Whenever you hear the word ‘Cardio’, the image that pops into your mind is most probably one of people dripping in sweat and panting away to glory. While this isn’t far from the truth, it isn’t the entire picture. Many people jump straight into heavy duty cardio, thinking that the sooner they start sweating, the better. After all, no pain, no gain, right?
Not really. The truth is that an effective cardio workout is one that begins with a good warm up. A warm up is basically a preparation to exercise, where you literally warm up with gentle movements, gradually increasing in speed.
Benefits of Warm Up Exercises Before Cardio:
A proper warm up for cardio has many benefits:
- Your muscles get literally warmed up, which is necessary for full and fluid actions, since cold and stiff muscles don’t take well to movement.
- The heart beats faster and increases blood flow to all parts of your body.
- Your muscles are less prone to injury post workout.
- It gets you in the ‘zone’. If you’re feeling lazy, just doing some warm up exercises for cardio can get you into the mood for more intense activity.
Top 10 Warm Up Exercises Before Cardio:
So, which exercises work best as warm up before cardio? Here’s a list of exercises that can be performed before different types of cardio workouts. They are listed in order of increasing intensity.
Starting Position (For all the exercises listed below):
Stand straight with tummy tucked in, feet hip width apart, head held high and arms loose by your sides. Take a deep breath and begin.
1. Head and Shoulder Rolls:
1. Assume starting position. Put hands on your hips.
2. Keeping your back straight, roll your shoulders forward – upward – backward. This is one shoulder roll.
3. For head roll, rotate your head fully but gently, in a clockwise direction. Then repeat counter clockwise. Alternatively, you can just turn your head side to side.
4. Each roll should last one full breath – both inhalation and exhalation.
5. Repeat about 15 times.
Shoulder rolls release the tension in your shoulders caused by sitting for too long or by bad posture.
2. Upper Body Twist:
1. Assume starting position. Extend your feet shoulder width apart and bend your arms in front of you, hands in loose fists.
2. Turn your body, hips and torso to the right.
3. Pause for a couple of seconds and return to centre.
4. Turn to the left, twist, pause and return to centre.
5. Inhale on twisting and exhale on returning to centre.
6. Repeat 16 times, 8 on each side.
This twist gives the spine a good stretch and makes it more flexible.
3. Hip Circles:
1. Assume starting position. Extend feet shoulder width apart and put your hands on your hips.
2. Push your hips out a little and rotate them to the side, then push them out to the back and then rotate back to the centre. This is one full rotation.
3. Be sure you are moving your hips and not just your waist or upper body.
4. One rotation should constitute one full breath.
5. You can start slow and slowly build up speed. Imagine you’re inside a Hula Hoop. Do 5-10 repetitions on one side and then on the other.
This cardio warm up routine really loosens up the hips and pelvic muscles, which don’t get much exercise in a sedentary lifestyle.
4. Knee Circles:
1. Assume starting position. Extend feet out shoulder width apart.
2. Bend forwards slightly, putting your hands on your knees.
3. Rotate your knees clockwise, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Be sure that you are moving your knees and keep hip movements to the very minimum.
4. Do 5-10 repetitions on one side and then on the other.
5. If this is too hard, keep a small pillow or cushion between your knees and stand upright. Rotate your knees, keeping the cushion in place.
Knees are usually the first casualties of during an exercise accident. Knee circles help strengthen your knees as well as stabilize your ankles.
5. Arm Circles:
1. Assume starting position. Extend arms out to the sides, keeping shoulders down.
2. Rotate arms clockwise, keeping them straight all the time. Ensure wrists are at same level as arms.
3. After 10 circles, repeat in a counter clockwise position.
4. Do smaller circles, and then increase speed and make larger circles.
5. To make it easier, put one arm behind you and circle the other. Repeat on other side.
6. To make it harder, rotate both arms in opposite direction
This warm up for cardio is great for the shoulders and upper arms.
6. Knee Lift:
1. Assume standing position. Lift one foot off the floor till the knee is at least at waist level.
2. Pause for a couple of seconds and then lower the foot.
3. Repeat with the other foot.
4. Do about 10 repetitions per leg.
5. To make it harder, lift the knee higher. For more support, pull the knee to your chest with your hands.
These lifts are great for the hip flexors and quadriceps, and are perfect for cardio workouts that involve the legs.
7. Heel Dig:
1. Assume standing position.
2. Extend your right foot to the front and rest the heel on the floor with toes pointing up. Slightly bend your left leg.
3. At the same time, bend your left arm completely, elbow by the side and hand in a fist near the shoulder.
4. Pause for a couple of seconds; then lower your arm, get foot back on the floor.
5. Repeat on alternate side.
6. Keep increasing the speed as you do multiple repetitions.
Heel digs help stretch out the leg and helps pump the heart, especially as you increase the speed.
1. Assume starting position.
2. Bend elbows at 90 degrees, and fists curled up as if you were holding an egg.
3. Swing arms gently, no higher than your chest.
4. Extend your heel and touch the ground with it, roll forwards onto your toes, and then push off the ground.
This is the best warm up for a brisk walk or a run; since it warms up the muscles that’ll be called into play when you raise the intensity of your workout.
9. March in Place:
1. Assume starting position.
2. Lift right leg off the ground, no higher than your waist.
3. Bend left elbow at 90 degrees and bring it forward, at chest level.
4. Keep your fist loosely clenched, as if holding an egg.
5. Lower leg onto the floor, and repeat with other leg.
6. Continue for a couple of minutes, increasing speed till you feel your heart rate rising.
This is the ideal warm up for cardio to get your heart into proper ‘cardio’ mode. You start feeling warm and ready to work out.
10. Jumping Jacks:
1. Assume standing position.
2. Bend your knees a little, jump with legs extended to the side and arms simultaneously moving overhead.
3. Land on the floor with feet nearly shoulder width apart and arms still overhead.
4. Jump again to return to the original position, with feet close together and arms by your sides.
5. Repeat about 10 times.
6. Jump higher to make it harder. Increase speed slowly.
This should ideally be the last warm up exercises for cardio before getting into serious cardio mode. This is pretty intense, so it should never be done in before beginning warm up. Jumping jacks really get your heart pumping, so they are more of a cross over from warm up to cardio.
Points to Consider:
1. In winter, your muscles are stiffer and colder, so it’ll take more time to warm up. Continue with the same exercises as you usually do, but increase repetitions.
2. Avoid static stretching during warm ups. Your muscles are not fully warmed up yet, and you might get hurt. Leave the stretches for the cool down.
3. Don’t forget to hydrate.
So, what are you waiting for? Make the most of the nice early morning weather; put on your smartest workout clothes, lace up your shoes and begin!
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