A lot of people believe that any kind of stretching is helpful in some way, but the reality is, the wrong type of stretching can be harmful and work against us. When the temperatures drop, our muscles require more time to get into a safe working condition to prepare for exercise. Static stretches, like sitting on the floor and reaching for our toes for example, are actually better suited as post-workout moves, and when done while the muscles are still cold and tight, can result in damage and pain. Anytime it’s cold outside or the body feels particularly rigid (like first thing in the morning), dynamic stretches are the only way to go.
Dynamic stretches emphasize range of motion and promote blood circulation, thus bringing warmth and mobility back to the body after a night of sleep or period of limited movement. Light activity and movement such as walking or skipping is a great way to begin signaling to the body that exercise is on the way. Repetitive and fluid motions that don’t require any long pauses or holding are the most useful for getting the blood flowing. Holding poses for periods of time should always be avoided at the start of exercise because it is too hard on our muscles, no matter how flexible we believe we are.
Here are some great dynamic stretches to use on cold mornings that will help prepare the body for a safe and effective workout.
It’s like a deep-tissue massage, and the slow movements help the body to gracefully get accustomed to movement. Foam rolling also helps to hydrate muscle tissues, better preparing them to accommodate diverse movements. It’s not always the most comfortable experience to foam roll before a workout, but your muscles will definitely thank you later.
There’s a reason arm circles were a part of every high school sports team warm-up routine. They’re a a quick way to increase circulation, with results that can be felt almost immediately. It’s also a great warm-up exercise because it targets several areas at once, including the shoulders, triceps, biceps and upper back.
These are sure to get the heart pumping faster and will also start to get the mind in the right place, due to the coordination needed to perform. Butt kicks can start relatively slowly, and then increase in pace when it feels appropriate.
These promote hip flexibility, incorporate the core and challenge balance. When faced with the problem of minimal space for warm-ups, climbing stairs is also a comparable option that will loosen the hips.
Downward facing dog to plank
This series of movements has the added benefit of including an inversion, when the head is below the heart, while also lightly bringing motion to the hamstrings without being too intense. The key is not being too fussy about the poses themselves, and focusing more on the fluidity between them. There’s no need during a warm-up to even stress about heels touching the floor or not bending the knees in a down dog.
This is probably the best warming exercise of all time—there’s not a person who can deny the warming effect a few rounds of sun salutations have on the entire body. This stretch comes at the end of this list because it does involve a few motions that can be tough on the hamstrings and other muscles if done at a time when the body is completely cold. It’s best to start with the above movements and ease into a gentle sun salutations practice.