Nowadays, a warm-up routine tends to be all over the place. Some people don’t do it at all, others spend 20 minutes on the floor foam rolling and stretching themselves into human Play-Doh. Sure, they’re all somewhat applicable in certain situations, but which way is right? Which way will get me primed and ready to do work and feel great throughout? I’ll try and give some guidance here, without dropping the generic “well, it depends”, or “it’s based on the individual” on you because that helps absolutely nobody.
Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself when planning out your warm-up for the day:
- What is my main priority for today? Are you squatting, deadlift, benching, sprinting?
- What muscles are called upon in this day’s main movements?
- How much time do I have available for today’s workout?
- What makes me feel good and ready to do work before a workout?
What’s the day’s priority?
By priority, I mean both the main lift/movement, as well as what the majority of the day’s work will be centered around. Let’s use an upper-body day with the main exercise being a barbell bench press as an example. A warm-up is usually 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises that are chosen because they will prepare you for the day’s work, but will not be intense enough to cause any fatigue that will negatively impact your lift. They will also likely target muscles/positions that you personally need to bring awareness too, or simply need to prime for work.
What muscles are being called upon?
Movement selection is going to depend on a load of different factors. I would pick them based on what muscles I know that I lack or need more positional awareness of. I know that I am a little more hunched over from day to day. On a bench, this may not be optimal because it means that I may lack extension through my thoracic spine. In layman’s terms, I could benefit from getting my chest a little more forward and my shoulder blades a little more down and back. Knowing this is most of the battle. Now all I need to do is pick movements that do this. Examples would be things like scapular retraction exercises, cable abduction exercises, or even just isometric push-ups where I focus on finding my shoulder blades more down and back.
How much time do you have?
Pretty common sense here. If you find yourself strapped for time, still hit a warm-up. It’s not the end of the world if you only do 2 sets instead of 3. Add in a couple of extra reps per set and just make sure that you feel good to go. On the flip side, even if you have all the time in the world, don’t spend forever on warm-ups. Get what you need from them and get to work. The goal is to need to do less prep work overtime, not more.
What makes you feel good before a workout?
There’s a lot of commotion about the practicality of foam rollers, theraguns, and stretching on the interwebs lately. People say they’re useless, they don’t make any real change to muscle tissues, blah blah blah. If a client comes to me and says they love to foam roll, screw it; they’re foam rolling. The only thing I don’t want is tons of stretching before lifting, unless it’s going to be specifically for a movement that requires it. Sumo stance deadlifts would be an example here. Opening up those hips before doing so under a heavy load is probably a good idea. Otherwise, I’m definitely in the camp that believes quality, full range of motion exercise is optimal for most clients’ mobility/flexibility.
Bringing it all together
In the end, it’s all about just knowing where you’re lacking, getting the muscles/CNS ready to do work, and performing. Most of my clients end up doing a push-up variation and some sort of scap movement before going into any pressing. I’ve done a couple of Instagram posts covering warm-up routines, so be sure to check those out if you’d like to see some examples!