OK, I’ll admit it. For most people, how to warm up for a workout is not the most exciting topic in fitness. Even so, warm up exercises are critical. What you do or don’t do in your warm-up sets up the rest of your workout.
I often joke that the older I get, the longer my warm-up is. Pretty soon I will just be warming up and then be done with my workout. But although I’m joking, there is some truth to this. My warm-up has gotten longer, but it has gotten much more specific. I have suffered through enough injuries to care enough to take the time to warm up well.
Warm Up Exercises
With a properly designed warm-up and warm up exercises, you will not really be sure when your warm-up ends and your workout begins. If you plan it right, your warm-up flows right into the workout so they blend together. There are a few components of your warm-up that I thought would be important to highlight for you. If you aren’t doing all of these at some point in your workouts, I highly recommend adding them.
Warm Up Exercises Step 1: Myofascial Release
There are very few, if any, people I see who don’t need some form of mobility work. You probably know your problem areas here. Starting your workout with foam rolling is usually a safe bet. Yes, this is often uncomfortable and painful, but cannot be neglected. There are articles out there debating what actually happens during foam rolling, but let’s not get caught up in the wrong things. It simply works well for most people. This step will help improve your muscle tissue quality by making it less dense and stiff, allowing it to move better. It also improves circulation so your muscles will get better hydration and blood flow.
Warm Up Exercises Step 2: Mobility Work
Foam rolling is a form of mobility work, but now we are going to specifically focusing on improve range of motion. Again, you probably know where you need the most work. Common areas to include would be your ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders. You improve your mobility through a variety of stretching techniques. You can use traditional static stretching, where you hold a stretch. You can use dynamic stretching where you move through range of motion. Or you can add proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, where you add muscle contractions to a stretched muscle. All have their place.
Warm Up Exercises Step 3: Activation
Once you have improved mobility and the joints are more likely to move the way they are supposed to, you now can start to target certain muscles that you have a hard time engaging. Often when you are tight, your muscles no longer “know” how to control the joint the way they are supposed to. This stability work can help re-engage these muscles, so you are more aware of them. It is common to see exercises that focus on improving knee stability, core stability, and scapula stability here. This often includes working on control in different postures like half kneeling, quadruped, or single-leg stance.
Warm Up Exercises Step 4: Corrective Exercises
As we progress through our warm-up, we are now attacking the entire system. We worked on the parts, and now we have to put it all together. Here we are working to improve specific movement patterns that we struggle with. This would include things like squatting, lunging, pushing, etc. If you have never had a functional movement screen done, this would be a good idea to find your specific movement restrictions. Our goal here is to help your body relearn basic movement patterns so you can then lay strength upon them.
Warm Up Exercises Step 5: Movement Prep
There is some overlap here. This last section, movement prep, is just making sure you include any drills that will help you prepare for specific work that day. If you are including plyometric drills, you may include landing or deceleration drills here. Maybe you are going for a run and want to include specific running drills before you go. You may have covered this in previous sections, but it is worth noting its importance here.
Bonus section: Breath Work
Breath work could have its own section, but I often use it in each of the sections listed. Breathing is one of the most overlooked areas of training. While we can spend a whole book on this topic, just remember that your goal is to work on better quality breaths during your warm-up. Using diaphragmatic breathing drills during your foam rolling, stretching, and other activities will help you better control your movement and improve your mobility. Keep in mind when you work on mobility specifically that if you are holding your breath during a stretch, you really haven’t improved anything. You should be able to hold a stretch position and breathe naturally.
Well, there you have it. I know it is a lot of time to devote to your warm-up, but take it from experience: when you focus your efforts in the right places, you will see better gains and fewer setbacks from injuries. Feel free to try some of the exercises shown in the videos above, but note that these are just examples for each category of warm-up exercise. What works best for you will depend on your specific needs.
Now take the time and get to work.
Keep training smarter,