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Warm Up Your Spine for Winter Workouts

Warm up your spine before exercising in cold weather

It may be cold outside, but don’t let the temperature stop you from meeting your fitness goals. Discomfort is one thing, but injuring yourself because of the weather is quite another.

Cold muscles are stiff muscles, and stiff muscles are prone to strains and other injuries. When it’s cold out, warming up your upper back, lower back and hips is very important before exercising or playing a sport. We’ll show you how.

Static vs Dynamic Stretching

You may have a picture in your mind of a long, slow forward fold stretch as the way to warm up before exercise. Not so. Holding a stretch like that is called static stretching. Static stretching has its place, but not at the beginning of a workout.

Instead, you should be dynamically stretching. Dynamic stretches take your joints and muscles through their natural range of motion.

Whereas static stretching is great for cooling down or trying to increase your flexibility, dynamic stretching gets your blood pumping and prepares your joints for a workout. In other words, dynamic stretching is an excellent way to warm up.

The Best Warmups for Your Back


Your back and hips are two of the most important areas to warm up before you start exercising, especially when it’s cold. These dynamic stretches will prepare your hips and spine for activity by taking them through their range of motion. Dynamic stretches like the ones below have the added benefit of getting the blood circulating, which is especially important on cold winter days.

Hip Hinges

This is one of the absolute best dynamic stretches for your hamstrings and lower back. It’s easy to do and familiar to most people.

Remember the toe touch stretch from middle school gym class, where you bend at the waist, reach down and try to touch your toes? Hip hinges are like that, but with more movement.

  • Stand up straight.
  • Bend at the waist, being careful not to round your lower back. Push your hips back as far as you can go while keeping your legs mostly straight (a slight bend at the knees is fine).
  • Dangle your arms in the direction of your toes.
  • To come up, squeeze your hamstrings and butt (gluteal muscles). This is not a back movement, but rather a posterior chain (hamstrings and gluteal muscles). The squeezing action should bring your hips forward. If you keep your core braced, your chest should rise as your hips come forward.
  • Repeat nine more times.
Hip hinge

Leg Swings

This is another stretch—actually, stretches—for the hip joints, designed to take them through their entire range of motion. There are two, both very simple.

Leg swings
  • Stand up straight. Make sure you’re next to something you can hold on to.
  • With a straight knee, swing your leg straight forward until it is parallel to the ground. If you can swing it higher, that’s great. If you can’t get parallel, just go as high as you can.
  • Repeat on that side nine more times, then switch legs and do 10 more swings.
  • Turn your body so that what you’re holding on to is in front of you.
  • Swing your leg straight out to the side until it is parallel to the ground.
  • Let your leg cross in front of your body as far as it can go.
  • Repeat on that leg nine more times, then switch legs and do 10 swings.

Neck Turns

These exercises will mobilize the neck and the upper back muscles. They’re particularly helpful for anyone who works in front of a computer and anyone who often looks down at their phone.

  • Shake your head “no;” first, look to your left, then come back through center and look to your right, then come back to center again. That’s one repetition. Repeat nine more times.
  • Shake your head “yes;” first, look all the way up and point your nose to the ceiling, then come back through center and look all the way down, then come back to center again. That’s one repetition. Repeat nine more times.
  • Bring your right ear to your right shoulder, come back through center, bring your left ear to your left shoulder and come back to center again. Repeat nine times.
  • Draw 10 clockwise circles with your chin. Draw 10 counterclockwise circles with your chin.
Neck stretches

Cat-Cow Stretches

Cat cow stretch

This is a classic gentle yoga motion that loosens up both the lumbar and thoracic spines.

  • Get down on all fours with your spine straight.
  • Breathe in and bring your belly toward the ground so that your spine is in a “U” shape. Breathe out and push your upper back to the ceiling (an inverted “U” shape). Come back to a straight spine.
  • Repeat nine more times.

Get Warm, Then Get Moving

These dynamic stretches will warm up your spine and your hips so you’ll be ready to exercise. Depending on what you plan to do you may want to do other dynamic stretches (such as for the shoulders).

Do you have back pain that’s preventing you from getting your exercise this winter? Request an appointment at Edison Spine Center. Our spine experts can diagnose the source of your pain and work up a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Please call our office prior to your appointment. To accommodate regulations, our office is not fully staffed daily.
For more information, please see our Coronavirus/COVID-19 update.
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