The importance of warming up before exercise

Ever had the feeling of being in a rush? When even just getting to the gym can seem like an effort? Finally, once you’re there, you know that there’s no time to be wasted and in your race to get into your stride with limited time, warming up can seem like a pointless distraction; and a cool down is even easier to sacrifice. The only problem with this is that you’re not only risking injury, you’re risking muscular gains and improvements in your health and fitness. And to all the gym goers out there, that is surely the worst thought of all.


The main purpose of a warm up is to prepare your body for a training session and to get you ‘in the zone’. If you exercise with cold muscles without functionally preparing them, you increase the risk of doing some serious damage. A 2008 study in the Strength and Conditioning Research journal found injuries to skeletal muscle, attributed to unpreparedness to exercise, form 30% of those seen in sports medicine clinics. Most people know that a warm up gets the muscles firing and increases blood flow; but few realise that it also facilitates nerve transmission, synovial fluid secretion in the joints and muscle metabolism. These are benefits that you can’t afford to miss out on and a 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a warm up can increase performance by 79%.


The most efficient warm up would be split into three short stages:

  1. A little light cardio to increase body temperature
  2. Some dynamic stretches to reduce muscle stiffness such as lunges and mountain climbers
  3. Specific light exercises that replicate what you’re going to do in the session

If you’ve carved out time for a serious session, you have carved out time to include a warm up and cool down. Follow our guidelines below for a full body warm up that will prime your muscles and increase your muscular and fitness gains.


You can also tailor your warm up towards your current goals. For example, if you are planning on lifting weights, your ‘specific exercises’ section of the warm up would see you using light weights performed with good form for a manageable number of repetitions for the main weights exercises you will be performing. After your initial set, you would then look to progressively increase the weight up to your ‘working set’ where you are pushing your muscles. Just make sure you maintain a manageable rep count each time, or you’ll be shattered before you’ve begun the proper work. Before each different exercise, you would then replicate the light-to-heavy weight progression to build up to your working set.

To prime yourself for cardio and weight loss, try adding in some skipping. Ten minutes jumping rope is equivalent to half an hour on the treadmill. You’ll be torching calories and priming your body for the main event.


When it comes to a cool down, you need to relax about losing time. A cool down allows blood flow to return to normal, helps clear lactic acid, increases mobility and flexibility, and is an opportunity to relax and reflect.

The best cool downs target the muscles you’ve been working throughout your session. Your body needs to remember the point to which it has been stretched throughout the workout, so stretch the muscle groups you used the most for 30 seconds each to the point of tension and mild discomfort but not so far as to create pain. Repeat the process for all the major muscles you’ve just worked out. For example, if you’ve just had a hard squats session, make sure you use a variety of stretches for your quads, hamstrings and glutes. You’ll appreciate these tips the following day, trust me.



  • Cross-trainer – 3-5 minutes
  • Foam roll (back, legs) – 3 minutes
  • Arm swings, down and back – 10 reps
  • Arm swings, side/front crossover – 10 reps
  • Pelvis rotations – 10 reps each way
  • Leg swings, forward and back – 10 reps each leg
  • Leg swings, cross body – 10 reps each leg
  • Lunge with twist – 10 reps each leg
  • Small jumps on spot, calves – 20 reps

Owen Thomas

Personal Trainer

Fitness Body Pro

Chris James
Top Local Trainer Author
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