If "warm-up" to you means walking on the treadmill and doing a few light sets on the bench, it's time to rethink how you approach your training sessions if you want to see results and stay healthy, says Martin Rooney, CSCS, strength coach and founder of Training for Warriors.
You might think that approach is working for you, but odds are your body needs a little more love. Increases in strength, improvements in range of motion, and even the small aches, pain, and strains can usually be traced not to the workout itself, but before you begin.
Specifically, how you spend the 5 to 10 minutes warming up your body can make the difference between a great workout or feeling stuck in an ongoing plateau, adds Rooney.
Workout Warmup: What’s The Point?
When you enter your gym—whether it's your home, the park, or a massive state-of-the-art facility—the goal is to put in work, improve your health, and become better. Avoiding any type of warm-up limits you from reaping the benefits of working out.
Warmups have so many benefits that rarely get any of the attention they deserve. You'll hear all of the reasons to make sure you exercise, but you could easily argue that a workout without a warmup is leaving many benefits on the table.
If you need convincing, here are a few reasons your body wants you to warm-up:
- Injury prevention: study after study shows that preparing your muscles for activity decreases the risk of injury. And, this doesn't mean you have to stretch (as you'll soon see). You just need to get your body ready.
- Improved blood flow: Movement warms up your muscles which gets your heart rate and blood flow. The more you improve blood flow, the less likely your muscles are to suffer from strains or injuries during your workout.
- Activated nervous system: Ever wonder why you can't seem to get stronger or you find yourself yawning during workouts? Well, it might be because your nervous system is still "asleep" when you start your workout. A warmup can change all of that. Not only will it prepare your mind to workout, it will also turn on all your major muscle groups, such as your glutes, back, quads, core, and hamstrings.
Best of all? You'll soon see that you can achieve all of these benefits in just 4 warm-up movements.
Separating Warmup Myths from Facts
Your body takes a pounding from jobs that force you to sit and habits that ruin your natural alignment and make you more susceptible to injury.
You don't go into the gym ready to perform. You need to prepare your body for the stress you're about to create.
Think about it: When you're young (think 10 years old), you can go outside and run, jump, tumble and bounce back. But, as you get older (as early as adolescence), the sedentary nature of life makes our bodies less efficient.
Sitting shortens our hip flexors, which affects our running stride and rounds our shoulders forward. Poor posture causes strength imbalances or shifts our anatomy in a way that increases the likelihood of injury. And these are just problems from being inactive.
That's exactly why a good warm-up will prime your muscles for a better session and speed your recovery afterward. A cold muscle is dangerous, but a warm muscle will conduct more energy and be more pliable and prepared to perform.
We could debate all day about how long a warm-up should be (the truth is, some people need more time and others need less), but here are a few basic movements that require no equipment and would make any strength coach nod with approval.
Be honest: how many of you think that a good warmup consists of some cardio, maybe a 5-minute jog, or some arm-circles? Stretching, anyone?
While that is certainly better than nothing, a good warm-up is doesn't require a lot of time. It just requires intent, intensity, and a focus and activating your muscles, increasing range of motion, and targeting areas that commonly get injured, such as your back, shoulders, and knees.
So, forget stretching. You can add foam rolling if you want. But, to make the most of your time, before every workout, focus on completing these 4 basic movements, which will prepare your body from head to toe for more results and fewer injuries.
The 4-Move Weight Training Warmup Routine
This isn't your traditional warm-up -- it's a lot better and much more efficient. When you do all 4 of these movements as prescribed, you'll turn on every muscle from head-to-toe, increase your heart rate, improve range of motion, and get your brain prepared to move, says Rooney.
The key: make sure you keep moving. None of these exercises are designed to be difficult, but your warmup should move at a quick enough pace that your heart rate feels, at least, a little elevated and you're ready to work.
Warmup Movement #1: Squats
Target: Lower-body muscle activation
- Stand as tall as you can with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Clasp your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides.
- Lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. The tops of your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then slowly raise back up to the starting position.
- Keep your weight on your heels and your torso as upright as possible.
- Don't let your lower back round.
- Perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps.
Warmup Movement #2: Scap-activation PushupsTarget: Upper body muscle activation and shoulder health
- Start in the standard push-up position.
- Maintain a neutral spine, keep your chin tucked and place your hands beneath your shoulders.
- Keeping your abs tight, allow your chest to sink toward the ground without allowing your lower back to cave in.
- Once you've sunk as far as you can go, forcefully push up as far as you can go while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Warmup Movement #3: Rear-Foot-Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch
Target: hip mobility
- Kneel on your left knee and rest the instep of your left foot on a bench behind you.
- Place your right foot flat on the floor in front of you with your knee bent 90 degrees.
- Keep your torso upright and rest your hands on your hips.
- Gently push your hips forward as far as you comfortably can while keeping your torso upright.
- Raise one arm overhead. You should feel a stretch in the front of your right hip.
- Hold for 30 seconds, switch leg positions, and repeat.
- Do 3 to 5 sets on each leg.
Warmup Movement #4: Inchworms
Target: Full body range of motion, core activation
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly bend at the waist.
- Keep your legs as straight as possible until your hands touch the floor about 8 to 12 inches from your feet.
- Walk your hands out to push-up position, then walk your feet in toward your hands.