Warm-ups are one of THE most overlooked elements of training. Even those that know they should warm-up either do some random arm swings and stretches or skip it all together. Not only have you increased your injury risk by 1000% (ok, maybe not quite that much), you are also doing yourself a huge dis-service. Your performance won’t be anywhere near the level it should be if the muscles aren’t primed, the nervous system readied and ROM prepped. So even if you scoff at the thought of warming up to protect you from injury, what about its implications in making you a better athlete? Let’s take a look at the benefits of a warm-up.
– A warm-up can increase the speed in which muscles contract and relax, this means more efficient performance.
– A warm-up can reduce muscle stiffness through dynamic exercises thus increasing ROM and reducing injury risk.
– It can facilitate nerve transmission and muscle metabolism therefore increasing motor unit recruitment. Put simply the more motor units recruited, the more force generated, the more force generated, the more weight you can move!
– Warming up improves blood circulation and prioritises this circulation to the working muscles which means they receive more oxygen assisting with all of the above.
– It’s also a good opportunity to develop any mobility, postural or activation deficits. Again reducing injury risk and improving performance.
– Finally a warm-up can help you focus mentally on the task at hand and lead to a better workout.
So the warm-up has a whole host of benefits and implications and should be just as much a focus as the training session itself. However where do we start when planning a warm-up? I think the easiest way to start is ensuring the activities meet one or more of these criteria.
Focused – A warm-up routine should have a specific focus, whether it be addressing a specific mobility/stability issue, grooving a relevant movement pattern or preparing you for your main session in terms of the most challenging movement(s). This also means the warm-up should be structured into sets and reps which feed nicely into the next criteria.
Efficient – By having a focused approach and having sets and reps determined beforehand means that you get a quality warm-up without spending 20 minutes rolling your left quad. A warm-up should be completed within 10-15 mins max.
Relevant – To ensure our sessions are efficient we should only use movements that are relevant to the task at hand which you have already identified with your warm-up focus. So let’s say you have good thoracic mobility, using side lying windmills would still be a good warm-up exercise to prep thoracic spine for many movements but if you have good range, do you really need it in there? Will mobilising your ankle joints be relevant for shoulder press? If you have poor ankle range then maybe you’ve decided to address that until it’s improved so even though it’s not concentrated towards pressing it’s still relevant to your task of getting better ankle mobility. Take the time to think your warm-up through and stick with what is relevant for that session or overall mobility/stability goals.
So once you have an idea of what your warm-up should achieve through the 3 above criteria, we then need to start compiling the movements contained within it. Eric Cressey lays out some fantastic principles to help develop your structure and selection of movements, which I’ve outlined below.
Self-Myofascial Release – This involves foam rolling the soft tissue around the body. It’s a great tool for improving ROM and raising muscle temperature. Again if time is short focus on relevant muscle groups for that session.
Start with the largest base of support before placing more and more demand on balance and stability – This means start with ground based movements first such as quadruped rotations or bridges. This will gradually prep you nervous system and motor unit recruitment.
Start with single joint movements and then progress onto multi joint ones – This means we can address specific mobility/stability at a joint or muscle before incorporating it all into one system through full body exercises such as lunges w/overhead reach.
Address hips, ankles and thoracic spine – Due to todays technology rich lifestyle and sitting for long periods of time, these 3 areas take the brunt of bad positioning. Obviously if you are mobile and stable in these areas then they don’t need as much focus, use the 3 criteria and some basic ROM/stability tests to see where you are at.
There you have it, some basic principles and criteria to help you structure your warm-ups. Obviously these can be adapted over time when you start to improve in certain areas and one exercise may work well for one person and not so much for another. This is why there is no list on here of the best warm-up exercises as one doesn’t exist.
Finally have a look at the videos below for some inspiration and an idea of what my warm-ups look like. Again its simple an example, not gospel. Some trial and error may be required in the beginning as whatever movements you do use you should see immediate change when using them. So test and re-test, if there’s no change look for another movement.