A proper warm up is critical to a healthy workout, and overall longevity in your training.
It will enable you to move efficiently and safely through a bigger range of motion, all the while preventing, or drastically lowering the chance of injury. This guide will contain all the information you need to have on which exercises to perform, as well as how, and why you should use them.
If you want to continue training as the years go by, do yourself a favor, start constructing more effective warm ups now, and your body will thank you later.
Warming up exercises
Warming up stretches
Typically, when people mention the word “stretch”, they are referring to static stretching. The literature and experience however shows, that the use of static stretching before exercise amounts to little in terms of injury prevention, and actually decreases muscle power performance.
Take this information with a grain of salt however, as by no means does this make static stretching a completely bad idea. Doing it for short holds to slightly increase your range of motion can still be useful, just don’t make it the sole focus of your warm up.
Dynamic stretching should be a big part of your warm up. This includes exercises like arm circles, leg swings, and bodyweight lunges. These will get the blood flowing through your joints and prepare them for the start for the start of the workout.
This has different uses based on whether you perform it before or after you workout (do both when required, if you can, or feel like it). Prior to a work out, foam rolling can increase blood flow and the overall pliability of your muscles. After your workout, it may also help in reducing post-workout soreness.
Warming up for a run
Warming up before running really isn’t complicated – you can perform some tissue work with the foam roller beforehand, taking care of your calves, groin area, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Just starting your run off on a lighter pace, maybe even with some fast walking, followed by a gradual increase in speed, can prove extremely efficient. Nothing else is really needed.
Don’t over complicate things to a point where it becomes tedious and just delays the run in itself. Just get dressed, put on some trainers, and run.
Warming up before lifting
When you are going to be lifting weights or even doing easy bodyweight movements, a more serious warm up is required. The more intense the workout, the longer, and more efficient the warm up needs to be. An effective method is to start with some dynamic stretching, followed by some mobility work and easy bodyweight/lightweight variations to get the blood flowing through your joints, and elevate your heart rate and body temperature.
Warming up shoulders
The shoulders being the most complicated joint in your body, responsible for a large range of motion in multiple directions, serving multiple functions; a crucial part of your warm up should be spent making sure they are sufficiently prepared.
These involve working your shoulders through a wide range of motion, with the aim of improving your overall mobility. This exercise is best done with is a stick, to properly measure progress, and add resistance, if needed. If you experience pain or too much discomfort with a stick, you can use a resistance band instead.
Skin the cats
If you can already perform the German hang, skin the cats will work in a similar way to shoulder dislocates, working your shoulders through a wide range of motion with a focus on the stretch towards the end of the movement, opening up those shoulders for heavy lifting.
Band pull aparts
These act more as a scapula warm up, but they are important for structural balance and complete activation of your upper back muscles which will be used in coordination with your shoulder muscles in many different exercises such as overhead press, push ups, dips, handstands, and plenty more.
scapula push ups/pulls
Also for proper activation of your scapula, these can be done alongside or instead of the band pull aparts.
Yuri’s band routine
A great routine that targets the rotator cuff from all angles. This will require a light resistance band.
This exercise has received both criticism and praise from different experts around the world. It has however shown to be highly effective among athletes from various training backgrounds, in increasing their external rotation strength and therefore correcting any muscular imbalances in the shoulder area.
Professionals of their discipline such as Ido portal and Charles Poliquin have been known to promote the use of this exercise as a critical component of structural balance, and one of the most”bang for your buck” exercises you can perform in terms of shoulder health and longevity – Ido portal even working up to sets of 5 repetitions with 40 kg.
Warming up the wrists
After the shoulders, the wrists are another delicate joint that will need some attention before you begin you training (even for lower body exercises such as squats). Unprepared wrists often lead to long term fragility, and pain on exercises like push ups and handstands, requiring the use of parallettes to continue training those movements.
Probably the most commonly used wrist warm up exercise. These should be done in a controlled manner, taking 20 to 30 seconds and changing the direction of the rotation.
To really make the most of your writ flexibility, passive stretching is important, and will prepare you wrists for extension intensive movements such as handstands, planche work, and push ups. Perform these after your wrists rotations.
Strengthening the forearms
This is useful to work on strengthening your wrists overtime and providing them with further protection. Especially effective as prehab, but also great a rehab if you are currently experiencing wrist pain on certain movements.
Warming up the lower body
Before a squat, deadlift, or any intense exercise using the lower body in general, here are a few of the top movements you can do to insure that every muscle is firing as it should, and the joints have been properly lubricated.
The should be performed in both left to right, and front to back ranges of motion. The name may say “swing”, but you really want to control the movement through your entire range of motion.
Hip, knee, and ankle rotations
These are the lower body version of the shoulder circles. Work through 10 to 20 seconds of rotations in both directions, starting with the hips, and following through to the knees and then ankles.
Glute activator (banded side steps)
The glutes are some one of the largest and most powerful muscle groups in the human body, further increasing the need for proper activation of the muscle before you begin your workout. As we evolve (or devolve) to more sedentary lifestyles, our glutes do not function as they once needed to, and therefore require activation drills to make sure they are firing up properly. This will not only increase your performance, but also help to reduce the risk of injury.
Stretching your calves and ankles will allow you to go deeper in your squat, eliminating as much tightness as possible.
These are an activator for you entire core, arms, glutes, and quadriceps. They will help to make sure every muscle is firing up before you begin your squat session.
Squatting with an empty bar or lighter weights can also work. This is the final primer for your first working set.
Foam rolling beforehand can be useful to open up your thoracic extension and allow for better form and alignment in exercises such as the squat. It will also be beneficial in a similar way to deep tissue massages, as mentioned above.
Warming up for bench press
We are now going into exercise specific examples to show you how each exercise is best used to prepare you for you workout. The bench press, or weighted dip, will require thorough warming up of your shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints (taking extra care for those shoulders)
Warming up for squats
For squats, performing the following exercises prior to your first working sets will prepare your muscles and joints and insure proper form and a decrease in the potential chance of receiving and injury.
Warming up and cooling down
Unlike the warm up, a cool down is not absolutely necessary, although it does have its benefits.
For example, if you were just performing Heavy sets of weighted pull ups, you could perform a few bodyweight repetitions, or even some bodyweight rows.
If you are just coming back from an intense run, you might taper down to a brisk walk, eventually getting back to your normal walking pace. If you were doing sets of sprints, you finish it off with a brief jog.
The aim is to slowly allow your muscles to relax and return from their peak activation during effort, and gradually regain a normal heart rate and body temperature.
Again, this doesn’t need to be complicated.
Anything from a few minutes of deep breathing, to a short session of yoga, can provide some great benefits.
Warm up exercises – conclusion
We have looked at the different methods one can use to construct an effective warm up, first going into aspects like dynamic & static stretching, to then go into detail on which exercises can be used. We’ve put those exercises to practice by including them in practical examples with the bench press, and squats.
We also spoke about the individual importance of each exercise, and what it brings to the table – how they can help to improve your performance, as well as reduce the risk of injury.
How complete is your warm up? Did you learn anything today? If you did, please don’t hesitate to share this guide along to anyone else who you think could benefit from it.