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The Best Yoga Warm-Ups for Any Activity

Sometimes your practice is the end game—and that's perfect. But you can also use yoga to prep for other fitness activities. 

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A regular yoga practice can tone your muscles, improve your balance, and increase your mobility—even if you practice for more spiritual reasons than fitness ones. But there’s no denying that yoga and fitness can be a winning combination for both mental and physical health. One great way to marry them: by doing some of your favorite yoga moves before other workouts.

Maybe you’ve gotten bit by the Peloton bug or gym closures have you running outside, even in frigid temps. No matter your secondary fitness pursuit(s), yoga can be a great way to warm up for them. 

“Pre-workout yoga-derived exercises have definitely gained popularity in the past several years,” says Megan Hochheimer, founder of Karma Yoga & Fitness in Valrico, Florida. In fact, adds John Porcari, PhD, the director of the clinical exercise physiology program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “Almost every stretch we do had its origins in yoga. We do planks, we do CatCow. In the athletic world we call them stretches, in the yoga world, we call them poses.”

Warming up and cooling down are the two elements of working out that people often like to skip due to time or boredom because they are perceived as less intense and therefore of less benefit,” says Hochheimer. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. “When you warm up prior to exercise, this helps mobilize the joints and improve blood flow to the muscles which makes them less likely to sustain an injury like a tear or strain. In this period of slower and more focused movement before a workout, a person will also raise their body temperature (which especially helps if it’s cold) and that helps create efficient muscle contractions.”

And while you could ideally work with a trusted teacher to craft a yoga warm-up to fit your specific sport and body, there are a few poses and flows Hochhemier recommends for most every body: 

Woman in cat pose
Cat Pose

Best all-around yoga warm-up: Table Top with Cat and Cow Poses and Sun Salutations

Historically, a yoga Sun Salutation is designed to be that one yoga flow that wakes up and warms the body,” says Hochheimer.  Combined with Cat-Cow, you have a warm-up that will activate all of your major muscle groups and mobilize most all of your joints. “Try to match the movement to the breath for five rounds of Cat-Cow followed by three rounds of a very slow Sun Salutation with lots of yummy movements and then two rounds of a more vigorous Sun Salutations if desired.” 

Woman in garland pose
Malasana (Garland Pose)

Best lower-body yoga warm-up: Lizard Pose, Malasana, Downward Facing Dog

“Many sports that require maximum recruitment of the powerful muscles in the lower body, like powerlifting or CrossFit, would naturally take cues from Lizard Pose variations, Malasana variations, and hamstring and calf stretching through Downward Facing Dog,” says Hochheimer. “For a great lower-body mobility flow it would be smart to spend five slow breaths in each pose. Repeat at least three times prior to your workout.”  

woman in full eagle pose
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)

Best upper-body yoga warm-up: Eagle Pose, Humble Warrior variations

“Disciplines that are primarily upper-body focused, like swimming, would benefit from shoulder stretching found in these poses,” says Hochheimer. “Create a Humble Warrior flow for three to five breaths. Move into Eagle Pose for five breaths on each side and repeat twice.” 

One type of yoga to steer clear of pre-workout: long holds. “Motion is lotion,” says Ariele Foster, DPT, yoga teacher, and founder of Yoga Anatomy Academy. So keep your yoga warm-ups moving and save the Yin-style poses for post-workout.