout” post. You say in that post to warm up before doing any of those activities, but half of those activities(or similar ones) are in your beginner version of the warm up. Is there a reason why? Or am I missing something and shouldn’t actually be confused.