Whether you're a fitness beginner, weekend warrior or beast in the gym, how you start your training session matters.
For the average gym-goer, warming up involves touching your toes a few times, swinging your arms like a helicopter and jogging on a treadmill. Well, that's if it's done at all.
And while we believe something is better than nothing, we we've figured some things out over the years that we'd like to share.
Years of coaching, research and learning from the best and brightest in the fitness industry has taught us a more progressive approach. One that will not only help you prepare to kick some fitness ass but will help you:
- improve core control
- gain mobility
- optimize functional movement patterns
- develop sick ninja skills and athleticism
- and other nerdy fitness things
In this post we're going to share the ingredients of a good warmup, some exercise videos and then a sample warmup at the end.
What is does 'warm-up' mean, exactly?
Simply, it means to "warm up" the body's core temperature. This can be done in a multitude of ways ranging from light stretching to walking on a treadmill to Sweatin' to the Oldies.
Buuuuuut, what if I told you that while you warmed up you could also improve the qualities listed above. And without spending any extra time in the gym?
#BOOM #HUZZAH #YASSSSS
Why warming up is important AF
While it may seem unnecessary, it really does go a long way towards:
- Limiting exercise related injuries and
- Improving work out quality
At AMP, our members spend most of their day at a desk and often talk about stiffness, chronic aches and poor flexibility. Sound familiar?
As the saying goes, "If you don't use it, you lose it" and most adults don't move nearly enough to maintain functional motor patterns. It also doesn't help that our connective tissue changes as we age (think filet mignon to beef jerky) and as little as 1% dehydrations will cause stiff joints.
A proper warm-up helps to counteract these negative effects while enhancing performance. Not only that but these positive changes may have an impact that extends beyond just the workout. #winning
"How long should the warmup be, exactly?"
We recommend a fitness or strength training warm up should be roughly 25% of total training time as a general guideline.
So if you have 60min to train, your warmup should be 15min which can cover A LOT of ground. For 30min of training time 5-8min of a super focused warm up should be plenty.
4 Ingredients of a Good Warmup
1. Soft Tissue Work
The first step in our warm-up process is soft tissue work. This includes foam rolling, lacrosse ball work, and playing with other fancy tools that help apply pressure to dense tissue areas.
What we're working to accomplish here is
- enhancing your tissue pliability and
- decreasing tension in your nervous system.
In the past we've used the analogies of muscles as 'knotted up rubber bands' and fascia (connective tissue) as 'Saran Wrap'. These aren't entirely accurate and more recent research has shown that although foam rolling DOES help relieve stiffness, it does so through other mechanisms.
More research still needs to be done but scientists have found that your nervous system may have a large role to play in this. Either way, our goal is to prepare the body to move more fluidly in both the warm-up and the epic training session to come.
This can be done in a variety of ways but for most the weapon of choice is a foam roller. Here is basic sequence we use at AMP Fitness pre-warmup:
2. Mobility Work aka Joint Mobilizations aka Mobs
The warm-up is an excellent time to work on both building flexibility and improving mobility. First, it's important to note the difference:
Flexibility - The ability of your joint to move unrestricted through a full range of motion (e.g. reaching over your head).
Mobility - Is our ability to produce and control a desired movement (e.g.
Ideally, we want to optimize both but it's important to note that 'more' flexibility isn't always 'better'. We do, however, want to continually work on improving our mobility since it's correlated with injury risk.
The key areas to work on #MobilityGainz include:
- shoulder (mostly the front)
- ankles (important: movement starts from the ground up)
- hips (hip flexors and glutes)
- hammies (back of leg)
- thoracic spine (we want better extension AND rotation)
If you're already super flexible
While minimal flexibility can be related to injury, performing static stretching (exclusively) during a warm-up doesn’t seem to 'decrease' injuries either. If you already move like Gumby and are super mobile, you may actually increase the risk of injury by creating excessive movement and flexibility in these areas:
- shoulder joints
- knees (especially women)
- cervical and lumbar spines
What to do instead...
Work on preparing the joints by implementing full range of motion drills and exercises but NOT cranking on them. You should always feel like you have the movement under control.
Here are a few of the basic drills we use:
For the hammies:
For the adductors:
For the T spine:
3. Movement Prep
It's super important to remember that one of the main reasons we're warming upon the first place is to get ready to lift. So you'll want to spend a little time getting your body prepared to become Wonder Woman or Superman before attacking the weights.
After just getting out of bed, sitting at a desk all day or just being in a toned-down state, our bodies aren't prepared to go from zero-to-sixty the second you step into the gym. Maybe ten thousand years ago when we had to run from predators but nowadays we need a little prep.
Here, we like to focus on getting your body primed to lift heavy objects so we spend some time addressing core and joint stability. Think: smaller stabilizing muscles. These are the ones that don't get a lot of love when the body is at rest.
At AMP, we like to work from the inside out and ground up. This includes:
- Breathing Drills - We start from the inside out. This helps focus on the muscles in the deep core (diaphragm & transverse abdominis)
- Core Work - We start from the ground up to focus on the deep core since it's easier to control your body from the ground (things like deadbugs, birddogs, planks, etc). Fun fact: everything is a core exercise if you try hard enough ;-)
- Stability Stuff - We also do this from the ground up to create additional stability and control in the joints (things like glute bridges & bear crawls)
Generally, if you choose 1 or 2 from each category, you're solid. It's also a good time to work on the things you're not good at (yet) to help you get better.
Here are a few of the staples:
For Breathing/Deep Core
For Core Work
For Stability Stuff
4. Ninja Skills
Once you've effectively improved your movement and made your core muscles woke (yes, I said woke), you'll want to 'pattern' or engage in the movements you'll be executing while you train. This allows your body to prepare for 'positive motor outcomes', which is trainer-speak for practicing the movement pattern so your body knows what shenanigans will come next.
At AMP, we call these 'ninja skills' and they help improve:
- nervous system activation (better skills)
- power (move weight faster and jump higher)
- joint range of motion
- increase blood flow to working muscles
- metabolic activity (raises core temperature a bit more)
- decrease muscle tension (to help you move better)
- get ready to fend of enemy ninjas
Sometimes these movements will be the EXACT SAME exercises you will be doing in your training session, just in a lower/lighter capacity. It IS important to note, however, that these are just to prepare your body so they should be LIGHT and create little (to no) muscle damage.
Once you've completed a few ninja skills, you'll be able to pick up heavier objects and perform more complex movements that challenge your body. This means more productive workouts and superior results. Huzzah!
Wrapping It Up
You should consider your warmup as an essential part of any workout and not just 'filler'. It’ll help you improve everything from your mechanics, improving your body control, balance, strength, agility AND decrease injury risk.
The goal isn't perfection, it's just to get you ready to train. So choose a warm-up that helps your body feel like it's ready to rock. Here's a sample:
- 90/90 Breathing x 6 breaths
- Leg Lowers x 8/side
- Side-Lying Windmill x 5/side
- Birddogs x 5/side
- Glute Bridges x 8
- Spiderman Lunge with Reach x 5/side
- Kettlebell Deadlifts x 6-8
Also, to help you remember the 4 components we talked about, here's a handy dandy meme: