How to Write a Warm-Up for Strength Training

Walk into any commercial gym and here are the various warm-ups folks execute: -       Swing the arms back and forth

-       Quad stretches

-      What warm-up?

What if you could enhance your workouts, prevent injuries, and perhaps strike up a conversation with that cute guy or girl in just 10 minutes? (Well, no promises on that last one.)  The easy, albeit not-so-sexy, answer is: perform a dynamic warm-up! I get it, warm-ups are boring and unimpressive, but when done right, can go a long way to increasing the benefits of strength training and extending your lifting career.

What’s the point of performing a dynamic warm-up anyway?

  1. Increase bodytemperature- cold muscles, joints, and ligaments are more likely to get angry and sustain an injury.
  2. Prepare the body for movement, part 1- especially if you fly a desk all day long, the joints are probably a little gunky. Warm-ups help restore range of motion (link for temp loss of ROM) lost during periods of lack of motion.
  3. Prepare body for movement, part 2- exercises employed in warm-ups can help “groove” the nervous system for certain movements, making the body more efficient, which in turn allows it to hoist heavier weights. For example, a quadruped rock can prime the nervous system for hip hinging or squatting patterns.
  4. Activate dormant muscles- along the same lines as point #2, prolonged positions (i.e. sitting) can reduce the function or certain muscle groups, either through changes in muscle length or tension. A classic example is, prolonged sitting tends to shut down the glutes and tighten the hip flexors.; supremely unhelpful when trying to deadlift massive loads from the floor. If you want the maximum benefit, you need the muscles turned on!
  5. iYou look like a Jedi- true story: the first time I saw someone going through a dynamic warm-up (my to-be husband actually) I thought he was doing tai chi or some other marital art thingamabob.

Right, so you’re convinced you need to have a dynamic warm up before hitting the weights, but what do you do?

Let’s think in *very* general terms, everyone needs:

Correct breathing mechanics

Hip mobility

Glute activation

Thoracic spine (T-spine) mobility

Core stability

CNS (central nervous system) activation

Granted, depending on sport played, injury considerations, and whether or not you have laxity, the specific needs for each individual will be different. However, I’ve found that if you include exercises that encompass those components, you’ve got a pretty solid warm-up that will take care of 90% of the demands for general fitness preparation.

Here are some sample exercises geared toward the above mentioned characteristics:

90/90 Breathing

What it’s good for: breathing mechanics. This is a good beginner breathing drill if you or your client is having a hard time attaining 360-degree expansion of the diaphragm and rib cage.

I’m not going to delve into breathing today but if you want to know more (and you absolutely DO want to know more) you can read a few posts HERE and HERE (Also, indirectly, improving breathing mechanics will improve both t-spine and hip mobility.)

Crocodile Breathing

What it’s good for: breathing mechanics. Another good beginner drill as the floor provides tangible feedback for expansion.

Bulldog Hip Mobility

What it’s good for: hip mobility and core stability and a wee-bit of glute activation. Maintain a neutral spine and relatively stable hips as the knee moves around for maximum benefit.

Adductor Rockbacks

What it’s good for: hip mobility. Specifically this helps work out some of the gunk the adductors accumulate. If you don’t know what I mean, try a few rockbacks and you’ll instantly know where your adductors are. These bad boys are the “groin” in groin pulls and knotty, nasty adductors are more susceptible to pulls. Keep ‘em happy by rocking!

Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Mob

What it’s good for: hip mobility and (indirectly) glute activation. This one, as the name implies, targets the hip flexors (front of the hip). Tight hip flexors can wreck havoc on pelvic position- which can set you up for back injuries or hamstring pulls- and, delightfully, shut down glute function through a process called reciprocal inhibition. Considering that most athletic endeavors require high-functioning glutes, this is a problem.

Glute Bridge

What it’s good for: glute activation. Wake up your sleepy glutes!

Quadruped Rockback

What it’s good for: hip mobility, core stability, CNS activation. Primarily, at SAPT, we use this to groove the hip hinge and teach neutral spine while moving. It also tells us if someone can squat to parallel or not by how their spine and hips move. Read more about that HERE.

Bird Dog

What it’s good for: glute activation, core stability, CNS activation.  Try to maintain a neutral spine and pretend you have to balance a glass of water on your butt. You’ll feel it in the right places. The cross-body movement (opposite arm and leg moving) fires up the CNS and solidifies coordination between the brain’s two hemispheres.

Spiderman with Overhead Reach

What it’s good for: hip and T-spine mobility. This hit everything and feels amazing. Make sure you follow your hand with your head so the neck isn’t cranked around.

Bear Crawl

What it’s good for: core stability and CNS activation. Similar to the bird dog, by maintaining a neutral spine and level hips, the core muscles have to fire and the brain has to coordinate the cross-body limb movement. (Technically, there’s a some glute action in there as they come in to stabilize the hips laterally.)

Yoga Pushup to T-Rotation

What it’s good for: All of the above. If you’re very limited on time, this is a great all-around movement to hit everything in one swoop. As a bonus, it grooves the pushup technique and encourages scapular movement- which is often non-existent in most people.

Stepback Lunge with Over-The-Shoulder Reach

What it’s good for: all of the above.  Plus, you’ll look like one cool cat doing this one.

Walking SL RDL with Reach (forward or backwards)

What it’s good for: all of the above. In addition to all the other benefits, this one will challenge your balance.  This is another exercise that can help groove a pattern, namely the hip hinge.

Putting it all together

Another note, I try to program warm-ups to progress- loosely anyway- from ground, to quadruped, to standing. For example:

Crocodile Breathingx 8 breaths

Quadruped Rockbacks x 10

DL Glute Bridge x 8, hold :02

Bulldog Hip Mobility x 8 each

Spiderman w/ OH Reach x 6/side, hold 1 breath

Bear Crawl x 8 yds

Walking SL RDL x 6/side

That whole thing should take about 5-8 minutes; a small commitment for big benefits!

The body is like a car: you can’t expect the car to speed off at 80 miles and hour on a cold day. Likewise, you can’t expect your body to jump into heavy strength work while it’s still cold. Prevent injuries and capitalize on your time under the bar by employing a proper warm-up before each training session.

Great Warm-up Movement You've Never Tried

MB Push + StartWhat is it? A great warm-up tool for getting the CNS firing and reminding the body how to produce a lot of force against the ground. The movement approximates the start for a sprint event. You can’t get as low as you do in the blocks, but it helps teach and reinforce how to produce great amounts of force as you are falling forward.

Why use it? See above, plus it’s fun!

Who should use it? Any athlete that is concerned about a “quick first step.”

If I were to coach myself based on my demonstration in the video, I clearly need to work on allowing myself to fall a fraction of a second longer and spend another fraction of a second extending through and taking advantage of the triple extension moment.

Overall, not too bad for a woman who had a baby exactly one-year ago tomorrow!