Warm-ups often feel useless — especially when compared with a rousing cardio session or circuit workout. But in fact, a focused, intelligent warm-up offers multiple benefits, including boosting core temperature, circulation, and metabolism; improving spatial awareness and alignment; firing up dormant muscles — and focusing your mind.
If you make a living at a desk, warming up is especially critical. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can cause key ligaments in your spine to overstretch, leaving you stuck in a closed-off, or flexed position.
“Lots of people come into the gym looking like a giant ball of flexion,” says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, owner of CORE Fitness in Brookline, Mass.
Working out in this condition is like driving with the brakes on, he explains. A good warm-up will open up the front of the body and rouse your back muscles; this helps restore proper alignment so you can play, lift, and run with greater power, efficiency, and fluidity.
Learn to do a warm-up well and, after just a few sessions, you’ll feel a major difference.
“Once people get the hang of warming up correctly,” says Gentilcore, “most of them feel so good they never go back to skipping their warm-ups again.”
Glute Bridge With Rotation
Target areas: Shoulders, upper back, hips, glutes, lower back.
- Lie on your back, arms extended directly out to your sides and palms up.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart and parallel.
- Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, press your heels into the floor, contract your glutes, and lift your hips as high as possible off the floor.
- Keeping your hips raised and both arms straight, raise your left arm from the floor and reach it across your body in a large arc, placing your left palm on top of your right.
- Reverse the movement, returning to the starting position, and lower your hips to the floor.
- Repeat, this time raising your right arm off the floor.
- Perform eight per side (alternating).
Target areas: Adductors, upper and lower back, pectorals, shoulders, glutes.
- Stand with your feet parallel, about shoulder width and a half apart.
- Keeping your lower back flat and your chest up, lower yourself as far as you can comfortably into a low squat position.
- Place your elbows against the insides of your knees and push outward slightly.
- Shift your weight forward, place your palms on the floor, straighten your back, and lift your chest as much as you can (this is your starting position).
- Raise your right hand off the floor and reach it up and back as far as you can comfortably.
- Lower your right hand back to the floor and repeat the movement with your left hand.
- Keeping your back flat, slowly walk your hands forward on the floor until you are in a bear crawl position: knees spread wide, palms and the balls of your feet on the floor, knees and hips bent 90 degrees, hands directly below your shoulders, back flat.
- Reverse the movement, walking back to the starting position, and repeat.
- Perform 10 reps.
- Note: Hold onto a stationary object (like a squat rack) for balance if necessary.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift to Cossack Squat
Target areas: Hip joints, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, upper back, lats.
- Stand upright with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot.
- Keeping your back flat and both legs straight, slowly hinge forward on your right hip, lifting your arms forward with palms down and your right leg behind you.
- Hinge forward until your torso, arms, and right leg form a straight line, parallel to the floor.
- Reverse the movement, returning to a standing position.
- Step your right foot out to the right about two shoulder widths.
- Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and hip and place both hands on the floor in front of you.
- Sink into your right hip as far as possible, turning the toes of your left foot toward the ceiling.
- Pause for one count and reverse the movement, returning to the starting position.
- Step your right foot back to a shoulder width stance.
- Repeat the entire sequence on your left side.
- Perform six reps per side.
- Note: If necessary, hold onto a railing, rack, or the handles of a suspension trainer to maintain balance throughout the movement.
One-Arm Waiter’s Carry
Target areas: Core, shoulders, hips, ankles.
- Stand holding a light-to-medium kettlebell or dumbbell in your nondominant hand.
- Press the kettlebell overhead.
- Keeping your chest high, both shoulders back and level, and neck in neutral alignment, walk forward 30 to 40 steps (a circular or figure-eight pattern is also fine).
- Switch the weight to your dominant hand and walk back to the starting point.
- Uncomfortable with your arm overhead? Use a lighter weight — or walk with the weight held by your side.
- Perform 30 to 40 steps per side.
- Note: Use a light weight (remember, this is the warm-up), and focus on not leaning as you walk.
Target areas: Hips, ankles, calves, core, and full-body explosive force.
- From a neutral stance, propel yourself forward by quickly driving your right knee upward and hopping forward slightly on your left foot. Simultaneously swing your left arm forward and your right arm back.
- Step forward with your descending right foot and immediately repeat the move on your opposite leg.
- Perform 10 to 15 steps per leg.
This article originally appeared in Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.