Somewhere between lacing up your sneaks and starting your first set of squats, you face the most important decision of your workout: Warm up, or not? There's a good chance you just skip it. After all, you can barely carve out a 30-minute workout window. Who wants to waste one valuable calorie-torching minute on tedious knee hugs and neck rolls?
But the short-term investment pays off big-time if you do it right. "The best way to warm up is with dynamic stretching," says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Baltimore. This stretches a muscle at its full range of motion (a body-weight lunge is a great example).
Dynamic stretching increases flexibility, improves blood flow, and decreases your risk of injury and your recovery time. Translation: Your workout will feel easier, and you'll see faster results. This three-part dynamic warm-up from Tumminello gets your heart rate up, your muscles prepped, and your body seriously ready to turn heads.
1. Turn It On: Nervous System Activation (Moves Level 1-3)
Even if your brain is saying "Bring it!" your muscles aren't ready to work when you first hit the gym. Your central nervous system, which controls movement and activity, is basically in "power save" mode (blame it on a day at the desk or hours in front of the TV). So before you jump into a workout, your brain needs to signal your body that it's time for quick, explosive activity. These moves kick your nervous system into high gear by calling your coordination into action while raising your heart rate and body temperature. The result: Your muscles respond more effectively during your workout.
2. Up the Ante: Muscle Engagement (Moves Level 4-6)
Now that you've got your heart pumping, this phase will turn on weak and underutilized muscles: glutes, abdominals, hip flexors, and lower and upper back muscles. These "core muscles" are responsible for maintaining stability and control in your joints while you move. Forgetting to activate these muscles raises your risk of injury.
3. Push Further: Dynamic Mobility (Moves Level 7-9)
For the finale, you'll increase the range of motion at your joints, while improving the flexibility in your large muscle groups from head to toe. And that's a big deal: When your mobility is compromised by stiff muscles, you spend more energy during your workout fighting against your body's limitations, rather than burning calories.