Simple, easy movements with the large muscles of your body provide a good warm-up.
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At their simplest, warm-up exercises are a way of easing your body into a state of exertion. A five- or 10-minute warm-up at the beginning of your workout reduces your risk of injury, improves your performance, makes the following workout more comfortable and generally psychs you up. When teaching or coaching an exercise group, the best warm-ups incorporate the same muscle groups and movements you plan to use later on.
Mobilize Every Joint
One of the gentlest ways to start any warm-up is by mobilizing every joint you're going to work. At this point, ease of movement is more important than intensity -- think ankle circles, rolling your head, knee bends or knee circles, hip circles, toe-to-heel walks, skipping or side shuffles with up-and-over arm swings.
Imitation Equals Flattery
One easy warm-up strategy is using simple, low-intensity versions of the exercises to come. In a Zumba class, that might mean starting off with a slower song and easy moves, giving your body a chance to warm up before you tackle the fast songs. A step class could begin with slower music and low-impact moves -- no jumping. A boxing class may employ footwork and body twists, followed by some shadowboxing to get the joints and muscles warmed up before you begin working out in earnest.
Warm Up with Calisthenics
If you're stumped for warm-up ideas, do gentle calisthenics that target the major muscle groups in your body; that way, you're ready for almost anything. Start by walking or jogging in place or walking laps if you have the space. Then move on to low-impact exercises such as air squats, leg curls and calf raises for your legs; inchworms for your chest, shoulders and arms; and jumping jacks and rows with light dumbbells for your back.
Follow the Leader
If you find that people aren't paying attention during a more conventional warm-up, try playing "Follow the Leader" instead as a fun, low-pressure way of drawing everyone into the movement. Form everyone into a line behind you and model a given movement -- say, marching in place with high knees while pumping your arms. After 30 seconds, run to the back of the line so the new person in front has to model another movement, and so on, until everyone in line has led a warm-up exercise.
Some group fitness instructors use arm circles and leg swings as the very first exercises in a warm-up routine; others include more strenuous movements, such as air squats, lunges and straight-leg kicks, toward the end of the warm-up. Either way, fitness experts and researchers agree that such dynamic movements help prepare your muscles and joints for more strenuous exertion.
- Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images