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Headed out for a walk? Warm up with these 9 stretches

This full-body warm up will improve your range of motion and help prevent injuries when you exercise outdoors this winter.
Warming up with active stretches is an important step that will prime the body and the mind for exercise.
Warming up with active stretches is an important step that will prime the body and the mind for exercise.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Masour

It can be tough to find the motivation to exercise during the cold, winter months. But many of us have discovered a love for walking or jogging — with a renewed appreciation for getting outside for some fresh air after being cooped up inside our homes for much of the past 10 months.

But before you lace up those sneakers and hit the pavement, warming up with some active stretches is an important step that will prime the body and the mind for exercise.

The first hurdle to exercise is finding the mental motivation to do it, and it’s easier to convince yourself to do some simple stretches than jump right into a workout. But once you’re up and moving, it’s more likely that you will use that momentum to follow through with your workout plans.

Plus, we’ve all felt the stiffness that creeps up from inactivity and brisk weather. Stretching before exercising increases blood flow to the muscles and improves your flexibility and range of motion, decreasing your chance of injury. This is especially important in cold weather when you may not be moving as much and spend much of the day crouched over a computer, causing muscles to be tighter.

Next time a walk around the neighborhood is in order, here’s a full-body stretch routine to get your mind and body ready to move.

Ankle rolls

Not ready to get off the couch? You can start your warm up seated! Ankle injuries are common while running and walking, and stretching those joints beforehand will increase range of motion and help prevent injury. Sitting on your couch or in a chair, begin to rotate your ankle slowly in a circular motion to the right; switch directions and circle the ankle to left. Repeat on the other foot.

Hamstring scoops

Put one foot in front of the other (like you are taking a step) and pause. Then scoop both of your arms down past your flexed front foot before you take your next step. You should feel a similar stretch to touching your toes, along the back of your leg. You’re also warming up the body with a walking movement.

Leg kicks

To further stretch those hamstrings, start in a standing position with both of your arms held out straight in front of you. Slowly walk forward, but instead of taking normal steps, kick your legs up as high as possible, reaching both hands towards your toe. Dynamic stretches that incorporate movement will warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.

Quad stretch

While standing on your right foot, grab your left foot with both hands and pull it behind you so that it touches your butt. Hold the stretch for about 5 seconds, then alternate legs. If you’re feeling unsteady, hold on to any stable surface with one hand. You can also add movement to this stretch by walking while alternating legs.

Hug your knees

After stretching your lower body, it’s time to move on to your hips. For this stretch, you can stand in one place or continue to walk. As you take each step, hug your knee to your chest with both of your arms for 5 seconds. Leaning back will offer a more intense stretch if needed.

Open the gate

Lift one leg up in a high-knee position. While keeping your hips square and your leg bent, move your leg from the front of your body to the side. Return to the floor and perform on the other leg. Begin walking forward while alternating legs. This stretch has a similar feel to the butterfly stretch (a groin stretch), but allows for more movement to warm up the entire body.

Arm circles

Moving on to your arms, hold your arms straight out to your sides. Begin moving your arms in circles, increasing the size of the circles as you begin to feel looser. If you’re up for it, you can do a light jog while swinging your arms so that your body stays warm.

Spinal twists

While standing in place, bring your arms out straight to your sides. Rotate your body from left to right, stretching the muscles in your back. You should feel looser in your upper body, ready to pump those arms during your outdoor walk or run!

Shoulder rolls

For this stretch, you can either stand in one place or continue to walk at a slow pace while maintaining good posture. Begin moving your shoulders in a circular motion: up, then towards your back, then down and back towards the front of your body. After rotating your shoulders in this direction about 10 times, begin rotating them in the opposite direction: up, then towards the front of your body and back.