This article was updated for accuracy and relevance on December 24th, 2021.
After locking away your sports tote bag and heading to the gym floor, pre-workout stretches should be at the top of your workout checklist.
Specifically, range-of-motion warm-ups prepare your body for rigorous activity by warming and promoting blood flow to your muscles, which increases your flexibility and decreases the chance of pulling a muscle.
You may not be as stretchy as Elastigirl from The Incredibles, but you’ll come pretty close with this lineup of stretching warm ups to start your gym routine the right way.
Why are Warm Up Stretches Important?
Incorporating at-home or gym warm up stretches in your pre-workout routine before reaping the benefits of sweating can help avoid muscle injury, increase joint flexibility, and enhance workouts by:
- Increasing blood flow – When you move, your heart rate increases, distributing oxygen-filled blood throughout your body to, quite literally, breathe new life into your muscles, preparing them for a rigorous workout.
- Reducing tightness – When your body temperature increases, the nerve transmissions in your muscles function more efficiently. As such, stretching before lifting or running can help your muscles fall into a relaxed state, which may improve your athletic performance.1
- Supporting mindfulness – Pre-workout stretches are a great way to get your head in the game. Mentally preparing for a workout can help you focus on your body and meet specific physical goals during the workout.
And the best thing of all? Warm up exercises can be performed anytime and anywhere—whether you’re working out in your at-home gym or waiting in line to use the leg press machine at the gym.
1. The Lunge and Twist
The lunge and twist falls under the category of dynamic stretching exercise—full-body stretching that utilizes active movements to engage and stretch the muscles to their full range of motion.2
If you’re preparing for a more strenuous workout, like a long-distance run, you’ll want to incorporate a few dynamic gym stretches into your warmup, such as the lunge and twist, into your pre-workout routine to improve your muscle strength and increase your flexibility.
The lunge and twist incorporates two separate movements: a lower body lunge and an upper-body twist. To begin, you’ll want to:
- Stand up straight and arrange your feet so that they’re pointing forward and are situated hip-width apart.
- Step forward with your right leg and put your weight on your heel. Then, bend the right knee so that it’s at a 90-degree angle and lower your body toward the ground. Ensure that your front knee is parallel to the floor and in a lunge position.
- Once you feel stable in the lunge position, twist your upper body to the right and engage your core by tightening the muscles in your lower abdomen.
- Then, return to the center and repeat the process with the opposite leg, walking forward and alternating each time for about 10 repetitions on each side.
The lunge and twist dynamic stretch targets your hip flexor muscles and engages the legs, glutes, and hips. The core rotation also strengthens the upper and middle back muscles, as well as the abdomen.
You can also incorporate a hand-held weight, such as a medicine ball or a dumbbell to further engage and strengthen the core muscles. (If you’re using a medicine ball, hold it close to your chest. If you’re utilizing dumbbells, hold each weight in one hand and keep your arms extended at your sides.)
2. The Open Lizard
For this stretch, you’re going to have to embrace your reptilian brain, figuratively. The Open Lizard stretch is a type of yoga pose that improves flexibility in the hips and strengthens the leg muscles, which is one of the main benefits of yoga in general:
- Because this exercise is a yoga pose, you’ll want to slowly lead into the stretch by starting in the Downward Dog position:
- Begin on your hands and knees, making sure your legs and arms are shoulder-width apart.
- Then, press your palms firmly into the ground, tuck your toes, and lift your knees off the floor so that your body makes an “A” shape, with your pelvis reaching toward the ceiling.
- To transition into the Open Lizard position:
- Step your right foot forward so that it’s sitting on the outside edge of your right hand.
- Lower your left knee to the ground, keeping your arms and back straight.
- Press your forearms to the ground, keeping your head aligned with your spine.
- Straighten your left leg, so that your knee is no longer on the ground and your left foot is flat.
- Hold the pose for as long as you need, then repeat on the other side.
The Open Lizard stretch is one of the best stretches to do before running since it engages and stretches the areas most impacted when jogging long distances: your hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
3. The Standing Quad Stretch
The standing quad stretch is a static stretch that’s easy and effective—not to mention one of the most popular stretches to do before working out. Static stretching involves targeting specific muscles and holding the position for a period of time—usually up to 45 seconds.
When performing the standing quad stretch, begin by:
- Standing firmly on the ground and bending your right leg backward at the knee, so that the heel of your right foot is touching your glute
- Taking your right hand and holding your foot, bringing your heel behind you
- Pulling your foot toward your tailbone, while keeping your back straight and your left knee slightly bent
- Holding the position as long as possible, then repeating on the opposite side
Quad stretches are used to target your quadriceps and improve movement in your knee joints.
While performing this dynamic warm up exercise, some athletes struggle to maintain their balance. As such, it’s helpful to lock your eyes on a stationary object, such as a rock or a single point on the wall to reduce any shaking or tottering.
4. The Triceps Stretch
In the realm of static stretching, there are also a variety of upper-body flexibility exercises that can warm up your arm muscles before a big lifting day. Your triceps are located on the backside of your upper arms and are often used when bench pressing or when performing arm extensions and pushups.
The tricep stretch is easy to execute no matter where you are—whether you’re at home, in the gym, or on the track:
- First, you’ll want to stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart (you can also do this stretch sitting down if it’s easier on your body).
- Then, reach your right arm straight into the sky and bend it at the elbow so that the inside of your hand is touching the upper part of your back.
- Grab your right elbow with your left hand and press your elbow down with slight pressure for as long as you need. You’ll feel a stretch along the back of your upper arm.
For an alternative tricep stretch, extend your arms away from your body so that they’re parallel to the ground. Then, move your arms in small circles to create mobility.
5. The Deltoid Stretch
The deltoid stretch is another static stretch that targets the muscles in your outer shoulder blade. It’s a fantastic warm-up prior to dumbbell presses, lateral raises, and burpees.
You can stretch the deltoid muscle fibers in various ways by focusing on its three segments: the anterior, lateral, and posterior:
- Anterior deltoid stretch – The anterior deltoid is located in the front of your shoulder. Start by reaching your arms behind your back and interlacing your fingers. Then, squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly straighten your arms.
- Lateral and posterior deltoid stretch – The lateral deltoid is located in the middle portion of your shoulder muscle, while the posterior deltoid is located near your back. Relax your shoulders and extend one arm across your chest, using the opposite hand to pull your arm closer to your body. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then repeat the routine with your other arm.
Deltoid stretches can help improve your posture and increase motion in your upper body to mitigate tightness or muscle soreness.
It’s Just as Important to Cool Down, Too
In addition to warm-up stretches before physical activity, cool-down stretches can be a great way to enhance future workouts and jump-start the recovery process after a difficult session by:
- Lowering your heart rate – After a workout, your body temperature is most likely higher than normal and your blood vessels are dilated, which may cause fainting or dizziness. Give your body time to wind down after a workout by choosing slow-moving cooldowns, such as static stretches or yoga positions to slow your heart rate and regulate blood flow throughout the body.
- Supporting muscle and joint recovery – A stretching routine after a workout can reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles, which is the main contributor to post-workout soreness. By stretching, you can set yourself up for success for future workouts by reducing tension and tightness in your muscles before it develops into aches and pains.
Make BEIS Your Workout Partner
Stretching is a fantastic accessory to your workout routine. Both warm-up and cool-down stretches can improve your muscle movement and reduce stiffness before and after a strength training workout.
Consider accessorizing your gym-time routine with BEIS.
We offer a lineup of on-the-go bags, from The Sport Tote to The Sport Duffle to carry your gym essentials, whether it’s your lucky tennis racket or your favorite yoga mat. We even have portable Sport Packs and Water Bottle Slings so you can skip the locker room and head straight to the weight room. BEIS bags are also great options when you’re wondering what to bring on a hike!
Bolster your gym routine with BEIS. All other claims to active bags are BEIS-less.
- Tri-City Medical Center. Why Warming Up and Cooling Down is Important. https://www.tricitymed.org/2016/12/warming-cooling-important/
- Medical News Today. What is dynamic stretching and how to do it. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dynamic-stretching#definition
- PennState Extension. Warm-up and Cool-down. https://extension.psu.edu/warm-up-and-cool-down
- Seattle Pediatric Sports Medicine. Warm-Up Arm Stretches. http://seattlepediatricsportsmedicine.com/warm-up-arm-stretches/