“If your schedule does not allow time for proper warmup, it does not allow time for training at all.” – Mark Rippatoe, author of Starting Strength
Warming up is an essential part of any training program, and has several key functions.
- Increases HR and the temperature of the soft tissues that comprise the joints, prepping you for better movement and injury prevention.
- Explores the full Range of Motion of your joints starting with easier, global multi-joint movements and moving into more dynamic movements.
- Allows you to drill the technique (motor pathway) of a movement before intensity, weight, and fatigue become an issue.
Keep in mind, however, that you can have too much of a good thing. We want the warm up to prepare you for your workout, not to beat you down before you’ve even begun.
Our goal is to keep things short and sweet at a moderate intensity and to work through ranges of motion (ROM) that we will be using that day. If ROM is severely restricted, joint mobility drills (AKA “resets”) may be necessary prior to the workout or you may have to be flexible with your training plan for that day. Remember, NEVER load a dysfunction!
Ground work and movement skill practice is, in my book, the most effective way at capturing all three of our warm up goals. I cover one of my warm up flows in detail in THIS POST. It is simple, fun, effective, and takes less than 10 minutes.
Here are some other drills you can use in your warm up. The most effective ones will capture multiple goals at once, while also preparing you for the specific demands of your movement for the day. Choose several that will accomplish these goals, and then get going.
A New Way to Warm Up – my definitive warm up routine
Mobility Circles – great drills for exploring your movement in a unique way
Building a Flow – Gives you all the tools to create your own movement flow piece by piece.
Campus Fit Warm Up – An example of a complete ground-based warm up routine.
The Washing Machine – a fun circular crawling drill
Hip Openers – a couple of drills to help with tight hips
Evolution Crawl – crawl out of the primordial ooze and into your workout with this drill!
Squat Wheel – another interesting dynamic hip opener
Movement Flow Sequence #1 – good warm up. bad narration. :0
Mountain Climbers and Hip-Switchers – simulates the bottom of a squat without the full mobility required to get there
The 6-point Burpee – when done skillfully and slowly, the burpee is a great way to transition from the ground to standing
Walking Lunges With Twist – Also called “Russian Lunges”. The goal is to warm up the hip flexors and posterior chain. Take a big step out with one foot, enough so that when your foot comes down your shin is nearly vertical. Keep the torso up and down. After you step, twist towards the forward leg and then back to center. Drive through the heel to come up and step out with the other leg. One set of 10-20 reps is a sweet spot.
Leg Swings – Specific movement prep for any sprint work
Jump Rope – Jumping rope is an excellent way to increase the heart rate and develop awareness of core stability. Work for 1-2min., making sure to keep the rib cage in and down (“belly tight”) and the glutes (i.e. your butt) firing. You’ll instantly feel how much more stable you are once you turn your backside ON. Feel free to work different progressions here (ex:. double-unders, practice heel-kiss on running form, etc.)
Sprint Build Ups – This is my go-to general body warm up. Perform 2-4, 50-75 meter “sprints” by building up from a light pace and peaking around 75% of max effort for the end of the sprint. These are NOT full-out efforts. Focus on maintaining good form throughout:
- Step-pace is high (around 180 bpm).
- Land on the forefront of the foot, but let the heel gently “kiss” the ground afterwards.
- Pull the foot off the ground with the hamstring into a “Figure 4” position with the ankle next to the knee and foot in a relaxed position. (#PoseMethod)
- Keep rib cage tucked in and down and abs active (not in flexion, just maintaining a neutral spine.)
Okay, let’s recap. The goal of any good warm up is three-fold:
- Goal #1: Elevate the Heart Rate and Increase Body Temperature
- Goal #2: Explore Your Range of Motion
- Goal #3: Specific Neurological Preparation
By keeping these goals in mind, you’re sure to keep your body finely tuned and ready to go for the demands of the day.
But What About Stretching?
The efficacy of stretching on injury prevention and performance is a topic of contention. Studies have shown that static stretches held over 1min. result in a decrease in strength and muscular endurance, and whether or not stretching prevents injury is yet to be definitively shown. This leads me to the following recommendation: Don’t “stretch” to warm up. Instead, focus on HR elevation and Dynamic ROM. There are a couple of general body positions that I’ll hit in-between warm up drills – but they are a far cry from your standard stretching routine and last no more than 30 seconds a piece.
- Squat stretch – A relaxed, unloaded squat position great for general lower body mobility. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Hang stretch – A relaxed hands-over-head position great for general upper body mobility. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Samson stretch – A forward lunge position good for opening up the front of the hip. Hold for 30 seconds.
If you have an issue that will prevent you from performing a movement correctly, you should address it as best you can PRIOR to the workout. We always want to perform movement in a good position. Proper movement fixes muscle imbalances, prevents injury, and prepares us to move safely and efficiently in the real world. If you can’t get into a good position, you will only exacerbate bad motor pathways and increase your risk of injury.
I highly recommend searching Kelly Starrett’s (DPT) MobilityWOD for more detail on any specific movement problem you might be having. It is also useful to get a FMS screen performed to see where you’re movement patterns might be compromised. For an overview of the differences between mobility and stretching, as well as my favorite MOBs (mobility drills), check out this post.
I can also recommend checking out the following resources:
- FMS – Functional Movement Systems
- Andreo Spina of Functional Anatomy Seminars
- Todd Hargrove of Better Movement
- Ido Portal of the Ido Portal Method
- Rafe Kelley of Parkour Visions
- MOD (Movement of the Day) by MovNat
- The “Flow” youtube series by Julie Angel