I bet you don’t warm up like this

10 May

Are you warming up effectively before your workouts?

I see so many people walk into the gym and immediately begin the workout.

This is dangerous!


Injuries and reduced performance!

The injuries that can occur can either be immediate or delayed.

However, the mentality of many people is:

  1. I am invincible and won’t get hurt; or
  2. I’m not hurting now, so I won’t hurt in the future; or
  3. I don’t work hard enough to need a warm up; or
  4. I don’t have time to warm up.

Not only is an increased risk of injury reason enough to pay more attention to warming up but having an effective warmup can increase performance.

Here are 3 aspects of a warmup everyone needs to consider.

1. Blood flow and heat!

Critical to any warmup is generating heat. We must increase the blood flow to the area(s) that we want to work. Blood flow brings heat, nutrients, and alertness to an area.

Heat loosens muscle stiffness and joint stiffness.

The nutrients brought to an area heal and repair tissue.

And, increasing the blood flow to a desired area also brings awareness to the body for recruitment (more on this with #3).

Blood flow is the easiest part of a warmup. This can include:

  • Cycling or recumbent bike
  • Elliptical
  • Treadmill walk or jog
  • Lightweight exercises
  • Foam rolling
  • Light weight sets of basic movements (squats, pushups, sit ups, eagles, curls, triceps, bench press, etc.)

2. Mobility and Alignment

A proper warmup will focus on the mobility and alignment of the entire body.

Mobility is affected from the center of the body (the spine) out to the limbs. Be cognizant of the range of motion of the body prior to your workout. If, before the workout, it is difficult to bend your knees, lean over to touch your toes, reach overhead, squat, put on socks, or scratch your back, then you might need to do some mobility training before your workout

E.g. a stiff thoracic or lower back can impact overhead pressing by reducing the range of motion of the shoulder and scapula.

The body is all connected, thus the reason for a whole-body warmup. This especially applies to workouts that will incorporate compound movements—exercises that involve more than one joint like: squats, bench press, dead lift, Olympic movements, etc.

Alignment considers the position of the spine, hips, shoulders, and limb joints. Joints have a certain position that is best to elicit a painless and stable full range of motion.

What affects position and mobility?

Muscle stiffness or soreness, tight or misaligned facia, spinal/vertebrae misalignment, scar tissue, lack of flexibility, inflammation, and muscle weakness/bilateral inequality (one side stronger/tighter than the other) can all cause a lack of mobility and misalignment.

Any of the above mentioned can also lead to compensation. The body will naturally take the path of least resistance.

For example, if the body has tight hips/hamstrings in a squat, then the knees will shift forward increasing knee bend to compensate for the hips to get the depth. Or, the lower back will curve when you get to a depth that the hamstrings have reached their maximum stretch.

Now, on to practicality.

Here are a few mobility and alignment techniques to do before working out.

  • Foam or ball rolling: shoulder, chest, hamstrings, quads, glutes, upper back, lower back
  • Banded hip setting
  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Banded shoulder setting
  • Rotator cuff warmup
  • Cat and camel (yoga move for spine)
  • Frog sits (hips and groins)
  • Etc.

Check out these videos for demonstrations:

Foam rolling warmup

Upper body mobility warmup

Lower Body mobility warmup

If your workout will only include certain muscle groups (e.g. chest and triceps), then you can do a minimal warmup on the lower body and spend more time warming up the upper body.

Also, keep in mind that major alignment issues will not be fixed with these exercises. These techniques are for general minor misalignments and mobility functionality. For major alignment problems please consult a doctor.

3. Recruitment

Recruitment patterns are the body’s way of activating muscles in the proper sequence during a movement. The body is wise but conservative; it will not waste energy. The body will only recruit muscles that are needed within a movement, no more. However, the body is not always efficient in recruiting because of:

  • Proper joint and spinal alignment
  • Lifestyle (e.g. those who are sedentary tend to have ineffective glute activation which can lead to delayed recruitment of the glutes in a squat or deadlift. This causes the lower back and hamstrings to compensate.)
  • Muscle weakness (like the rotator cuff muscles) or having one side stronger than another
  • Injury and compensation thereof

Common recruitment techniques include:

  • Glutes: banded side-walks, fire hydrants, monster walks, and glute bridges for glute activation
  • Internal and external rotation of shoulder
  • Loop dumbbell rows for latissimus dorsi (lats)
  • Alternating superman for bilateral low back activation
  • Planks for abs, glutes, and shoulders

One last aspect of recruitment includes a progressive 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions of the first exercise in the workout. Progressive means to gradually increase weight the first 2-3 sets. Obviously, this refers to exercises that include resistance (i.e. squats, bench press, leg press, Olympic movements, bent over rows, etc.). If you are doing a circuit, then complete all the exercises in the circuit at a lighter weight before the working sets.

The weight will be light in an effort to bring blood flow to the muscles that need to be recruited for the lift. We should focus on contracting the muscles utilized in the exercise. This is a technique that helps one rewire a recruitment pattern or solidify one that is correct. Do not compensate for weak muscles and remain safe and symmetrical in the exercise. However, conscious muscle contraction is very difficult and takes extreme care, intent, and a ton of practice.

Having the muscles and joints prepped and ready to work can increase the effectiveness, performance, and safety of the workout.

Granted, if you are crunched for time and you need to still get a workout in, then minimize your warmup and then get into the workout. Try your best not to delete a warmup. At the very least, complete a few progressive warmup sets of the first couple exercises so you will not get hurt.

And yes, even if you are cardio training, a warm up would benefit you. How? Remember, the body is connected. Your foot placement when running or walking is determined by hip alignment.

Make the warmup work for you. As soon as you step into your workout area, make every move count!