Admit it. Skipping or slacking off warm-ups is something we all do. It may because we find them boring, think we’re rushed for time, or don’t know how to warm-up.
I’m going to skip the part where I list out many compelling reasons why you should warm-up, and you nod along in agreement, and still skip your warm-up anyway. (A Google search will suffice if you are really interested). What you do need to know is,
A good warm-up helps your body perform better in your workout, and prevents the risk of workout related injuries.
Good warm-up = better workout performance + using the ‘right’ muscles and getting more benefit out of your workout + reduced chance of injury
Bad / No warm-up = high risk of injury because your body isn’t prepared to push hard + sloppy reps because you are probably still half asleep / thinking about what you did last
Whether I’m running my trainees through a warm-up or warming up before I work out myself, I always break my warm-up into 3 steps.
- Step 1 : Undo effects of daily life
- Step 2 : Activate “core” muscles
- Step 3 : Practice workout specific movement patterns
What’s awesome about these steps is that they relevant for any workout; whether you’re heading for a sprint session, or getting ready to squat. I use these steps as a framework and may choose different exercises based on the workout.
Step 1 : Undo effects of daily life
What do I mean by this? Our sedentary lifestyles are messing with our bodies every minute. You can’t spend 10 hours hunched over a laptop, putting an incredible amount of strain on your spine, and then walk into a training session and expect to lift a ton of weight. There are 3 primary ‘red flags’ – i.e. joints that are more injury prone than others, or joints that take a beating when you spend long hours at a desk and put other muscles at risk).
Start off your warm-up by doing some isolated mobility work for these joints. Foam rolling is a totally awesome option, but so are these drills.
Hip flexors and lower back
Inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth, while pushing your lower back on the floor and digging your heels into the wall.
Hip flexor stretch
Stretch your Hip flexors by clenching your butt for 3 seconds, then relaxing it. Rinse and repeat. You should feel a stretch along the front of your back leg, at your hip.
Upper back (Thoracic spine)
A quick heads up to keep your head up as you do your S-bends. No slouchy backs!
Keep your hips and knees out the action here; it should be only your ankles that are moving.
Step 2 : Activate your “core”
I’m using the term core here to mean glutes (butt muscles) and abs. There are a bunch of warm-up exercises that will work here; I’m going with two simple, but brutally effective ones that I like using with group classes that I coach.
Pro tip : while doing Glute bridges, clench your butt and push the floor away through your heels. Crushing a foam roller (or any large enough object) between your knees activates pelvic floor muscles and doesn’t let your lower back arch. Win-win!
Do Dynamic hollow holds by actively pressing your lower back into the ground and keeping your abs braced hard (tighten your stomach as if someone were going to punch you).
Here’s a fun idea :
Make a game out of these two moves by setting a timer to ring every 20 seconds.
- 20 seconds : Glute bridges
- 20 seconds : Rest
- 20 seconds : Hollow holds
- 20 seconds : Rest
3-4 minutes of this and you should feel your glutes and abs burn. Exactly what we want before we go in to a workout!
Step 3 : Practice movement patterns specific to your workout
This is the part you should customise based on your workout of the day. Before a squat workout, this is when you would start with some light squats and gradually work your way up to your workout weight. Depending on the weight you’re working with, 2-3 sets of 5-8 squats will get you there.
You can modify reps, sets and exercises according to your workout.
By the end of step 3, you should feel energetic and ready to start your workout. Heart rate elevated, adrenaline rushing, blood flowing!
Here’s my final take on warming up – if you’re already busting your ass training, you might as well spend a little extra time and effort in warming up; a little more effort to get a lot more benefit!
Did this make sense to you? I’d be happy to address specific doubts in the Comments section. Here’s to better warm-ups! 🙂