By: Kyle Hunt
The warm up process might be the most overlooked aspect of fitness. Think about it, how many people do you see walk into the gym and immediately start their workout? Too many! You know the type of guy I’m talking about. They walk in, do a couple arm circles, maybe a couple horizontal arm swings and boom – load up 135lbs to the bar.
As you can guess, this is not the best way to handle business. I know, partly because I did it for years. Skipping the warm up is one of the many mistakes I made as a novice lifter. I was young, weak and didn’t know any better. It wasn’t until I started looking at optimizing my entire routine did I start paying attention to what I needed to accomplish in order to properly warm up.
Warming up is definitely not “sexy” but it’s a very important part of the workout process. It has the ability to either enhance or diminish your ability to optimally perform the workouts. Let’s face it, we live sedentary lives and sit in bad positions for hours on end. Because of this, our muscles get tight and prone to injury.
Oh, you don’t have time to warm up properly? Great, you will have plenty of time to warm up when you are hurt and unable to train. Not only is a warm muscle less likely to get injured, a warm muscle also performs better…if you are interested in that sort of thing.
The warm up is traditionally broken down into two categories, general and specific. This entire process should not take longer than 10-15 minutes. In all seriousness, one of the biggest issues with warming up is time. I get it! You have a limited amount of time to dedicate to the gym. I agree it doesn’t make sense to take up half of it rolling around on the floor. When it comes to the warm up, use the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). Ask yourself, what 20% can I do that will deliver 80% of the results? The answer will be different for everyone.
As a coach, I like to provide my athletes with an abundance of warm-up options in the beginning and as we figure out which ones help the most, we eliminate some of the others to streamline the process. As you will notice, there are a ton of exercises listed below. You do not need to do everything. I strongly recommend you do not do everything. Doing an excessive warm up is just as bad as skipping the warm up. The idea is to pick and choose what you need the most. This article should help you craft your own warm up that addresses your specific needs.
The General Warm Up
The purpose of the general warm up is to increase core temperature, improve mobility and improve joint fluidity. Start with something low intensity, low energy cost, and high value. Think of it this way, we want to start by just getting the blood flowing.
One of the most important benefits of the general warm up is to literally “warm up”. Come into the gym and get moving, raise core temperature and get a little sweat going. Do some jump rope, push a prowler, use a concept 2 rower, walk on a treadmill or get on an air dyne for about 5 minutes.
Don’t skip this part!
Muscles contract more rapidly and forcefully at higher temperatures (within a safe range). Consequently, being “cold” can cause a loss in strength output.
It’s important to not allow yourself to get fatigued. Be mindful of how much energy you are expending. This should not double for a cardio workout. The goal is to break a light sweat and generally feel warm. This will obviously take longer in cold temperatures and less time on hot days. Additionally, you will want to use some autoregulation in your warmups. Some days you will need more, and some days you will need less. Don’t become dogmatic to the warmup process.
Step #1 – Cardiovascular Warm-up (pick one or two and perform for 3-10 minutes)
Exercise Bike / Airdyne
Concept 2 Rower
Barbell Complex (see more below)
KB Complex (see more below)
Step 2: Dynamic Stretching, Mobility/Activation Drills, and Self Myofascial Release
The second part of the general warm up deals with dynamic stretching, mobility/activation drills, and self-myofascial release. This is the part of the warm up process that has received the most attention in recent years.This is also where the warm up needs to be the most specific.
In most instances, the cardiovascular part of the warm up is going to be very similar for everyone, there doesn’t need to be a lot of variation. On the other hand, not everyone is going to need the same mobility or activation work. This is where you will want to use some autoregulation. Pick and choose what you need (and have time for) on any particular day.
I break it up into upper and lower body specific. Only do what you are training that day. If you are doing a full body routine, again, pick from each but be extra selective.
Upper Body/ Bench Press Specific (pick 3-6)
– Quadruped Position Thoracic Bridge: 1×5 (each side)
– Quadruped Position Cat Camel (Cow) Stretch 1 x 5
– Arm Circles: 1×10 (both directions)
– Internal/External Rotation with Light Bands: 2 x 10 (each side)
– Band Pull a Part: 2×10-15
– Band Facepull: 2×10-15
– Banded Shoulder Retraction: 2×10
– KB or Plate Halos 1 x 5 (each direction)
– Lat Pulldown: 2 x 10-15
– Pushups: 2×10-15
-Bear Crawls (forward, backward, side to side)
Lower Body / Squat and Deadlift Specific (pick 3-6)
– Quadruped Position Thoracic Bridge: 1 x 5 (each side)
– Quadruped Position Donkey Kick: 1 x 5 (each side)
– Glute Bridge 1 x 5-10
– Walking Groiner Stretch/Superman Walk 2 x 5-10 (each side)
– QL Walk: 1 x 10-15 feet (forward and backward)
– Leg Swings Front and Back: 2 x 10 (each side)
– Leg Swings Side to Side: 2 x 10 (each side)
– Hip Circle 3 x 10 (side shuffle, front walk, back walk)
– Bodyweight Squats: 2 x 10
– Bodyweight Lunges: 2 x 10 (each side)
– Cossack Squat: 2 x 5 (each side)
– Light Weight (broomstick) Overhead Squat: 2 x 5-10
-Bear Crawls (forward, backward, side to side)
Self Myofascial Release (optional)
I like to put self-myofascial release at the end of the general warm up so it comes after you have been moving around a little bit. This will allow you to more accurately identify what needs attention.
If you are dealing with any pain, tightness, and/or mobility restrictions this is great. If you are not, skip it.
- IT Band
- Upper Back
* Lacrosse ball can also be used as well. A lacrosse ball works great for the shoulders, pecs, glutes and feet.
I like to provide a lot of options for foam rolling. However, you only need to form roll/lacrosse ball the areas that need attention. Do not just go through the motions and get into a habit of foam rolling your entire body, it’s unnecessary.
What about Static Stretching?
Generally, I put static stretching at the end of my training sessions during the cool/calm down (if I do it at all). However, if you feel static stretching before training helps you perform better in your workouts, by all means, do it. I’m not as against it as some coaches are.
The Specific Warm Up
The specific warm-up has two important points. One, we want to reinforce good technique and two, we want to prepare the nervous system for the specific activity it is going to be asked to perform.
I call this step, “making the warm up part of the workout”.
Barbell complexes could be grouped in with the general warm up due to the cardiovascular nature. However, you could also choose to do them during this section of the warm up because we are hitting specific movement patterns in the complex.
The barbell complex I like to use:
3-4 Rounds with an empty bar
-Barbell Row x 8
-Romanian Deadlift x 8
-Overhead Barbell Press x 8
-Hang Power Snatch x 8
-Good Morning x 8
– Back Squat x8
Instead of using the barbell complex here, you could do a Kettlebell complex. I really like this one.
3-4 Rounds with a light to moderate Kettlebell.
Kettlebell Swing x 10
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift x 10
Kettlebell Goblet Squat x 10
Kettlebell Clean and Press x 5 (each side)
Kettlebell Turkish Getup x 5 (each side)
Jumps and Throws
Before we get into the warm-up sets, I like to do something explosive before touching the bar. This is the last part of the warm up before we get into the first movement of the day.
On lower body days we include jumps:
- Box jumps 3 x 3
- Standing long jumps 5 x 1
- Squat Jump 3 x 3
- Skips 2 x 15-20 feet
* Pick one
On upper body days, we include throws, slams or explosive pushups:
- Med ball slam variation 2 x 5
- Med ball throw variation 5 x 1
- Plyo pushup 2 x 5
Some people will require more warm up sets than others. The stronger you are the more sets you require before getting into the working weight. Always take at least 3 warm up sets minimum to work up to your first working weight.
Also, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, always start with an empty 45lb bar. For example purposes, I will show you my warm up weights I use for the bench press. Keep in mind my max is 405lbs.
This is how I would warm up for a workout that consists of 5 sets of 5 reps with 315lbs.
Empty Bar Wide Grip x 5 reps
Empty Bar Close Grip x 5 reps
Empty Bar Normal Grip x 10 reps
*Each bench workout starts with that sequence.
95lbs x 10 reps (optional depending on how I’m feeling)
135lbs x 8 reps
185lbs x 5 reps
225lbs x 5 reps
275 x 3 reps
The next set would be 315 for 5, my first working set.I can’t stress this enough, always start with the bar, even on squats and deadlifts.
A few points to keep in mind. The warm up sets do not need to be high rep. We want to avoid any type of fatigue. The warm up sets do not count towards the workout.There should be a big difference between what is a warm up set and what is a working set. This is why the last warm-up weight (275 in our example) is for fewer reps than the working sets.
Do You Need To Warm Up For Multiple Exercises?
I get this question a lot. Do you have to do warm-up sets for each exercise? It depends on a few factors. From a technique standpoint, I think it benefits you to do at least one lighter set to get in the groove with the movement pattern for each specific exercise. The warm up sets are more than just warming up the muscle. Avoid just “going through the motions” with these exercises/movements. Use this time to practice the movements. Aim for picture perfect reps.
Make sure you check back with this article. I am going to be adding more content as I find new drills that work in specific situations. I am also going to be adding more video/picture demonstrations as well!
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