Running at sunset - Dublin, Ireland - Color street photography
Photo courtesy Giuseppe Milo

Improve workout results and prevent injury by warming up

By Christie Melhorn, October 20 2017 — 

When you’re under a time crunch at the gym, it’s tempting to skip warming up and launch straight into working out. In my 10 years of dance, my teachers emphasized the importance of warm-ups. But when I danced less during my undergrad, I habitually stopped warming up, despite knowing the risk of strain and injury from exerting cold muscles. I would maybe do a few leg swings then run grueling sprints followed by weights. Even worse, I got used to my legs feeling like cement from muscle tension, which hindered my performance and still bothers me when I exercise.

If you normally skip warming up, try the following moves I learned from my dance experience, Men’s Fitness and bodybuilding.com. After a week, you’ll likely see how the extra five or 10 minutes can improve flexibility and boost performance — it’s worth it.  

1. Spine rolls:

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart with a soft bend in your knees. Slowly tilt your head forward, bringing your chin towards your neck. Engage your core and curl your upper body down towards the ground with your head leading. Deepen the bend in your knees as you proceed down. Once your head is near or past your knees — wherever is more comfortable — reverse the movement by gently tilting your head back. Push your chest out and arch your spine as you raise to standing. Take two counts of eight seconds to curl down and up. Repeat three to five times. For a fun challenge, speed up the process to two counts of four seconds and then two counts of two seconds.

2. Walk-out planks:

Stand hip-distance apart. Roll your shoulders back and tuck your pelvis under your spine to stand tall. Raise your arms over head with your palms facing inwards. Hingeing at the hips, slowly lower your upper body towards the top of your thighs. Try to bring your hands to the floor but don’t force it. Walk your hands forward along the ground into a plank position. Ensure your hands are planted in alignment with your shoulders. Avoid scrunching your shoulders up beside your ears and or letting them round forward. Keep your body in a straight line by tightening your core — this will prevent your hips from lifting up or your pelvis sinking down. After holding for 20–30 seconds, walk your hands back to your feet and slowly curl your spine up to stand. Repeat three to five times.

3. Forward lunges:

With feet hip-width apart, take a big step forward with one foot, letting your weight shift with it. Plant your forward foot flat on the ground and bend your knees to lower your body. Keep your weight rooted in your heel for balance. Stop when your back shin is parallel to the ground. Avoid letting your front knee obscure your toes in your line of vision. After 10–15 seconds, push into the heel of your planted foot to return upright. Repeat on the other side. Lunge three to five times with each leg.

4. Knee hugs:

With your feet hip-distance apart, stand with your shoulders rolled back and your spine straight. Engage your core to raise one knee up. Cup your hands around your knee and pull it in towards your chest. Avoid tilting your hips and keep your lower foot firmly rooted. If it feels right, raise your arm opposite to the leg you are holding and reach towards the ceiling your with fingers splayed and palm facing inward. Hold for 10–15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat three to five times on each side.

5. Hamstring swoops:

Standing hip-width apart with your arms by your side, step one foot forward. Dig your heel into the floor and flex your foot. With soft knees and a flat back, hinge at your hips and lower your upper body until parallel to the ground. Raise your arms above your head then circle them backwards to swoop up past your legs. Let the momentum of your arms deepen the stretch. Repeat three to five times on each leg.

If you feel any weird twinges, pain or discomfort while warming up, withdraw from the pose. Always go at your own pace and seek medical attention if needed.

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