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Army-Approved Stretches for Any Workout

Take a page out of Army's field manual with this full-body warmup routine.

Soldiers in the United States Army need to be fit and capable to carry out their duties, whether they're a rear-echelon soldier, a transportation specialist, a cook, or headed to the front line. That means everyone needs to maintain a certain level of fitness, and they do so through a finely tuned system of physical training, or PT.

The training prepares soldiers for the specific rigors of combat operations. More broadly, though, PT aims to strengthen and enhance a soldier's overall fitness – and that's the part that can benefit civilians just as well. One drill that's especially advantageous is the no-equipment-required Preparation Drill, taken out of the Army's Field Manual 7-22. It's actually available online to the public, if you want to take a look.

The drill is a carefully selected series of stretches. In total, it's ten exercises with five to ten repetitions each, which hit multiple muscle groups multiple times. That means it’s perfect for warming up for any kind of workout, especially a full-body one.


Dynamic vs. Static Stretching

One of the big advantages here is that this is dynamic warmup, which actively engages the muscles that will be used in your workout, as opposed to the static stretching of those muscles while your body is at rest. Static is still good to do after or even during a workout, but a dynamic warmup gets more blood pumping and better prepares your muscle groups for more rigorous work.

The forward or rear lunges, for example, will activate and engage your hip flexors, stretch out your legs and increase blood flow to those muscle groups. Sitting and stretching your legs in place stretches out those muscles, but doesn't do much else.

Once you’ve warmed up, static stretching is great for loosening up and cooling down, but dynamic movements are what you want for getting prepared to work out.


The Routine

To the left is a chart showing the muscle groups each exercise works. As you can see, the drill hits multiple muscle groups multiple times – that way, one run-through prepares your entire body.

This kind of all-over routine is perfect for a full-body routine. But even if you're only targeting a specific muscle group – like your legs when you go on a run, or your pectorals when it's chest day at the gym – it's still good for getting your blood pumping and your heart rate up so you’re ready to work.

Oh, and when “straddle stance” is mentioned, that means your feet should be shoulder width apart. Each exercise is done in five to ten repetitions each, with no breaks in between.

Bend & Reach

Start with arms straight up above your head in a straddle stance.

Squat down into your heels as your spine rounds forward to allow your arms to reach as far as possible between your legs. Stretch your back out as much as possible, then slowly return to standing.


Rear Lunge

In a straddle stance, place your hands on your hips – that's your starting position.

Take an exaggerated step backward with the left leg, touching down with the ball of your foot. Then return to starting and repeat with the opposite leg.


High Jumper

From standing, bend your knees and lean forward in a half squat with your arms pointing back parallel to your body. Swing your arms forward and jump lightly, then swing your arms back and jump lightly again.

Keeping your momentum, swing your arms forward and up this time while jumping hard. The beginning jumps should almost feel like you're bouncing up and down, and the hard high jump should take you a few inches off the ground.


Rower

Lie down on your back with arms extended overhead, palms facing in, and legs extended with your feet together. That's your starting position.

Sit up, bringing your arms forward and your feet backwards by bending at the hips and knees. Return back to the starting position, then repeat.


Squat Bender

Start with a straddle stance and your hands on your hips. Squat down while just barely leaning forward at the waist, with your head up arms extending out front parallel to the ground and palms facing in.

Stand back up to your starting position, then bend at your hips and reach down to your toes. Stand back up again, and repeat.


Windmill

Start in straddle stance with your arms extended out to your sides, palms down. Bend at your hips and knees while rotating your torso, as you reach for your left foot with your right hand and look behind you.

Your left arm is pulled to the back, keeping a straight line with the right arm. Return to the starting position, then immediately repeat with your opposite arm.


Forward Lunge

Begin with your hands on your hips in straddle stance. Step forward with the left leg, with your heel landing roughly 6 inches in front of you.

Allow your right heel to come up off the ground as you lunge forward, and bend your left knee as you step into the lunge (but don't let it go past your toes). Lean slightly forward, with your back straight. Then step back into your starting position, and repeat with the other leg.


Prone Row

Start off lying prone on your stomach with arms extended overhead, palms down and 1 to 2 inches off the floor. The tops of your feet will be on the ground as your toes point behind you.

From there, raise your head and chest up slightly as you clench your hands into fists and pull your arms back – as if you were miming a pull-up. Then return to starting.


Bent-Leg Body Twist

Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet together, and arms out to your sides.

Rotate your legs down to the opposite side while keeping the rest of your body in place. Swing them back the opposite way to repeat.


Push-Up

Every soldier knows the front leaning rest position: on the ground with your feet together, hands placed shoulder-width apart, and your back nice and straight.

Start there, then lower your body to the ground, keeping your elbows close to your sides, until your upper arms are parallel with the ground. Some people touch their chest to the ground – so long as you maintain form, that's fine. Then push your way back up.


Mixing It Up

If you don't want to run through the whole thing, you can easily tailor this routine to your own needs. The program is built to stretch out and warm up just about every muscle you've got, but there's nothing stopping you from zoning in on just one or two groups.

If you're working out your legs one day, for example, just do the Bend & Reach, High Jumper, Rear Lunge, Forward Lunge, and Squat Bender.


The Army uses this full drill almost every morning at the start of a PT session to prepare soldiers for just about anything, whether it’s a three-mile run, a strength training circuit, or stepping off on long foot marches while wearing heavy packs. Because at the end of the day, it's intended to prepare soldiers for combat tasks and battlefield movements – moving from cover to cover while wearing a heavy load, or carrying a comrade out of harm’s way.

But just because it's meant for battle readiness doesn't mean you can't take full advantage without enlisting. And since the manual provides a plethora of other drills and exercises, too, you can train like a soldier from the comfort of your civilian day-to-day. So get out there and do some PT.

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