A purposeful warm up should be simple, effective, and efficient. In order to do that, we will focus on 3 major concepts. The first is to clean up weak or painful areas that prevent us from performing. The second is to facilitate motor learning. And thirdly, we finish by mentally preparing the body for our training session. By focusing on these factors, we will decrease our risk of injury and enhance our ability to perform within the training session, as well as outside of the training session. No more mindlessly jumping on a cardio machine, spending an obnoxious amount of time on a foam roller, or over stretching. Wasting our warmup will be a huge limiting factor on whether we reach the goals we set out to, or stay stagnant for months.
Step 1 – Remove your internal parking brake
Have you ever driven your car a few miles then realized, “Oh no, I left the parking brake on!”? Our bodies can be the same way. We tend to move about the day and do our daily tasks, jobs, and train with our internal parking brake on the whole time. You know, that ache or pain that is there almost every night? The one you have to take ibuprofen for to get through the rest of the day? This part of our warm up is where a few minutes of TARGETED soft tissue release and stretching will go a long way by addressing that common ache or pain. We don’t need to warm up for 30 minutes. We want to find the largest limiting factor that is holding us back, address it, then MOVE ON!
A common issue amongst people with sedentary jobs is tight hip flexors. So, in our warm up, we would do 2–3 minutes of targeted myofascial release on our hip flexors and quads, then another 2 minutes doing oscillatory stretches for the same muscles. Oscillatory means stretching to an end range of motion, adding tension at the end range, then stretching in a further range of motion. Once that parking brake is addressed and removed, we MOVE ON!
Step 2 – Find the baby giraffe within
This step is where we facilitate motor learning, which is learning new movement patterns and revisiting old ones that we aren’t great with. Remember how good you were at crawling when you were a baby? I bet it’s not as pretty as it once was. That’s why this phase is called “Find the baby giraffe.” If you think of this analogy, I’m sure you can picture a baby giraffe hilariously struggling as it tries to do the basic movements of standing up or walking. We want to find those corrective exercises and movements that challenge the sequencing, stability, and smoothness of our movement patterns.
This is where the all-to-common bird dog and dead bug come in, as well as basic movement patterns (Squat, Hinge, Lunge, Push, Pull, Carry). In these positions, we focus on creating tension at the shoulders, hips, and core. Our shoulders and hips are the only ball and socket joints in our body, and creating structural stability, through tension, will ultimately yield a better movement pattern.
We leverage tension with intent, and that allows us to see results. If you do this phase correctly, you should have a nice sweat going, as well as feel where you struggle in each movement pattern. Once you’ve had a little play time (3–5 minutes), it’s time to MOVE ON!
Step 3 – Mental Prep
Because our biggest focus or movement for the session should be performed right after our warm up, we need to ingrain that new movement pattern, from step two, in our mind. We do that by stimulating our central nervous system through some max effort movements. This can be done through isometrics, jumping/landing drills, or medicine ball throws. Engaging with maximal tension and maximal motor unit recruitment gives us the benefit of post activation potentiation. This phenomenon is when the brain thinks something is heavy and responds as if heavy weight is there, but in reality, we work with lighter loads.
One of my favorite ways to apply this concept is through isometrics at a sticking point in your movement. What part of your bench press, squat, deadlift, or lunge do you struggle at? Go to that range of motion and perform an isometric, or max effort hold. Then, not only should the pattern be better, but we should also be better at that sticking point. We will do 3-5 sets of 3-7 seconds and then MOVE ON. It’s time to fire ourselves up and get after it!
If you notice the total time should add up to around 12-15 minutes, then MOVE ON! It’s time to train! Training is why we’re in the gym in the first place, so let’s get to it.
If you want to learn more about warming up with purpose see the referenced articles, speak to one of our fitness specialists. Now that you’ve been taught what to do, never waste your warm up again.
3. Hodgson, M., Docherty, D. & Robbins, D. Post-Activation Potentiation. Sports Med 35, 585–595 (2005). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200535070-00004
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