Warming Up: The Necessary Appetizer Before the Main Course
The following is a scenario that occurs at every gym in America every weekday afternoon:
Brad gets to the gym, after a long day at the office, his boss was on him all day about filing those reports but now it Brad’s time. He only has 1 hour before he’s gotta pick up the kids, so Brad quickly heads over to his favorite bench and loads a 45 on each side.
He then lays down and begins benching as fast as he can because he just knows someday the NFL is going to come calling and he has to be ready for the bench test at the combine. As Brad is benching he starts to feel a tight feeling in his right pec but ignores it because tonight is pasta night and he needs to get this workout done. On the subsequent set, the tightness gets tighter and tighter until POP, Brad’s pec tears and the bar comes crashing back down on his chest.
The moral of this story - don’t be like Brad. Take time to warm up!
What Are Warm-ups?
Warm-ups, also known as movement prep, are the process of preparing the body to perform movement or physical exertion.
Simple enough right?
The benefits of doing a proper warm-up include injury prevention, being able to lift more weight, improve form, and can lead to more gains in size by pre-fatiguing certain muscles.
When it comes to having a warm-up plan, there tend to be 2 opposite ends of the spectrum arguing on the internet chat rooms and polluting Facebook groups with their opinions. You have the Starting Strength crowd that feels that cracking your neck and doing a couple barbell squats are all you should need to warm up and quit acting like a damn snowflake. The opposite of them is the wannabe performance coaches that are trying to be Supple Leopards and be ready for everything by foam rolling for an hour.
I’m going to set the record straight. You should always have a warm-up routine before any strenuous workouts where your body will be moving through multiple planes of motion (i.e weightlifting, running, playing sports etc). However, your warm-up doesn’t need to last hours on end. In most cases, the absolute maximum amount of time it should take is 15 minutes.
3-Step Process for Creating Your Own Warm-up.
Step 1: Determine Goals
When creating a warm-up routine, the first thing I do is identify the fitness goals of the individual. For example, if someone wants bigger legs, I take a look at their squat movement pattern to see if they have the proper mobility to achieve the right form with the squat that will best help their goals.
Step 2: Determine how long it will be
After mobility needs, I take a look at how much total time the person has to work out. Typically, if they have under 40 mins to train, their warm-up will last about 5 mins (provided there are no glaring movement issues). If they have more than 40 minutes, then their warm-up will last anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes.
For special cases such as older populations, injuries, or very severe movement difficulties, the warm-up may last longer or even end up making the vast majority of the workout.
Note: These cases are extremely rare for me.
Step 3: Building the Warm-up
The actual warm-up itself is made of 2-3 phases. The first phase is made up traditional cardiovascular exercise such as treadmill walking or running, biking, rowing, battle ropes etc and is focused on simply warming the body up and getting blood circulating. I prefer using the rower, prowler, and the assault bike as they are low impact on the joints and hit get the whole body moving. The first phase can be optional depending on the intensity of phase three as well as the individual’s goals.
The second phase is made up of foam rolling and other soft tissue releases that target problem areas and chronically stiff muscles. This phase is not an hour of flopping around like a fish on a foam roller but rather 2 to 5 minutes of concentrated work on areas of focus for the individual. I recommend picking 2 or 3 areas at most to target with soft tissue work. I only say 2- 3 areas because we don’t want the warm-up lasting forever. If you feel you need more soft tissue work I would highly recommend doing separate mobility sessions from your main workout to address these needs. You can always foam roll while watching Netflix just saying.
The third and final phase consists of dynamic stretches, body weight work, mobility work, light weight work, muscle activation, and stability. Typically this phase will be made of 4-10 exercises that aim to get the whole body ready for the workout. I personally don’t recommend going above 10 exercises as in my experience the more exercises there are the less effort is given to each one, it is harder to memorize the correct form, and you are more likely to skip the warm-up because let’s be honest warming up is not the reason we show up to the gym. Pick movements that mimic the actual exercises you will be doing in the workout (i.e push ups for bench press, Body weight squats for barbell squats and glute bridges for deadlifts). The rest of the warm-up should be made of exercises that dynamically stretch tight muscles as well activate key muscles for that workout or that need extra work.
Check out my free beginner warm up pdf at https://www.teamironguru.com/new-products/ or if
need help with creating your own warm up, email me at email@example.com
The Iron Guru
Ethan McElroy is a North Carolina based powerlifter, strength coach, highland athlete and strongman. He is the owner of Iron Guru Fitness and Performance. When he is not training others or competing in competitions of strength he can be found spending time with his wife, two dogs and cat.
For questions or inquiries for online coaching please email firstname.lastname@example.org