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Dynamic Warm-up: A Better way to get moving

Dynamic warm-up: A better way to get moving

We all know that warming up before we exercise is beneficial.  It gets our blood flowing, increases our heart rate, and prepares us for what’s coming, all while reducing risk of injury.  Unfortunately, many of us skip this important step before a work-out or playing our favorite sport. 

Perhaps we think it takes too long when our lives are so busy or we think we simply won’t get hurt if we skip this important step, but our warm-up doesn’t have to take long, require special equipment, or even use a lot of space.  While warming-up may have us ease into our full range of motion, it shouldn’t start out with static stretching.

Static stretches involve getting into a certain position and holding that position for a certain duration to stretch the muscle (often 10+ seconds). While static stretching can certainly be beneficial, doing this when you have not raised your core body temperature can lead to muscle pulls and may possibly even impact our explosiveness, agility, balance, and reaction times in a negative way (McMillan et al, 2006). 

The point of warming up is “to increase body temperature and heart rate, pliability of joints and muscles, and responsiveness of nerves and muscles in preparation for physical readiness training activities” (McMillan et al, 2006).  Static stretching doesn’t do this.  So what should we do instead?  I suggest doing a dynamic warm-up. 

Not only do dynamic warm-up activities get us ready for what’s coming next, they can also offer improvements in our performance.  Several studies have shown that sprinting, jumping, and agility activities (things that include stopping, changing directions, and accelerating again with control) improve with a dynamic warm-up over static stretching (Troumbley 2010). 

So what is a dynamic warm-up?  What sorts of movements does it include?  I’m glad you asked.  Dynamic warm-ups consist of various movements that move through ranges of motion without holding more than a second or two as well as movements that call upon large muscle groups to work so as to raise the body’s core temperature. 

There are many things you can incorporate into your dynamic warm-up and there’s no particular order required.  That may depend more on how your body is feeling that day, what type of space you’re in, etc. 

When putting a warm-up together, I focus on keeping movements functional and using multiple muscle groups in your body, as the body does not work in isolation (meaning it’s rare to do something in your every-day life or training that just involves one muscle).  I also try to not to do too many activities in a row that target the same muscle groups to ensure a thorough, full body warm-up and to prevent fatigue.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Jogging- This can be done in place or moving. This is not a sprint, but a slow jog to begin to increase our heart rate without being too taxing. 
  2. Jogging with high knees- Same as above, but incorporating lifting the knees up towards the height of your hip. These are more tiring, so make sure you don’t overdo it with this one.  You may only need to do this for a short time. 
  3. Jumping jacks- These are a great way to get your blood pumping and can be done stationary and in a fairly small space. I also sometimes do them with turns to the right and left, which increase my heart rate more. 
  4. Carioca- This is the more formal way of saying “grapevine”. You do need some space to travel with this one, so be mindful of that.
  5. Lunges- I love incorporating lunges into my dynamic warm-up and do so regularly. They can be done stationary, traveling, with an upper body twist, and even backwards.  Get creative with these.  Do different styles different days to keep your warm-up fresh. 
  6. Standing knee-to-chest- In this exercise, you may remain stationary, or you can walk around the space that you’re in, bringing one knee up to your chest and hugging it to you for just a moment before switching sides.
  7. Kick-outs front- Stand on one leg and pick your knee up in front of you (like a march). Then, straighten your top leg to get a gentle stretch behind the knee and in the hamstring.  I prefer to do them in parallel and with a flexed foot to target my hamstrings a bit more, but they don’t have to be done this way.
  8. Kick-outs side- These are just like kick-outs to the front, but with the knee open and the top leg straightening towards the side (knee up to the ceiling once straight). Again, I prefer a flexed foot here to target my inner hamstrings and adductors, but you can point the foot, as well.  Be gentle with these so as to not upset your groin muscles.
  9. Heel-to-butt- You can do these while jogging or walking. They can be done in place, or traveling.  While walking or jogging, try to kick your heel to your bottom with your back leg.  This begins to stretch the quadriceps in the front of the thigh. 
  10. Leg lift back (straight leg or attitude)- This may be targeted more at dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, and those of the like, but this is essentially lifting the leg in back to an arabesque or attitude to begin to open up the front of the hip. For the non-dancers out there, step one leg forward, and lift the other leg straight up in back behind you.  I usually do these with my knee turned out, but you can do them in parallel, as well. 
  11. Squats- This one is probably self-explanatory and is one I incorporate into my dynamic warm-up regularly. These can be done without a lot of space, as they are stationary.  Remember to try your best to keep the knees over the ankles instead and in line with the 2nd toe (versus falling in towards midline).  This keeps undue pressure off of the knees (and your knees with thank you in 10 or 20 years). 
  12. Burpees- Most people know what these are already, as well. If not, you can easily find a video (or several) on youtube.com.  I don’t always drop all the way down to the floor and back up when I do these.  I feel there’s an option for both.  Be mindful that these can also be quite tiring, so if you’re not used to doing them, don’t do too many as you begin to incorporate them into your warm-up. 
  13. Planks (front to side or other variations)- I love including planks in my dynamic warm-up, as they incorporate so many muscle groups and warm up your core. They can be done in push-up position or on the elbows.  They can be done by moving from the front to the side (which is a great shoulder opener if you lift the top arm up to the ceiling in your side plank).  You can bring one knee out to the side towards your shoulder or elbow.  There are so many options with this one.  Again, get creative. 
  14. Squat-jumps- These start as squats and end with a jump. Watch the knees when landing, making sure that they stay in line with your ankles and don’t fall in towards the midline as you land.  These are another one that can be tiring, so a word of caution here. 
  15. Push-ups- Again, several options here. You can keep your arms narrow, wide, or “neutral”.  You can even do them in a “downward facing dog” position.  Are push-ups hard for you?  Modify them by dropping the knees onto the floor (perhaps with a blanket under them if your knees give you trouble) or place your hands on a barre or something higher then the ground for incline push-ups.
  16. Inch worms/Caterpillars- These start in a plank or push-up position. Then, walk your feet towards your hands to end up in more of a down dog position.  Then, walk your hands back out in front to return to your starting position.  These can also be done backwards. 
  17. Airplanes/moving warrior 3’s/Golf lifts- These are usually done traveling, but can step forward and return to your starting position if you don’t have a lot of room. Step one leg in front, and then lean forward while picking the back leg up in the air behind you.  You can reach towards the floor (like many would when getting their golf ball out of the hole) or keep your arms out the side.  These can be done turned-in or turned out.
  18. Elbow to knee- These can be done traveling or in place. Bring one knee up towards your opposite elbow and touch your elbow to it.  This will help warm-up the hip flexors as well as your core muscles, like your obliques. 
  19. Bridges- these are done lying on your back. With your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, stomp your feet on the ground and lift your hips and buttocks into the air.  Keep your core muscles tight.  If this hurts your back at all, choose a different exercise, or adjust how high you lift.  These can also be done with one leg in the air. 

You don’t need to do all of these activities, and you can always incorporate your own.  These are just some ideas.  You may decide if you want to do these for a certain amount of time or for a certain amount of repetitions, or you can just go by feel (as some of these exercises are more tiring than others). 

I usually warm up this way for roughly 10 minutes total before moving onto dynamic stretching (more on that coming soon).  Have fun with it, as you should enjoy what you’re doing as much as you can while achieving your goals of properly warming up.