Warming up for every type of workout: The ultimate guide

Have you ever wondered why you’re getting a lot of muscle cramps the next day after your workout? It may be because warming up wasn’t part of your routine or was done incorrectly.

General warming up is not enough to prevent you from experiencing injuries and muscle soreness.

It is recommended to perform a warming up session based on a particular workout routine you are about to do.  

Cardio training (aerobic and anaerobic)

A cardio workout can be considered the most popular type of exercise because of its versatility and convenience. 

Cardio workouts have a lot of variations that are easy to do and beginners-friendly, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing and dancing. 

Any exercises that can elevate your heart rate to a level above the normal resting heart rate are considered a cardio workout, to put it simply.

With its broadness, cardio workout has two categories, namely, aerobic and anaerobic [1]. 

Steady-state (aerobic)

Aerobic exercises are the steady-state type of cardio that generally involves the pacing of your workout at any level of intensity. The goal for steady-state exercises is to keep a steady pace and intensity for the entire time of your preferred workout.

There are two types of aerobic exercises based on intensity: 

  • Low- and moderate-intensity (aerobic): low-intensity exercises have usually been characterized as any exercise that maintains your heart rate lower than 50 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). For example, your casual brisk walking in the morning or leisurely bike rides.
  • Moderate-intensity workouts: this exercise pushes your heart rate between 50 percent to 70 percent of your MHR. To know if you are doing a moderate-intensity workout, you should try to carry on a conversation and pass the talk test. 

Appropriate warm-up for aerobic workouts

In doing aerobic workouts, warming up is necessary to prepare your body at any level of intensity. A functional warm-up can gradually rev up your cardiovascular system by raising your body temperature and promoting good blood flow to your muscles. 

  • To warm up, start by moving the same patterns of your chosen exercise but do them at a low and slow pace. 
  • Then, slowly shift your intensity to a much higher pace, called the dynamic warm-up. An ideal warm-up produces mild sweating but should not tire you [2]. 

Some examples of warm-up activities based on your preferred aerobic workout: 

  • Brisk walking: start by walking slowly for five to ten minutes.
  • Running or jogging: begin by walking briskly for five to ten minutes.
  • Swimming: swim slowly for the first few minutes and then pick up the momentum as you can. 
Appropriate warm-up for aerobic workouts

High-intensity and intervals (anaerobic)

For more challenging workout routines, try high-intensity and interval cardio. Expect to perform difficult sets that elevate your heart rate above 70 percent of the MHR. 

Some common high-intensity workouts are sprints, certain forms of resistance training and high-intensity interval training. 

Interval workouts refer to different exercises broken up into a few parts and completed as part of the same workout routine. The exercises can be divided into several forms, but the most popular ones are blocks of time or distance.

Appropriate warm-up for anaerobic workouts 

For the first part of the warm-up, the primary goal is to have a good sweat and promote blood flow to your main tissues that are up for the workout routine you are about to do. 

Any warm-up exercise can be performed for the first part, which may include jogging a couple of laps, skipping rope or doing a 10-minute stationary bike–whatever exercises you know can increase your heart rate and get a little bit of a sweat.

Weight training

Many people believe in a misconception that weight training can lead to one outcome alone, which is hypertrophy.

However, you can achieve numerous fitness goals by doing weight training or also known as resistance training, especially when done with weights in the form of repetitions and set schemes. 

There are several terms that you need to be aware of when doing weight training: 

  • Hypertrophy: refers to the enlargement of muscles achieved by increasing the size of cells in muscle fiber. 
  • Muscular endurance: refers to muscles’ ability to exert tension over a long duration of moderate to intense physical activity. 
  • Muscular strength: refers to the amount of muscle force exerted in one maximum effort.
  • Cardio training: this refers to cardio-related exercises that use weights or resistance to work on improving aerobic energy systems. You can combine cardio training and weight training for a more intense workout routine. Remember to elevate your heart rate to a higher than your resting heart rate (RHR). 

Appropriate warm-up for weight training

Consider moving your whole body as you follow low-intensity exercises, such as body weight lunges, short jogs, jumping jacks, squats and push-ups. 

You can also begin with some light cardio, such as brisk walking, gentle jogging on the treadmill or incorporating another piece of cardio equipment, such as elliptical machines or stationary bikes.

Then, slowly increase the intensity of your warm-up until you feel a moderate increase in your heart rate and have a light sweat going.

You can also try foam rolling and stretching to target the muscles you will use in your workout session. However, you need to put your focus on your tightest muscles. 

Do foam rolling on your tightest muscle areas before stretching each for 20 to 30 seconds. Remember not to do deep, extended stretches right before lifting; you must do these in longer sessions, ideally for a post-workout stretch or another time of your day.

Yoga

Yoga has been a popular workout for flexibility and stretching. It helps integrate your body and breathing by following a set of movements, stretching, isometric bodyweight exercises and moving meditation.

Regular yoga can help joints become flexible, stretch ligaments and strengthen muscles [3]. 

Appropriate warm-up for yoga

Try centering by bringing your palms together in front of your heart. Breathe slowly until you feel you are focused and controlled.

Slightly contract the back of your throat and produce a very gentle sound as the air passes through when you inhale and exhale. When you do centering, you become more aware and in control of your breath flow.

Some other warm-up exercises are focusing on hamstrings and activating your back, mobilizing your wrists and spine and stretching your neck and side body. 

Appropriate warm-up for yoga

Mobility workouts

In releasing tight, sore muscles after a killer workout, mobility workouts are much more appropriate. Foam rolling is a great mobility exercise, along with some other devices.

It also provides deep tissue release, and you can perform it as a pre-workout to warm muscles up or post-workout to lessen muscle tension.

Appropriate warm-up for mobility workouts

You can do joint rotations as a warm-up for mobility workouts. To do this, start by standing with your arms hanging loosely at your sides.

Then, you must flex, extend and rotate each of the joints of your fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk and shoulder blades, hips, knees, ankles and feet and toes.

Pilates

Pilates, often called the ‘powerhouse’, promotes controlled movements emphasizing your alignment, breathing and building the core.

Doing Pilates regularly can increase flexibility and help enhance body coordination, balance and all-around stability.

Appropriate warm-up for Pilates

One common warm-up for Pilates is the Pilates imprint, a simple prone exercise to help you get in tune with your physical being. This warm-up for pilates also gradually awakens each muscle in your body.

Imprinting can be a great exercise for you, especially if you feel overwhelmed, as it helps with stress reduction. Also, it helps to ensure your mind and body are in a harmonious state before doing Pilates. 

You can also consider doing arm reach-and-pull, as shoulders are significant to any successful Pilates workout. Therefore, you need to fully limber up your arms and shoulders before working on Pilates equipment. 

Pelvic thrust exercises, also known as pelvic curl, can bring your pelvis off the floor and gently work on your abdominal and leg muscles. This type of warm-up exercise is much more intensive compared to other warm-ups. 

Reminders

Things to consider when choosing a warm-up exercise: 

  • Elevate blood flow to working tissues: your warm-up exercise routine should allow oxygen to move more easily throughout your body. As a result, your physical performance can be improved. 
  • Increase body temperature: having a high body temperature can promote perspiration which leads to an increased heart rate.
  • Increase heart rate: your warm-up exercise should allow your heart to pump up your blood faster throughout your body. This can provide your muscles with the needed oxygen and fuel them. 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329739/ 
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045517 
[3] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/yoga-health-benefits

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