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Don't skip these warmup exercises before your next workout

Plus, why it helps prevent injuries and improve performance.

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In today's fast-paced world, we're all pressed for time, and this impatience affects everything from our commute to our workouts. While exercising, you probably feel tempted to get the best workout in the shortest amount of time, and this often involves skipping the warmup. Warming up feels unnecessary, but it's actually a critical part of your workout routine. If you're not warming up, start today -- it'll lower your chance of injury, help your athletic performance and even improve your mental game.

Read more: Bodyweight workouts: How to get fit without a gym or equipment

What is a warmup?

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Jumping rope is a great way to quickly warmup for your workout.

Warming up before you work out is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A proper warmup involves some light cardio, like jumping jacks or a brisk walk, and a few dynamic movements. The cardio will raise your body temperature and get some blood flowing, and dynamic movements prepare your body specifically for your favorite workout.

Dynamic movements or stretches should slowly bring the body through key ranges of motion. For example, if you're preparing to run, a great dynamic exercise is swinging your legs back and forth. The key with dynamic stretching is to perform the movements slowly. This isn't the main event -- all you're doing is getting your body ready to extend to its full range of motion.

You may have noticed something missing from the warmup -- stretching. Although we were all taught in gym class that static stretching is key, modern research advises against doing this before you work out. Static stretching essentially means stretching while standing still (think touching your toes.) It's not great to do while you're body is still cold, but it has a valuable place in the post-workout cooldown.

Why should you warm up?

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Implementing a warmup routine will help keep you healthy for years to come.

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First and foremost, warming up is a great way to prevent injury. Doing some light movement will raise your body temperature and get your blood flowing, loosening up your limbs. Think of your muscles like a rubber band — the colder and stiffer they are, the more likely they are to snap under pressure than adapt and bend. Researchers have found that warming up reduces your internal viscosity -- the thickness of your muscles -- so they can move easier and respond better to stress. So if you warm up, you won't tear a hamstring the next time you try to sprint.

Not only will warming up help you live injury-free, but it'll actually improve your performance in workouts. One study found that some easy cycling before an all-out sprint made athletes complete a subsequent time trial faster. A comprehensive review of countless studies found that warming up improves athletic performance, so you can run faster, jump farther and lift more. The key to this review was that the performance improvement only worked if the warmup included activities other than stretching.

Some of this benefit may be mental. Researchers found that a consistent warmup routine made self-conscious athletes less likely to "choke," or respond poorly under pressure. A set list of light activities you always do before starting whatever exercise you before will prime your body and mind and let yourself know it's time to shine. 

How do you warm up?

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A brisk walk is just enough to get your heart rate up.

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There's no one size fits all warmup routine, because your preworkout activities should be specific to the exercise you do. There's no use in getting your legs ready to sprint if you're trying to go for a bench press personal record.

I've provided three sample routines for a warmup to do before cardio, weight lifting, or yoga, but these routines are just starting point. You should modify the movements to help loosen up any tight areas or problem spots on your own body. Personally, I get tight hips when I run, so I make sure to focus my warmup on shaking out my hip flexors. In general, your warmup should only last 10 to 15 minutes, so you have no excuse to skip it.

How to warm up for cardio

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Loosen up your legs before hopping on the spin bike.

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  1. Jog in place for a few minutes or do 30 jumping jacks
  2. 10 to 15 knee bends
  3. 10 to 15 torso twists
  4. 15 arm circles

If you're in a time crunch, you can simply do your planned workout at a very low intensity for a few minutes. For example, if you're warming up for a jog, walk briskly for 10-15 minutes. For an intense cycling session, hop on the bike and spin your legs easy before you start cranking.

How to warm up for weightlifting

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You may have hit the weights to avoid cardio, but you should still perform some light movements to get your blood pumping.

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  1. Hop on the treadmill for a brisk 5- to 10-minute walk
  2. Perform your planned weightlifting moves without any weight for one set of five to eight reps
  3. 15 to 20 forearm wall slides 

Again, if you're short on time, you can start out your warmup by lifting lighter weights than you usually would, then working up to your heaviest set. This way, you can make progress on your workout while also getting your muscles ready to lift heavy.

How to warm up for yoga

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Don't be fooled -- yoga necessitates a warmup, too.

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  1. As always, get your blood pumping
  2. 10 to 15 neck rolls
  3. 5 to 10 hand and wrist rotations
  4. 5 to 10 cat cow moves
  5. Move into child's pose for 1 minute to regain your breath

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.