Warming up and stretching. Are these words synonymous? According to a growing body of scientific evidence, they’re not. And if you’re looking to improve your power and agility in the gym, you may want to add a different term to your lexicon — dynamic warm-up. Just as the name implies, it’s not flowing movements and static poses but rather a series of calisthenics and movement drills to prepare your body for the work ahead. Research performed by the U.S. Army found that dynamic warm-ups increase your heart rate, body temperature, muscle and joint pliability, as well as nerve and muscle responsiveness, thus preparing your body for the tough workout ahead.

“You can use dynamic warm-ups before any fitness or sport activity, especially those that involve power and strength, such as resistance training, kick-boxing and cycling,” says Michele S. Olson, PhD, CSCS, FACSM, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Birmingham, Alabama. “A dynamic warm-up prevents the loss of power that can occur when using static stretching as a warm-up [Ed Note: One theory suggests this happens because static stretching activates fewer motor units] and therefore reduces the likelihood of someone overdoing it to compensate for the loss of power and strength that static stretching creates.”

Olson suggests that your dynamic warm-up should be specific to your workout. “Mimic the movements you’re about to do using high repetitions and no weight,” she says. For example, before your leg workout, do some walking lunges, high knee raises and half-squats, all without weight. “Start out slow with lower ranges, begin to increase the range of motion and then speed up the pace,” Olson recommends. “This will allow your circulation to rise to keep pace with the more dynamic warm-up.”

The following pages outline a dynamic warm-up routine that you can do before a full-body workout. It’s based on the U.S. Army research mentioned earlier. Keep your intensity level to a low-to-moderate level to prevent fatigue, which can be difficult since some of these movements are just plain fun to do. Now go warm up!

Image Credit: Alexa Miller


Warms up: Back, shoulders, hamstrings

Start: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your arms reaching toward the ceiling. Align your head neutrally, looking straight ahead.

Movement: Bend over while moving your hands forward and down in an arc so that you reach between your legs, allowing your back to flex. Keep your heels on the floor. Retrace your path to return to start.

Cadence: Slow



Warms up: Shoulders, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings

Start: Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet together.

Movement: Step back with one leg and plant your toes on the floor. Lower yourself by bending both legs. Keep most of the weight on your front leg and, at the same time, reach overhead. Return to the start in one motion.

Cadence: Slow



Warms up: Abdominals, obliques, back

Start: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at shoulder level and straight out to your sides, with your palms up. Look straight ahead. Keep your abs tight.

Movement: Without moving your head, hips or feet, turn your shoulders to one side with one arm forward and the other rearward. Pause and return to start. Repeat in opposite direction.

Cadence: Slow



Warms up: Abs

Start: Lie faceup on the floor with your arms straight overhead and your legs straight. Hold your head a few inches off the floor.

Movement: In one motion, raise yourself to a seated position while also bending your legs until your feet are flat on the floor. In the top position, your arms should be parallel to the floor.

Cadence: Slow to moderate



Warms up: Back, shoulders

Start: Lie facedown with your arms overhead and a few inches off the floor. Keep your head in a neutral position and your abs tight.

Movement: Raise your chest off the floor while moving your arms to shoulder level as if you’re flying. Return to the start position.

Cadence: Slow to moderate


Warms up: Abdominals, obliques, back

Start: Stand in a wide stance with your arms extended in line with your shoulders. Keep your head neutrally positioned and your abs tight.

Movement: Bend your hips and reach your right hand toward your left foot. Keep your arms straight. Return to the start, then repeat on your other side.

Cadence: Moderate to fast



Warms up: Abductors, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves

Start: Stand in a crouched position with your back straight, abs tight and head in a neutral position looking forward.

Movement: Raise your torso slightly and hop to the side, bringing your trailing leg to your lead leg and landing in a crouched position. Move side to side for reps.

Cadence: Moderate



Warms up: Total body

Movement: Run forward on the balls of your feet for 10 steps. Bring your knees waist high and maintain a tall stance. Pump with your arms, moving them back and forth between your waist and chin.

Cadence: Moderate to fast



Warms up: Total body

Start: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your abs tight.

Movement: Step and hop, landing on the same leg that propelled you upward. Now repeat with the other leg. With your arms at 90-degree angles, move them back and forth between your waist and chin and in opposition to your legs.

Cadence: Moderate to fast