Warming up is like eating vegetables. Everyone knows it's good for them but at the end of the day, compliance is considerably lacking.
I’m sure most dudes would rather spend their first 15 minutes at the gym checking out girls on the elliptical or telling their buddies about an "epic” half squat PR from the day before.
You may think you looked cool under the bar but we all know you were just trying to not rupture your spleen.
Listen, I’m not trying to pee in your protein shake but if you’re going to post a new "monster lift" on social media you better be prepared to deal with the form nazis if you’re not squatting to depth.
If you’re serious about your fitness lifestyle or you just want to ensure you’re able to maintain some longevity in the iron game then it’s time to address your warmup. It may seem confusing given the bevy of information currently pervading the interwebs but that’s precisely why I wanted to write this article.
Regardless of your training age, experience, or goals, I’ve provided 3 simple and effective warmups which you can use to maximize your time underneath the bar and stay injury free.
Mobility for Meatheads
First thing’s first, we need to discuss 3 major components that should be included in every warm up.
Full disclosure: if the majority of your day is spent sitting at a desk in the commercial work force, then hopping on a spin bike or treadmill for 5-10 minutes is doing next to nothing for you.
If you’re one of those guys into the sciencey mumbo jumbo then I’m sure you already know that warmups are incredibly beneficial for improving the speed of nerve impulse transmissions, oxy-hemoglobin disassociation, neural receptor sensitivity, muscular elasticity, blood flow, and force contraction.
I know, I know, this stuff is incredibly boring and you’d probably rather shove your head in a rusty blender than listen to me talk about physiological adaptations from warming up.
In layman’s terms, the main purpose of any warm-up is to increase blood flow and raise your core temperature. Essentially, you're looking to improve the internal environment of your body in order to ensure your body is physiologically prepared for the upcoming training session.
1. Neurological Resets, Dynamic Movements, and Activation Work
There is quite a bit of debate regarding foam rolling, more specifically the timing (pre versus post workout) associated with it. Suffice it to say, you need to be performing soft tissue work at some point. I’ve chosen not to include the specifics within this piece as that’s another article for another time, but you need to implement it irrespective of timing.
Regardless of when you choose to implement soft tissue modalities, all of your strength work should be preceded by a neurological reset. As I’ve mentioned in a previous piece on breathing, your biomechanics and central nervous system plays a large role in substrate selection and utilization.
You’ll notice that all of these warm ups begin with the same element: breathing corrective drills. These simple drills are designed to reset the position of your ribcage relative to your pelvis and enhance your ability to generate proper diaphragmatic expansion of the lungs.
After you’ve achieved this reset, you’ll looking to dynamically lengthen overactive musculature and activate underactive musculature. Now, it’s best to dynamically lengthen tissue first and then move into your activation work as certain positions required for activation work may be inaccessible if a muscle is restricted or a joint is out of place.
For example, if you have some tightness through the hip flexors then it might be wise to implement a half kneeling hip flexor stretch before moving into your glute activation as the glutes and hip flexors work to reciprocally inhibit one another.
Meaning, when the glutes fire you will get a subsequent stretch through the anterior hip musculature. However, if that musculature presents with excess tone, you will never be able to generate full hip extension and as such, activation of the glutes will suffer.
2. Build Developmental Positions From the Ground Up
All good warmups begin by restoring neutrality and building mobility from the ground up. Neutrality of the spine and pelvis is directly influenced by the positioning of your diaphragm and pelvic floor so therefore, it's best to work on diaphragmatic breathing with a variety of drills as mentioned above.
Once you have reset the positioning of your pelvis and altered some nervous system tone, it’s time to work your way through simple developmental positions. These positions are how infants learn to move as they age. Watch a baby move from time to time, it’s absolutely fascinating to see how they develop motor patterns.
These positions will primarily begin with a large base of support and little influence from gravity. As you progress, you’ll begin to incorporate more joints, larger ranges of motion, higher stabilization demands, and gravitational influences. If you want to try to design your own warmup rather than utilize one of the 3 provided within this article, start with this progression:
- Supine (on your back)
- Prone (on your stomach)
- Side lying
- Half kneeling
- Tall kneeling
These transitions allow for a smooth “flow” during the warm up from both a neurological and a physical standpoint. To use the age old analogy, you've got to learn to walk before you can try to run.
3. Think Quality Over Quantity
During my first internship with EXOS (formerly Athlete's Performance Institute), I can specifically remember taking athletes thorough a complex dynamic warm-up sequence before each training session that lasted probably 25 to 30 minutes.
It consisted of foam rolling, mobility work, activation drills, and sprint mechanics among other things. Needless to say, this could likely qualify as an entire workout for some folks.
I’m certainly not knocking their system as I still incorporate much of what I learned from them and they’re one of the best performance facilities worldwide so it’s fairly obvious they know what they’re doing. However, for the average person who only has 45-60 minutes to train, this isn't ideal or realistic.
Here’s a general rule of thumb: a quality warm up should last 8-12 minutes and allow you to work up a light sweat. In the winter I like to wear multiple layers and then remove them as my core temperature increases during my warmup.
Just Flow With It...
Let me guess, you just read the titles for each section and skipped to the videos, didn’t you?
I get it, science is annoyingly complicated and you just want to know how to get jacked in 4 weeks or less.
I can’t guarantee these warmups will give you bigger arms or make you look like you actually lift. However, I can guarantee that they will get you moving and feeling better relatively quickly without a large time commitment.
Not sure where to start? You just found it. Full body warmups save time if they're structured correctly. I've taken all of the thinking out the equation for you. Sure, there are certainly still ways to screw up these motor patterns but for the most part these are all pretty simple and you can figure out the entire warmup in 5 minutes or so.
If it's monday we both know you're about to crush some chest. But, rather than hating life tomorrow morning with sore shoulders and a stiff upper back, hit this quick warm up and forget about all the rest.
Leg day. The dreaded training session which every bro avoids like ebola. You have 2 options: rock sweat pants for the rest of your life or work hard under the bar. Here's the pre-requisite for every good leg training session.
Here are some general guidelines for each of the dynamics warmups:
- Don’t rush through the breathing work, make your exhales twice as long as your inhales.
- Perform 5-6 repetitions per side for each dynamic mobilization and activation drill.
- If you still feel stiff or immobile after the warm up, run through it again.
- Looking for something simple to do on your day offer to help combat DOMS, get a little blood flowing, or break up your workday? Run through 1 or all 3 of the options above.
If you're unsure about the breathing work or think it can't possibly make much of a difference, give this article a read - Breathing and Bracing: The Combo You Need for a Big Lift. Breathing plays a much larger role in physiology and biomechanics than most understand or fully appreciate, don't discredit it.
Questions about something you saw in one of the videos? Drop it in the comment section below, I'll be more than happy to expound upon anything you saw.
Stay Supple My Friend
There you have it, 3 warmups designed specifically for your training and time demands. Each is only 5-6 minutes in length and includes all of the components discussed above.
Don't just breeze through your warmup without any conscious thought, focus on the process and hone in on your movements. Every minute you spend in the gym should have a purpose, maximize each and every one.
Warming up is a small price to pay for lifting longevity. Don't skip the necessities to jump into the negotiables.