Here’s What You Need to Know…
1. Your warm up sets the tone for the rest of the training session. Do you want to break a light sweat while watching Jerry Springer re-runs and walking on the treadmill at 3.5 mph? Or do you want to prepare your body for intense strength training with specific movements and drills? The choice is yours.
2. The key to success in the gym is constant, and consistent, improvement. Even if you’re a seasoned vet in the iron game, your warm up can be modified and optimized to better fit your needs. Variety is key, so don’t get stuck in your ways without at least trying out alternative methods.
3. Get more bang for your buck out of movements that involve multiple joints and muscle groups. Compound movements will allow you to recruit the most amount of fibers without spending hours warming up just to train for an additional 90 minutes. Most people can’t spend 2-3 hours in the gym daily.
4. Each of the three new warm up exercises are visually demonstrated below, along with coaching notes and samples of utilization. Take advantage of them!
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” While that quote can be very motivating in the right situation, but I have to call bullshit.
In the context of training, how you start is equally as important as how you finish. Some may say that it is even more important. No matter your fitness experience or training goal, the warm up is something that should never be overlooked.
Unfortunately, most people’s warm ups consist of one, or all, of the following:
#1 Arm Swings
or as Joe DeFranco calls them, “Summadeez.” This is probably the most common “warm up” I see in the gym. Flailing your arms around at weird angles and random, unplanned paces of revolution is no way to prepare your body for an intense training session.
Your shoulder health is imperative to a long-lasting lifting career. Don’t disrespect them with warm ups your high school P.E. teacher gave you in the 1990s.
Bro #1: Hey, bro what are you doing from a warm up before we bench?
Bro #2: I’m just gonna do summadeez *carelessly swings his arms in circles to get loose*
Bro #1: Cool, let’s start with 225.
#2 Cardio Machines
Cardio machines are a staple piece of equipment at every gym, for better or worse. I have nothing against cardio machines when used appropriately, but I don’t believe they have a place in a serious lifter’s warm up routine.
The treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike aren’t really preparing your body to lift weights. The treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike are preparing your body for, well, using the treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike. Prepare your body for war with the iron, not light cardio and muted television shows.
#3 Static Stretching
Although I do think there is a time and place for static stretching, immediately before a heavy lifting session is not the ideal usage. The two typical warm up moves listed above in conjunction with some static stretching is usually the average gym-goer’s recipe. I believe this to be more counterproductive than anything.
What You Should Really Be Doing…
Spend your pre-training time performing strategic self-myofascial release techniques, mobilizing muscles and joints, activating stubborn tissue and dynamically warming up. This will yield much better, and safer, results in the weight room.
I would classify those three mistakes as beginner level bad habits. Trust me, I have no shame in admitting that I’ve committed each of those slip-ups at least once in my life. I’m sure everyone has. After all, fitness is all about constant and consistent improvement. If you’re still commonly using these outdated and ineffective warm up techniques, you must keep reading.
On the other hand, anyone who regularly reads this site has already been well informed on how important a proper warm up is. But there’s still a chance even the most advanced lifters out there aren’t getting the most bang for their buck out of the warm up.
Some of the advanced lifters commit these common errors:
- Warm-up way too long
- Not warming up for long enough
- Warming up too specific
- Not including any specificity in the warm-up
- Warm-up only includes light(er) sets of your training program
In today’s busy world, we need every aspect of our life to be optimized for ultimate efficiency. Twenty four hours a day is never enough, but it’s what we have to work with. In terms of a warm up prior to training, the same principles apply. Most people can’t spend 2-3 hours in the gym, so it’s important to precisely plan and perform the entire training session – which starts as soon as you step foot inside the gym.
The three exercises I’ll introduce can be added to your current warm up to make it a more complete routine. My hope is that one or all of these can also replace a few not-so-necessary warm-up exercises you perform and help you condense your pre-training ritual to maximize training time.
Medicine Ball Squat w/ Reach & Slam
- Position a medicine ball on the ground between your feet. Your feet should be in squat stance, about hip-width apart. Toes can be pointed out slightly.
- Start with a hip hinge, bending towards the ground. Keep the spine and pelvis neutral. Place both palms on the medicine ball. Hold this position for 5-seconds.
- Next, pull yourself into a deep squat position. Your hands remain on the ball. Force your knees outward by pressing your elbows against the inside of your knees (or thighs). Hold this position for 5-seconds.
- With one hand remaining on the ball, remove the other hand and reach backwards at a diagonal angle. Follow your hand with your eyes. Hold this position for 5-seconds, then repeat with the other arm.
- After reaching with both arms, grab the ahold of the ball and begin a concentric squatting motion. With straight arms, bring the ball into an overhead hold as you perform the squat and stand.
- Slam the ball straight down, this is one rep. Complete 5-10 reps.
*Note: Any time you’re holding a position, you should be diaphragmatically breathing.
This is an adaptation of my good friend, and awesome coach, Johnathon Hill’s 3-part medicine ball squat progression series. He uses it to assist clients in achieving proper squat and hinge positioning. In this case we’re using it as a part of the warm up, really focusing on opening up the hips and thoracic spine mobilization. We’re also getting great action in the ankles and knees, plus a little bit of functional breathing during the held positions.
I always include this in my warm-up on days that I perform any overhead or front-loaded squat patterns. That warm-up may look like this:
1A) SMR with roller and/or lacrosse ball on problem areas
2A) Walking High-Knee Pull Through – 5 per side
2B) C-Skips – 20 yards
2C) Inchworms w/ Yoga Push-Up – 6 reps
2D) Medicine Ball Squat w/ Reach & Slam – 5 reps
*repeat 2A-D for two rounds
3A) Vertical Jumps – 5 reps, 1 minute rest, 5 more reps
Give this exact warm up routine a shot with the obvious inclusion of the Medicine Ball Squat w/ Reach & Slam! Now, onto the next best warm up exercise you aren’t using.
- Begin the movement with a deep squat and a forward reach.
- Slowly shift your bodyweight forward so your already extended arms can come into contact with the ground. It is vital that you remain in complete control of your momentum during this transition to avoid placing harmful shear force on your shoulders.
- You’re now in a modified quadruped position. From this position, perform a push-up. On the concentric phase of the movement, propel yourself back into the squatted position with your arms still reaching forward.
- Stand up. This is one rep. Repeat for 8-10 reps.
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana – home of one of the most prestigious race tracks in the world, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Every July, people travel from all over the world to see one of NASCAR’s top races at the speedway – The Brickyard 400. It’s a long-running tradition now for the Brickyard 400 winner to kiss the “yard of bricks” that covers the start/finish line on the track. This is what that looks like. This is how I named this exercise. You won’t hear me talk about NASCAR again for at least 10 years. Sorry.
The Brickyard Push-Ups are tough. Much tougher than they appear to be. This is a total body movement that can find its way into any warm-up and serve a great purpose. Here is an example of a GPP warm up including both of the new moves I’ve discussed so far:
1A) SMR with roller and/or lacrosse ball on problem areas
3A) Walking Side Lunge w/ 180-degree rotational step through – 6 per side
3B) Tall Kneeling Stability Ball Overhead Wall Bounce – 30 seconds
3C) Brickyard Push-Ups – 8 reps
3D) Medicine Ball Squat w/ Reach & Slam – 5 reps
*repeat 3A-D for two rounds
3A) Med Ball Slams – 6 reps, 1 minute reps, 6 more reps
There you go, another awesome custom dynamic warm up routine to put in your training arsenal!
Bear Crawl Kickbacks
- Begin on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Without moving anything else, raise your knees 1-2 inches off the ground. Be sure to keep your spine as neutral as possible, avoiding excessive flexion or extension. This is your starting position.
- To begin the movement, inhale a deep breath into your diaphragm, brace your core and move your left hand and right foot forward 6 inches simultaneously.
- Exhale as your hand and foot return to the ground at the same time. You’re now in an offset position with one hand and foot slightly in front of the other.
- Lift your rear leg off the ground by contracting the glute with a dorsiflexion at the ankle and an extended knee. Remain stable with the 3 remaining points of ground contact.
- Return the leg to the offset position (in step 3), this is one rep. Repeat for 10 reps (steps).
Bear Crawls are incredible. I can’t say enough great things about them. Whether it’s stability, mobility, conditioning or strength enhancement, you can always find a way to use a Bear Crawl or one of its derivatives. With the Bear Crawl Kickbacks, we’re getting full core engagement, challenging our total body stability and forcing action in the ankles, knees and hips.
What differentiates this Bear Crawl is the glute activation from the kickback. A lot of lower back injuries can be traced back to dysfunction of the glutes, pelvis and/or Quadratus Lumborum (and its neighboring muscles).
We don’t want other muscles doing the glutes’ job for them, which is an issue that everyone has run into. The Bear Crawl Kickback activates the glute better than most exercises I’ve tried because of the position you’re in when your kick backwards. Your other knee is flexed, which flexes that hip and helps to flatten the lower back. Now you can focus on actually firing your glute, and not just hyperextending your lower back – which is what happens on most “kickback” movements (Ex: Bird Dogs, Donkey Kicks, Cable Kickbacks, Supermans, etc.).
This is a staple in my warm up, no matter what the session looks like that day. Below is an example of how you can work the Bear Crawl Kickback into your dynamic warm up, along with the previous two exercises I introduced. Notice that all three of these have similar starting positions and movement patterns, which makes for easily transitioning from one to the other – or combining them into one super-move. Again, here’s how to drop this exercise right into a full dynamic warm up!
1A) SMR with roller and/or lacrosse ball on problem areas
2A) High Knee Skips – 12 skips
2B) Walking Side Lunge w/ 180-degree rotational step through – 6 per side
*repeat 2A-B for two rounds
3A) Bear Crawl Kickbacks – 10 steps
3B) Brickyard Push-Ups – 8 reps
3C) Medicine Ball Squat w/ Reach & Slam – 5 reps
*repeat 3A-C for two rounds
4A) Med Ball Slams – 6 reps, 1 minute reps, 6 more reps
4B) Box Jumps – 6 reps
Final Warm Up Words
Take a look at your warm up routine. Do you have one? Do you alter is based on your training session? Are you warming up to train or training to warm up? Evaluate what you have in place currently and consider one or all of these three new exercises as an addition or substitution to that. Implement some minor tweaks and it could make all the difference in your training results!
About The Author
Justin Ochoa is the head personal trainer & gym manager at 1 & Only Fitness (Fishers, Indiana). A NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Group Training Specialist, Fitness Nutrition Specialist and TRX Level 1 Coach, he works with a wide variety of clients ranging from professional athletes to rehabilitation patients. Besides lifting heavy objects and stuffing his face with reheated chicken breasts, Justin enjoys spending his time with his wife, son and dog.