Warm-Ups for Kids Before Sports or Active Play

Back of boy juggling soccer ball with field in background
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Before they play sports, exercise, or stretch, kids should do a simple warm-up routine. Warming up primes the body for the more active movements to come, essentially getting the child ready to use their muscles. The best warm-up exercises for kids are easy to do, fun, and easy to teach. When done regularly, they set the stage for a good game, practice, or stretching session.

A good warm-up also offers the benefits of both injury prevention and improved performance. That's thanks to increased blood flow to the muscles, as well as improved range of motion.

An effective warm-up exercise can consist of almost any light to moderate aerobic activity—something that engages your child and gets their body moving but isn't too physically taxing.

A slower, gentler version of the sport or activity they're about to play is always a good option, such as brisk walking or jogging to warm up for running. Alternatively, hockey players might take some slower laps around the rink prior to hockey practice, or swimmers might do some less intense laps before going all out.

7 Steps to a Warm-Up Routine

To create a warm-up routine suitable for kids (or adults), consider a progression like this. However, note that you can customize your child's warm-up routine to suit their preferences and specific needs.

  1. Start with slow and easy forward movements, selected from the list below.
  2. Begin speeding up those same movements and adding some impact (such as jumping).
  3. Add some angles or zig-zags.
  4. Shift to a side-to-side movement pattern.
  5. Include some dynamic stretches (stretching while in motion, such as walking lunges).
  6. Perform static stretches after the muscles are warm.
  7. Continue with skill games and drills related to your child's sport or activity.

Most kids only need about five to 10 minutes of warming-up before moving into more rigorous exercise. Generally, use a longer warm-up in preparation for a more intense workout.

Types of Warm-Up Exercises

When building a warm-up routine for your child, remember that basic movements are just fine, and in fact, may be preferable to more complicated motions that can be harder to remember and/or may result in injury. A simple walk, jog, or march, in motion or in place, can serve as a good warm-up for kids. You can also incorporate any of these kinds of movements:

  • Arm Circles or Swings: Hold arms outstretched from shoulders and turn in small circles, then increase the size of the circles. Rotate them forwards, then switch to backward circles. Or swing arms forward and back from the shoulder.
  • Butt Kicks: While jogging, try to "kick" your rear end or thigh with each step. (Sometimes this is easier to do when jogging in place.)
  • Dancing: Let kids make up their own moves to music they like. For a team, choreograph a simple dance to a popular song. Then, the team dance can become part of the pre-game ritual.
  • Grapevine: Walk or jog sideways, crossing one foot in front of the other in an alternating pattern.
  • High Knees: While walking, lift knees high in the air. Intensify by adding arm movements, like a hand or elbow touch, or by speeding up the walk to a jog.
  • Jumping Jacks: When you're ready to add some more intensity to your warm-up exercises, incorporate jumping jacks—they involve both arms and legs and add impact to your routine.
  • Side Hops: With feet together, jump from one side of an imaginary line to the other. Or hop on one foot and switch back and forth.
  • Walking Lunges: Step forward with one leg and lower yourself so the front knee is at a 90-degree angle and the back leg is stretched out long. Then stand and step the bak leg forward into a lunge.
  • Yoga: Move through a variety of connected yoga positions, such as moving from plank to downward dog and back again in a loop.

A Word From Verywell

While kids often want to jump straight into their physical activity or game, it's important to make time for a brief warm-up. Several minutes of low- to moderate-intensity warm-up exercises will get their hearts pumping, muscles heating up, and bodies ready for more intense effort.

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  1. Faude O, Rössler R, Petushek EJ, Roth R, Zahner L, Donath L. Neuromuscular adaptations to multimodal injury prevention programs in youth sports: A systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsFront Physiol. 2017;8:791. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00791.eCollection 2017