Over the past month, we’ve been discussing the Warm Up ad nauseum. First, we determined its Purpose. Then, we let loose with Self-Myofascial Release/Foam Rolling. We reached into Static and Dynamic Stretching and moved through Muscle Activation/Movement Prep. Now we get to put it all together.
How do you plan your warm up?
There are a few different ways to do this. One way is to have a go-to warm up. You use a go-to warm up before every workout because it addresses your particular needs, like tight hips or a lack of thoracic-spine mobility. Another way is to have a warm up that is work out specific: on squat day, you do your squatting warm up and on deadlift day, you do your deadlifting warm up. Most people do the former—doing one warm up for every workout. I’d recommend blending the two strategies so that each warm up addresses your individual needs and preps you for your workout.
How do I identify my individual needs?
Do you have a personal trainer or strength coach? If so, they should have assessed your movement. In that assessment, your trainer/coach should have noticed what movement patterns needed some work. If your trainer prescribed a warm up, do that warm up! They gave it to you for a reason! (I’m looking at you, the 25% of my clients who don’t do your warm ups.)
If you don’t have a trainer and have no intention of getting one, there are a couple of movements that you can do on your own to see what’s going on with your body.
First, you could test your shoulder mobility by reaching your arm to the opposite shoulder blade (both top and bottom) and seeing (1) if you can reach, (2) if you have equal mobility on both sides, and (3) if it’s difficult or painful to do so. (If you have pain, you should find a good physical therapist.) You can also reach your arms up to the ceiling to see if you can get your biceps by your ears with your arms straight and without losing your neutral spine.
You can test your squatting pattern by holding your arms up over your head and squatting as low as you can with your heels down. Look for whether your knees track correctly, how low you can get without losing your neutral spine, and whether you can keep your arms up throughout the movement. If you find you can’t get very low, see if your ankle mobility is the problem by placing your heels on a stable, raised surface.
Finally, you can test your pelvic stability by lying on your back with your legs straight and your feet neutral (meaning they are perpendicular to the ground, not turned out). Try to raise one leg as high as you can without turning either foot or bending either knee. See if you can get your foot past your knee without either foot turning out and without bending either knee. Repeat on the other side.
Videotape each of these movements and see how well (and how easily) you can do them. If your shoulder mobility looks like an issue, include some SMR and dynamic stretching for your chest, lats, and t-spine. If your squatting is an issue, you might work on ankle and hip mobility or glute medius activation. If your single-leg raise is ugly, you might work on hamstring flexibility and pelvic stabilization.
Sample Warm Up
A warm up that’s designed specifically for you is always going to beat a general warm up like this one (just like a workout that’s designed specifically for you is always going to beat a general workout). However, since we’re all people and people are mostly the same, here is a general warm up that I use in one of my small group training classes. This warm up is designed to help you learn to create tension in your core, so it’s great for people who are new to lifting (which requires the ability to recruit and maintain core tension).
Treadmill or Bike - 5-10 minutes to get warm
SMR/Foam Roll - Hip Flexors/Quads, Lats
Diaphragmatic Breathing - 5 breaths
Single-leg Lowering with Weight - 5-10/side
High-Tension Swimmies - 5-10/side
Quadruped Plank - 30-45 seconds
High-Tension Goblet Squat - 5 reps
High-Tension Hip Hinge - 5 reps
Power March - 30-45 seconds
Butt Kicks - 30-45 seconds
Jacks - 30-45 seconds