We get it: Finding time to exercise can be difficult, so skipping the warm-up and cutting right to your workout can be tempting. But there are warm-up benefits you’d miss if you do so—and they’re really pretty awesome.
The warm-up is actually the most important part of the workout, certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist Keith Hodges, CPT, founder of Mind in Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles, tells SELF. That’s because it sets the tone—both physically and mentally—for what’s to come, he explains. By taking the extra minutes to properly prime your body for exercise, you can improve your chances of having an effective, safe, and more enjoyable workout.
So why do a lot of us neglect this ultra-crucial step? For many of us, it all comes down to time.
“I think most people aren’t adherent to warming up because they think it’s going to take too much time,” Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, CSCS, founder of Fit Club NY, tells SELF. In most cases though, you only need 5–10 minutes max for a quality warm-up. And slotting in that brief window does not take anything away from your workout, Scantlebury says. In fact, “it makes your workout even more targeted and even more effective,” he says.
As for what makes a good warm-up, well, that depends on a number of factors, including your fitness level as well as the length, intensity, and type of workout you’re planning to do. But as a general rule of thumb, a successful warm-up will activate the muscles you’re planning to use in your workout, dial you in mentally, and get your heart rate going, loosen areas of your body that are especially tight, and fire up your core (which plays a vital role in many of the exercises you do in your routine, even those that aren’t “core exercises”). A good warm-up should also feel about 25–50% as intense as your main workout, says Scantlebury. In other words, it’s pretty gentle.
Plus, while you may equate “stretching” with warm-ups and pre-workout preparation, it's not exactly that simple. Effective warm-ups generally emphasize dynamic stretches over static stretches—think, exercises where you're moving throughout rather than those in which you hold a pose—to help warm up your muscles and gradually raise your heart rate. For examples of what an effective warm-up looks like, check out this five-move warm-up that will prep you for any routine, as well as this upper-body warm-up.
So now that you have an idea of how to warm-up, let’s dig more into why warming up is worth your while. Here, five amazing warm-up benefits that will make you want to add one to your routine ASAP.
1. You may lower your risk of injury.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of warming up before a workout? It can help reduce your chances of injury.
That’s because a warm-up triggers certain physiological responses—including increased blood flow, respiration, and heart rate—that play an important role in helping your body ward off injury, certified strength and conditioning specialist Janet Hamilton, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and running coach with Running Strong in Atlanta, tells SELF. Increased blood flow to your tissues, as well as the heat your muscles generate when they contract, combine to make your tendons and connective tissues more resilient to the loads your body will face during the most intense portions of your workout, she says. Moreover, warming up helps your body gradually get used to movements at greater intensity so you can perform better and more safely as the workout goes along, per the American Council on Exercise.