Before the workout, there is a warm-up.
Warm-ups are an INCREDIBLE 15-20 minutes to make mobility gains, nourish joints, rep out isolated movements/activation drills, playfully engage in movement sequence or explore other movements that peak one’s curiosity.
I used to dread warming up before workouts, as most people probably do.
Warming up seemed like a barrier to the productive section of the workout.
A period of time where I’d swing my arms around a little bit, bounce on your toes, a few neck rolls, get my hype playlist dialed in and throw a few shadow punches.
This used to be me.
I’d drudge through a smattering of hand-selected, mindless dynamic stretches, mini band walks to “wake up” the glutes, and finish strong by mobilizing the ankles and T-Spine.
I elevated my heart rate, initiated a sweat and feel focused, so the warm-up boxes must all have checkmarks ✅, right?
In my mind, the answer to that question was, “Boxes check, good to go. Moving on to the sexy part of the workout. Exertion.”
Re-Establish the Purpose of the Warm-Up
People generally think of warm-ups as a stimulus to awaken and prime the body for more aggressive exercise, be it resistance training or cardio conditioning.
This isn’t the wrong way to view things by any means. Elevating the heart rate and increased body temperature is still important.
But the warm-up can serve as a vehicle to make incremental (valuable) gains in other areas. Mobility, movement transitions, balance, coordination, etc.
The problem, rather a common perception, is that investing time in a progressive warm-up seems like a waste of time.
No muscle pump? It must be a waste of time.
Lungs not burning? Surely time is being wasted.
“Let’s get this over boring-ass sh*t over with so I can start making my gaaaiiinnnzzzz”.
For clarification, “Gainz” generally describes the usuals for most people:
- Fat loss
- Muscle or strength gain
- Losing weight
- General fitness improvement
- Big bouncing pecs, softball-sized biceps, and curvy butts, etc.
I think we can do better with our pre-workout warm-up routines.
We can do this by integrating joint mobility training, moving limbs through disadvantaged or strict patterns of motion, movement exploration/play, flow sequencing, transitions, etc.
Today, it’s really hard to see where my warm-up stops and the workout begins.
The days of twirling arm and leg swings are long gone. I’ve traded them for slow and controlled mobility drills, where I attempt to express the true joint range of motion I have ownership over, and fighting to earn and expand that gradually.
Rather than flailing my arms around in circles for 10 reps and calling it good, I’ll crush a tennis ball and draw the largest possible circle with my fist (from front to back) doing my best to stay avoid moving body parts to draw that circle.
These mobility drills involve articulating joints through a maximum controlled range motion. It’s simple, but not easy. Each repetition is painfully slow. You can find a lot of these drills on my YouTube page.
Functional Range Conditioning refers to these joint nourishing exercises as CARs (controlled articular rotations).
I also like to get on the floor and move.
Twisting, turning, reaching, flexing/extending, squatting, lunging, blending pushing movements and rotation movements, crawling, changing levels, tossing, throwing, etc.
5-10 minutes are allocated to getting lost in bodyweight-based groundwork.
Some workouts, I’ll include a wood plyo box or other pieces of equipment, but moving with bodyweight through an open space remains the foundation.
Here are a few other things I like to practice during the warm-up:
- Mobility techniques
- Gymnastics drills
- Spinal Waves
- Wood dowel training
- Improvised ground-based movement
- Ground Flow Combinations
- Movement 20XX exercises
- Exploring new exercises, methods, and techniques
- Macebell training
- Weck Method drills (Coiling, RMT rope drills, etc)
- Hybrid kettelbell exercises
- Turkish Get Up variations
- Swing variations
- Hand-to-hand exercises
- New Bodyweight Movements
- Sissy Squats
- Dragon Squats
- Task-Based Challenges
- Legless Rope Climbs
- Parallette Bar drills
Total Body Pre-Workout Preparation
A while back, I uploaded a YouTube video demonstrating 14 different warm-up exercises to prepare the entire body for a workout.
Here is the video…
1. Shoulder CARs
2. Spine CARs
3. Hip CARs
4. Dowel Assisted Sissy Squats
5. 90/90 Series (transfers, lift offs, hovers, etc)
6. Prone Swimmers Hovers
7. Bodyweight Squats
8. Bodyweight Lunges
9. Bodyweight Push-Ups
10. Side Kick Throughs
11. Crab Reach
12. Back Bridge
13. Scorpion Reach
14. Cossack Squat w/ Horse Stance Pause
Take notice of all of the joint articulations, slow tempo movement of arms and legs through challenging patterns, bodyweight exercises and movement combinations.
It’s all there.
Basic joint mobility work, ground-based conditioning, and exploratory movement training can really have a significant impact on your movement capacity, joint health, and performance.
In time, movements that once plagued you or simply felt impossible, begin to feel very achievable. Joints feel buttery. Your body is changing. Adapting to the stimulus.
If you’re training 4-5 days per week, sectioning off 15-20 minutes to warm up with a few of the exercises featured in the video can add 60+ minutes of unique training to your regularly scheduled workout regimen.
This adds up.
Daily, the full-body approach to warming up is my personal preference. Even if the day’s workout is mostly upper body, I still deliver a stimulus to the hips, knees and ankle joints.
Conducting total body maintenance has made my body feel better at 35 years old then I did when I was supposedly at my “peak physical condition” in college.
Nothing against people who opt for upper and lower body splits, but I prefer a daily micro-dose of joint articulations and full range movement.
Find what works best for you.
It might not be what works best for me… and that is ok.
How long should a warm-up be?
Working through 14 exercises generally takes 15-20 minutes, depending on reps and tempo per exercise.
Should it always take 15-20 minutes?
No. Starting out, expect it to take longer because you won’t know what the hell you’re doing.
Time will decrease as you become more familiar and waste less time setting up.
All this being said, the more volume with most of these exercises, the merrier.
How many reps per exercise?
In the video, I demonstrate 2-3 reps per exercise.
I reduced the reps to keep the video moving along and lower the boredom factor. Plus, uploading a 20+ minute video to YouTube can be full of problems.
Increase the reps to 8-10 per side for each exercise.
Progress through all 14 exercises, one after the other, non-stop until the end.
Of course, pause and rest as needed, but don’t waste too much time.
Keep the show moving.
This warm-up shows 14 different exercises.
Only 14. There’s a mountain of other effective warm-up exercises not shown in this video.
I simply wanted to share an example of a total body warm-up routine.
There are many other incredible mobility drills, activations, locomotion exercises and ground-based movements not included in the video.
A total body warm-up can be organized a thousand different ways.
Should all warm-ups look like this?
They don’t have to.
Some days my pre-workout build-up consists of jumping rope for a few minutes paired up with crawling. Other days I’m in the mood for ground flow, swinging kettlebells, rolling around on the floor, wall assisted handstands, etc.
I like to mix it up.
It doesn’t always follow this 14 exercise recipe.
On days where I am engaging in a long slow cardio session, I’ll climb on my air bike and ride. No warm-up at all.
The message of this post is to audit your current warm-up routine and observe if you’re breezing through a below-average pre-workout warm routine.
Are you undervaluing warm-up time? Is there room for improvement?
I’d bet there is.
I used to overlook my warm-ups, and I’d guess a lot are doing the same.
Time is a valuable commodity and goal achievement is important.
Warming up with greater purpose can help to accelerate the time it takes to reach physical goals, keep your body feeling good and leverage your time in the gym.
Cheers to getting after the warm-up,