mountain climber warm-up exercise

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Hate Warming Up? These 7 Exercises Are Fast, Simple, and Get You Ready for Anything

If you're thinking of skipping your warm-up, try these instead.

By Kristine ThomasonJanuary 18, 2024


Ahh, warm-ups—you love ‘em, you hate ‘em, you probably tend to skip them. Although most of us have been told time and time again that preparing our bodies for a workout has a wide range of benefits, when you’re crunched for time (or you just want to skip straight to the main event), it’s easy to forgo this seemingly superfluous add-on. But, according to Peloton instructor Ash Pryor, it’s time to put warming up back on your priority list. 

Why is Warming Up Important?

While it might seem like no big deal to skip your warm-up sesh, it’s arguably the most important part of your routine because it sets the stage for what’s to come, both physically and mentally. And taking just a few extra minutes before jumping into your workout can help you feel better, minimize injury, and optimize your efforts. 

“Warming up is very key, to your overall training and to your exercise execution,” says Ash. “People used to think it was for physical readiness, but now we know it’s also about mental readiness and injury prevention.”

Here’s how she puts it: Think about it like you’re preheating an oven before making cookies—versus trying to bake them in the microwave to save time (even if you haven’t tried this, you can probably guess what they might look like). In other words: Taking one extra step can ultimately leave you with a better result and save you from a lot of headache. 

Still not convinced? Check out a few of the top benefits of warming up, according to Ash.

It Provides an Opportunity to Check In with Your Body

First and foremost, a warm-up is like a much-needed full body (and mind) survey. “A lot of times, we’re either working out before work, during our lunch break, or after work, and there's so much that's clogging our head, which leaves room for mishaps,” says Ash. “That’s why using that warm-up to dial in to you, what's going on, and the environment around you is so critical.”

Before you start a warm-up, Ash recommends asking yourself a few key questions, like: “Where am I at physically and mentally today? What movements am I doing? What is the goal today?” 

This self check-in can help you recognize things during your warm-up, like imbalances or difficulties with certain movements, says Ash. “That might mean you need to scale back or add a bit more stability work.” Either way, you’re mentally preparing and connecting to your body for the work ahead. This can help you make the most of your workout time, and keep you from mindlessly going through the motions (which could potentially lead to injury). 

It Properly Revs up Your Heart Rate and Circulation 

Many people might not associate cardiovascular health with warm-ups, but Ash says it’s a key consideration. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, slowly raising your heart rate helps minimize stress on your heart (this is especially important for anyone with a cardiovascular condition, or someone who is new to higher-intensity workouts). 

What’s more, taking your body through a series of warm-up movements helps dilate your blood vessels, which gradually increases blood flow, body temperature, and sends oxygen to your muscles. It also helps to lubricate your joints, explains Ash. 

It Prepares Your Body to Function Effectively

Engaging in targeted warm-up exercises (think: bodyweight squats before weighted ones) can help increase circulation, range of motion, and muscle length in those specific areas, “so your muscles are getting nice and juicy and feeling confident in those movements,” says Ash. Plus, when your muscles and tendons are elongated, it enables you to perform the exercise safely and reduces the risk of injury or tearing.

It Optimizes Muscle Performance

Not only does a warm-up wake your body up and prepare it to move safely, but it also can help make your workouts more effective. “You’re going to notice that your coordination and agility will improve, because you’re a bit looser overall and more prepared to adjust on the fly,” says Ash.

In fact, a recent study in the Journal of General Physiology found that heating skeletal muscle (via a warm-up) can rapidly activate contractile proteins, or proteins involved in muscle contraction. According to the researchers, this, in turn, can improve muscle performance.

How To Warm Up Properly

It’s important to keep in mind that there are various types of warm-ups, and they’re not necessarily one-size-fits-all. As Ash explains, a general warm-up, like a swift walk or light jog, is primarily designed to get your heart rate going, however, it might not be directly catered to the workout you’re planning to do. That’s where sport-specific warm-ups come in.

A more comprehensive warm-up is strategically designed to prepare your body for a set type of exercise—such as a weight training routine that targets one particular muscle group, or a speed-focused running day. This type of warm-up generally includes a combination of flexibility, mobility, and cardiorespiratory work. For instance, “If you're going to do more plyometrics or a lot of jumping, you're going to want a warm-up that will support that action, especially with your landing mechanics,” says Ash. “Versus, if I'm going to row and that's low impact, then I'm probably not going to want to go for a run beforehand.”

One thing that’s important to note—no matter what type of warm-up you do—is that it shouldn’t leave you feeling too exhausted or depleted, with nothing left in the tank, says Ash. What’s more, “you should scale your warm-up to support the athletic work that you're doing, don’t deplete or detract from that main goal,” she says. 

Looking for a guided warm-up? Explore more on the Peloton App.

How Long Do You Need to Warm Up For?

The actual length of a warm-up can vary depending on the workout ahead—again, you don’t want to overdo it before you’ve even kicked off the main event. But, generally speaking, 5 to 10 minutes should do the trick. There are a number of great warm-up routines to try on the Peloton App, as well—such as a 5-minute Pre-Run Warm-Up, a 10-minute Warm-Up Walk, or a 10-minute Upper Body Strength Warm-Up

The Difference Between Warm-Ups and Stretching

While warm-ups don’t always necessarily include stretching, stretching can be a very useful warm-up tool. In short: Stretching is any form of movement that temporarily lengthens your muscles. The two most common types of stretching you generally hear about are dynamic (when you actively move through a full range of motion) and static (holding a position that creates tension in the muscle, without movement). 

There is some debate about stretching ahead of workouts, but Ash believes both types of stretching may come in handy during various types of warm-ups. “I will do a static stretch before I go into yoga because I also need to slow things down,” she says. Whereas, dynamic stretching can help fire up the muscles and reveal any potential muscle imbalances or weaknesses.

Our Favorite Warm-Up Exercises 

Here, Ash outlines her go-to warm-up exercises that are great ahead of just about any workout. 

1. Shadowboxing

Shadowboxing Warm-Up

Ash says shadowboxing is a fun workout that helps engage your mind and fire up your core muscles. “You have to think about whether you’re going for a hook versus an uppercut, along with: Where is your shoulder position? What does your stance look like? Is your core engaged? Are you exhaling with each punch?” she notes.”You’re also visualizing, so there's a lot of different senses that are used in shadowboxing.”

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, fists raised in front of your face. 

  2. Engage your core and start throwing punches, alternating between jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts. 

  3. Focus on maintaining core stability and timing your movements with your breath. 

  4. Incorporate footwork by shuffling and pivoting to simulate dodging and weaving.

2. Jump Roping

Jump roping is another great cardio-based warm-up move that also requires some mental agility. Pryor recommends moving through 50 to 100 reps and alternating with another warm-up exercise for five minutes total. No jump rope? No problem. You can mimic the motion of jumping rope sans equipment.

  1. Hold the jump rope handles in each hand, elbows close to your body. 

  2. Jump with both feet off the ground, rotating the rope with your wrists. 

  3. Land softly on the balls of your feet and maintain a steady rhythm. 

  4. As you progress, try different jump rope techniques, such as double-unders or high knees, to intensify the workout.

3. High Knees

An ideal bodyweight move you can do anywhere, high knees help slowly increase your heart rate while activating your lower body. By focusing on your core engagement and pumping your arms, this exercise quickly becomes a full body warm-up. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. 

  2. Lift one knee towards your chest, then quickly switch to the other leg, as if jogging in place. 

  3. Keep your core engaged, pump your arms in sync with your knees, and maintain a brisk pace. 

4. Incline Walking on a Treadmill

Incline Walking on a Treadmill

If you have access to a treadmill (say, the Peloton Tread), incorporating incline treadmill walking into your workouts can be an amazing warm-up, according to Ash. “I'll do a progression of one minute walking at a 1.5 incline, then take it up every 30 seconds until I’m flirting with jogging. Then I’ll gradually bring it back down,” she says. During this time, she recommends checking in with your hips, glutes, and lower body range of motion.

  1. Set the treadmill at a slight incline. 

  2. Begin walking at a moderate pace, pumping your arms naturally. Engage your core and focus on each step. 

  3. Adjust the incline and speed based on your fitness level.

5. Cycling

Hopping on the bike as part of your warm-up is another effective way to get your body ready for a higher level of effort, Ash suggests. She recommends setting the resistance a bit higher and moving at a slow cadence, with occasional quick bursts. 

  1. Begin with a light warm-up by pedaling at a slow pace with a higher resistance. 

  2. Mix in intervals by alternating between periods of increased intensity (sprinting) and recovery (gentle pedaling). 

  3. Focus on proper form, engaging your core, and keeping a steady breathing rhythm. 

5. Side Shuffle or Carioca

Another great way to wake up your lower body and get your heart rate up gradually, side shuffling is one of Ash’s go-to's.

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step to the side with one foot, then quickly bring the other foot to meet it. 

  2. Continue shuffling laterally, maintaining a low stance with slightly bent knees. 

  3. Alternate directions to work both sides.

  4. To add intensity, incorporate a carioca step by crossing one foot over the other as you move sideways or add a resistance band. 

6. Butt Kicks

This exercise targets your hamstrings and helps wake up the cardiovascular system.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 

  2. Lift one heel towards your glutes while keeping the knee bent. 

  3. Alternate quickly between legs, allowing your heels to lightly tap your buttocks with each kick.

  4. Keep your core engaged and swing your arms in sync with your legs. 

7.  Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climber Warm-Up

Mountain climbers are a great full body warm-up move that engage your core, shoulders, and leg muscles, plus revs your heart rate.

  1. Start in plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders. 

  2. Drive one knee towards your chest, then quickly switch legs in a running motion.

  3. Keep your core tight, back flat, and maintain a steady pace. 


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