How should I warm up before a workout?

Go for a jog around the field.

Run on the treadmill for 10min.

Anyone who’s played sports in school, or started a simple workout program found in a magazine has seen these kinds of warm-ups.

They’re not bad. There is room for improvement.

Warm-ups aren’t just for athletes either. Singers warm up, chess players do them, even Astronauts do them!

Most of us are already on board with the importance of a warm-up. Especially if you’ve ever been injured or are a more seasoned adult (old).

What should be included in a warm-up for your upcoming gym workout?

“An intelligent and comprehensive warm-up covers three primary areas:
Reset,
Readiness, and
Specificity”

Let’s break down these three areas into language that makes sense for us.

warm-up
warm-up

Reset

Best to “reset” your body and get the joints ready to move on your command. The reset, according to Robertson, is intended to “restore optimal posture or alignment” to the joints. If you sat at your desk today, did you reach your hands overhead for longer than 1 second? Did you just raise your hand? How’d that feel?

This component of the warm-up should only take 5–7 minutes. The reset can include what’s commonly referred to as soft tissue work in addition to some foundational un-resisted multi-joint movements. In practice this could mean breaking out the foam roller to hit your quads, hamstrings, and thoracic spine (upper back). After 30–45 seconds on each area you could move into some slow tempo body weight squats with a nice pause in the bottom. It could also mean getting the lax ball out, hitting the glutes, shoulders, and pecs, then doing some deep lunges, with twists or overhead reaches. (That video may be one of the best stretches you could do as part of a warm-up, it gets everything!)

The goal of the reset phase of the warm-up is not necessarily to sweat or breathe heavy, but to get the joints lubricated and moving into areas they likely haven’t been for the last 8 hours. Focus on breathing deep, expanding your rib cage and filling your lungs with air.

Once you have reset, it’s time to move onto some readiness.

warm-up
warm-up

Readiness

Here a run on the treadmill isn’t a terrible idea — but it only targets a few areas of our body. An early article in the Crossfit journal points this out well (with the tone of an early CF article). It notes, “While better than nothing, this approach to warming up is largely a waste of time in that it will not improve flexibility, does not
involve the whole body or major functional movements…”

And unless we’re only going to run on the treadmill for our workout — the effectiveness is quite limited. (and if we were going to be only running, a static 10min is still not ideal anyway).

Instead — let’s find some movements we can do that will provide more bang for our buck (time constraints are a real consideration too).

In practice we might build a little circuit that relates to the workout we have planned. Our friends over at Nerd Fitness have a great “dynamic warm-up” that would serve well for this phase. It’s very comprehensive. Modify as needed. I’ll post a sample i’ve used with soccer players at the end of this article.

Additionally, we can take some of the movements we just did in the reset phase and rather than doing 2 -3 controlled reps we’ll push it to 8 reps at a moderate pace. Still trying to get that full range of motion.

This phase of the warm up should be progressive. Starting simply and moving to more complex movements. And by the end you should be breathing more rapidly and feel warm. Now we are looking to even sweat a bit.

Specificity

If your workout for the day includes back squats at a prescribed weight (say 70% of your max). Please don’t simply move from the dynamic warm up to the squat rack and load the bar up to 70% and go to work.

Similarly — if the workout indicates you’ll be doing a super-set of lat pull-downs, and bicep curls. Don’t just hop on the machine and start pulling, or grab a random dumbbell and start curling.

Curls
Curls

Once you’ve made it through the reset and readiness phases — now you want to prep the specific movements you’ll do as part of your workout. If, as noted above your workout includes some squats at 70% of your max (lets say 3 sets of 5 reps each).

Then you might go through a little routine like this:

  • Another set with just the bar of slow eccentric (down) and quick concentric (up) pace
  • Then a progressively increasing set of 3–5 reps till you get within 10% of you target weight. So if your target is 200lbs — you might do sets at 95/125/155/185.

As Tony Gentilcore notes, “You don’t need to perform the same warm-up routine with every exercise on the docket for a given day.” You should utilize it for the first exercise, and any subsequent heavy sets you have planned. You’ll begin to get a feel for your body and know when a full specific warm-up is needed, and when you can move onto the next exercise without it. When in doubt — err on the side of warming up a bit.

Do you have a favorite warm-up routine? What is it? Do you have questions on which movements to use for a speific workout? — let me know. I’m happy to help.

Sample dynamic warm-up for soccer players.

Jog 4–5 min easy pace (a rowing machine is a better alternative for gym workouts)

Using two markers 15 meters apart

Knee to chest down, walk back

Frankenstein’s down, walk back

High knees down, butt kicks back

Bear crawl down, crab walk back

Hip opener down (knee Up, Out, In, Down), walk back

10 Lunges, 10 pushups, 10 squats, 10 broad jumps

Dad, husband, thinker, writer, exerciser. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore

Dad, husband, thinker, writer, exerciser. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore