Working with clients and being a member myself to a myriad of gyms and training facilities, I’ve seen just about every type of warm up imaginable. Some dragged out to take up more time than the actual workout, others executed so poorly that the participant may have been better off skipping it entirely. It seems that understanding how to come up with a purposeful warm up is something that many people in the gym can benefit from.
Why You Should Warm Up
If your warm up is not prepping you mechanically and mentally to attain the maximal stimulus from your training session, you are wasting valuable time that could be spent doing something more productive for your training goal.
Hopefully anyone reading this has a stimulus they are looking to attain from their time spent training. For some it may be muscle growth while for others it may be power development. Maybe it’s to train a particular energy system, or it’s to just simply burn a set number of calories. Neither stimulus can be attained to its maximal potential by going in unprepared.
Being a hobbyist musician, I’ve grown to understand the importance of connecting my fingers and brain to my playing ability before pushing my limits. Now if I’m just going to jam out and play for fun, warming up with scales and more difficult finger positions isn’t a necessity. But if want to pick up a new skill that is going to push me beyond my playing ability, it’s completely necessary to “grease the groove” before just picking up the guitar and diving right into it.
The same goes for training. Most people in the gym have been stuck in the “playing around & jamming out” phase of training for years. Though they may get after it, they lack purpose, direction, and a strategic progression. These folks wouldn’t benefit from a specific warm up as their training has no specificity. But for those who have a goal for each training session, it’s incredibly important to connect their muscles to their mind before stretching their skillset and pushing themselves beyond their training ability.
No matter your weekly training split or daily training focus, each session should start with a warm up that includes FAS: facilitation, activation, and stimulation. There’s no reason why combining the three components should eat up anymore than 10% of your time in the gym if planned out properly. But before diving into what it should look like, let’s define each component first:
Facilitation includes your self myofascial release, trigger point work, and mobility. Some foam rolling and a few mobility exercises that address weak points and prep you for the movements to be performed for the day should do. I try not to exceed 4-5 mobility exercises with my clients.
Bad hips? Work your way up from the ankle to the knee to the hip. Heavy deadlift day? Make sure your t-spine is opened up and that your erector spinae doesn’t feel like a PVC pipe.
You could look at this as pre-hab or as a means to activate stabilizing muscle groups specific to the movements to be performed for the day. Wrecked shoulders? This is where the stability aspect comes into play with building your rotator cuff and everything else around the scapula.
Heavy bench day? Getting some blood flow to the mid back and traps with pull aparts and face pulls do the trick for getting you ready to retract that scapula for better stability when you start working up to your heavier sets. Both approaches (prehab or activation) usually end up including the same exercises.
Many don’t feel the necessity for this part of the warm up. But I do! Here’s why…
If you’re just getting off a long day of work, struggling to get into the gym and executing a few mobility exercises and light band work isn’t going to get your mind right for a heavy squat workout. This is just as important for athletes who spend all day sitting in class. Because the central nervous system is taxed from higher intensity training, it’s incredibly important to “wake up the CNS” before diving into your first lift. Explosive movements that don’t require much resistance are what you want to work with: plyometrics, medicine ball work, etc. It’s key that you stay in the 3-5 rep range to keep max power at the forefront while also not letting fatigue settle in. You should feel sharp and alert before even touching heavier weights.
Here are some examples of what your warm up should look based off what your daily training focus is:
Heavy Squat Day
F: Foam roll glute/piriformis, dive bomber push up x10, world’s greatest stretch x0:30/s, half kneeling psoas stretch x0:30/s, cossack squat x10/s
A: 2 sets of: Lateral band walk x15/s + feet elevated hip bridge x15
S: 3 sets of: Vertical jump x5
Heavy Bench Day
F: Foam roll lats/upper back, iron cross stretch x10/s, quadruped thoracic rotation x10/s, cat cow x10
A: 2 sets of: Band pull apart x15 + cable face pulls x15
S: 3 sets of: Kneeling medicine ball slam x5
F: Foam roll glute/piriformis, supine glute + piriformis stretch x0:30/s, supine psoas stretch x0:30/s, yoga push up x10, split stance kneeling adductor mobilization x10/s
A: 2 sets of: Donkey calf raises x15 + lying hamstring curl x15 + reverse hyperextension x15
S: 3 sets of: Single arm kb swing x5/s
Full Body MMA Conditioning Day
F: Foam roll whatever hurts, dynamic stretching (6 exercises x15yd each)
A: 2 sets of: Lateral band walk x15/s + band pull apart x15
S: 3 sets of: Sledgehammer swings x5/s
Hopefully this has shed some light on what a direct warm up ought to look like once you are sure of the purpose and direction of your training. Execute these three components with poise and you’ll be opening the door for exceeding your daily potential and getting the most out of your time invested in the gym.