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Prep Your Muscles for Cold-Weather Workouts with This Winter Warmup Routine

Here’s how to raise the temperature for peak performance and reduced injury risk.

warming up for exercising in cold weather

On cold winter days, the temptation to stay in your warm bed or curl up under a blanket on the couch and skip your planned workout is strong. Frigid temperatures can leave your muscles feeling tight, while shorter days can tank your motivation, making it even more difficult to muster up the energy to exercise.

But there’s no need to break your streak just because a cold front has rolled in. With an extended warmup geared toward heating up your muscles, you’ll be able to crush your workout no matter the weather.

Why Warm Up on a Cold Day?

Jumping straight into exercising in cold weather isn’t just uncomfortable; it can make your workout less productive and put you at greater risk of injury. 

“We need that warmup period so that your body can increase physiological body temperature,” says Jenna Moore, a certified strength and conditioning coach and Programming Specialist at Tonal. “We also want to give the body time to redistribute blood flow so we can get more nutrients, oxygen, and energy to the working muscles.” 

According to a review of studies, increasing muscle temperature is important because it can boost high-intensity performance, muscular force and power production, and blood flow to the muscles. Warming up allows for muscles to contract and relax quicker and makes muscles more resilient against tears and other injuries. 

Cold joints and tendons are also less flexible, which translates to a limited range of motion in your lifts. 

“When we warm up the body, we’re able to increase the range of motion of the joints, and an increased range of motion means you’re able to move more efficiently,” says Moore. “You’re going to be fighting against less restriction during your workouts.” 

When it’s warm outside or in your home gym, it doesn’t take a lot of time for your muscles to reach the ideal temperature at which they’re ready to work. However, if you’re starting off feeling chills, it’ll take longer. Your total warm-up time before exercising in cold weather could last 15 to 20 minutes.

Tips for Warming Up on a Cold Day

On days when you’re struggling to work out in your chilly garage or basement, you’ll want to devote a little extra time to your warmup. Here are Moore’s top tips for defrosting your muscles before a workout:

  • Prep Your Body

Before you even hit the mat for your dynamic stretches, there are steps you can take to prep your body. “Passive warmups are things that don’t create physiological fatigue,” says Moore. These include taking a hot shower, putting on multiple layers of clothing you can shed as you heat up, gentle foam rolling, and massage. “That’s going to warm up your body temperature and get your muscles more pliable,” she says. 

  • Elevate Your Heart Rate

You might have a strength workout planned, but a little cardio will prepare your muscles for peak performance. “That’s going to get your heart rate up ever so slightly and help the body warm up a little faster,” says Moore. The key is to take it very easy. Moore explains that you don’t want to work your body too hard and use up all your fuel before your workout starts.

  • Ease Into Your Workout

Your workout should always include a warmup, but when you’re exercising in cold weather, you’ll want to extend your typical warmup, starting with easy movements and working up to more challenging ones. “Make sure you’re getting some dynamic work in there to get the heart rate up,” says Moore, “but at the same time, you want to slowly and gradually increase the intensity and lengthen that on-ramp to your workout.” 

Sample Cold Day Warmup 

  1. Foam Rolling

Why it Works: Gentle foam rolling can increase blood flow. Remember, though, that foam rolling shouldn’t be painful. If you find it leaves your muscles more tense than relaxed, try going easier or consider a different passive warmup. “Some people find foam rolling very fatiguing,” says Moore, “But if you’re comfortable with foam rolling, that’s a great way to warm up passively.” 

How to Do it: Spend around 30 seconds foam rolling each major muscle group. Roll slowly up and down and side to side to reach your muscle tissue from all angles. 

  1. Easy Cardio

Why it Works: Cardiovascular exercise raises body temperature and improves circulation to your muscles. Moore says to keep the effort “very, very submaximal—nothing that’s going to tax you or require a lot of energy.” 

How to Do it: Do 5-10 minutes of a light, cardio exercise of your choice, such as cycling, walking, or jogging. Try to get your heart rate up while working at a low intensity. 

  1. Cat-Cow

Why it Works: Moore likes this gentle, dynamic stretch to get the spine mobile through flexing and extending. Releasing tightness in your spine will improve your movement quality in your workout. 

How to Do it: Start on all fours on your mat, knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders, toes tucked. Inhale and open your chest, dropping the navel toward the floor and arching your back. Exhale and pull the navel toward the ceiling, pushing the floor away from you and pulling the shoulder blades apart as you tuck the hips.

Glue Bridge
  1. Glute Bridge

Why it Works: With this low-impact move, you’ll activate your glutes, hamstrings, and posterior chain which will help prepare you for moves including squats and deadlifts. 

How to Do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent facing the ceiling and feet planted on the floor hip-width apart. Press the floor away from you, squeezing your glutes to lift your hips toward the ceiling. Lower the hips with control and repeat.

Reach and Rotate Opener
  1. Reach and Rotate Opener

Why it Works: It’s especially important to warm up in the transverse (or rotational) plane of motion because, according to Moore, injuries are more likely when you’re moving or lifting while rotating. Mobilize the thoracic spine with this stretch to get your upper body moving on a cold day. 

How to Do it: Get into a tall kneeling position on your mat and then sit back on your heels. Bring one hand out in front of you on the floor and place the other just behind your ear, bending at the elbow. Rotate at the torso like you’re wringing out a towel, opening your body to the same side as your raised arm. Come back to face the floor and repeat on the same side.

Scapular Pushup
  1. Scapular Pushup

Why it Works: Moore recommends adding this move before an upper-body push day with moves like bench presses or pushups because it’s low-intensity and improves shoulder mobility. 

How to Do it: With arms straight, slowly drop your chest toward the floor, bringing the shoulder blades together like there are magnets attached to them. Push the floor away from you and use your chest to pull the shoulder blades apart.

Quadruped Hip Circle
  1. Quadruped Hip Circle

Why it Works: Tight hips are often a limiting factor in squat mobility, and joints that are already tight will feel even more restricted on a cold day. This movement is Moore’s pick for a low-impact and low-intensity hip opener. 

How to Do it: Start in a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and toes tucked. Maintaining a 90-degree angle with your thigh and shin, rotate your hip like a ball and socket, bringing your knee out and up until the heel faces the ceiling, then, lowering your leg to the floor. Reverse the movement and repeat on the same side.

Guided Warmups on Tonal

All Tonal workouts include warmups, but on a cold day, you may benefit from spending a few extra minutes on the mat. Cue up one of these coach-led warmups before your lifting session to increase muscle temperature and get you ready to work hard.

Lower-Body Foam Roll – Coach Tim Landicho 

In this slow-paced session, Coach Tim will show you how to foam roll your glutes, quads, IT bands, and calves. Give it a try before a day of lower-body lifting to warm up your legs and increase range of motion. 

Squat Warmup – Coach Joe Rodonis

Finding your deep squat position can be challenging enough if your hips and ankles are naturally tight. If you’re planning to lift heavy on a cold day, this mobility session will get your muscles and joints ready to go. 

Dynamic Chest Stretch – Coach Jackson Bloore

To warm up for chest day, you’ll want to activate your working muscles and stabilize your shoulders and upper back. This short dynamic warmup will get you prepped to hit the bench strong. 

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