Warm Ups: Why and How
If you're training in a public gym, sometimes dodging old naked dudes in the locker room can be warm up enough. But let's say you aren't going through the locker room gauntlet - how do you get your body ready for training? How much work do you need to do to prepare your body for your session? In today's article I'll go over why we warm up and the basics of how to warm up. I'm hoping that anybody reading this can walk away with some useful tips for their own training.
Why We Warm Up
The truth is that when asked, everybody would say they know they should warm up. We all have vivid memories of stretching in a big circle in grade 1 gym class prior to DESTROYING our friends and enemies alike in dodgeball. Like everything, with warming up there is a cost:benefit analysis that must be done.
Benefits of Warming Up:
- Increased blood flow to area
- Increased core/limb temperature
- Increased joint lubrication
- Increased tissue elasticity
- Increased power output
- Increased strength performance
- Increased flexibility/range of motion
- Reduced the risk of injury
Costs of Warming Up:
This cost benefit analysis is often what leads to the following runner's warm up:
- Do 3x leg swings per side
- Grab your foot behind you with your hand to stretch your quad for 3 seconds per side
- That's it
Even though it could be considered a warm up and might feel nice, by not ramping up to working intensity it won't do much to improve performance or decrease injury risk. Understandably, people who are busy and barely have enough time to train don't want to spend 20 minutes warming up...so don't! I'll have some quick warm up ideas for you at the end of this blog post.
At its core, warming up is quite literally...warming you up. You contract your muscles, which requires oxygen. Oxygen is delivered to your muscles through blood. As more oxygen is required, more blood is required and your heart rate and breathing rate are elevated to keep up with the body's demands. Your temperature is raised not only from blood flowing but also thermal output of exercise . Once your body is warm - what do we do next? There is a step wise progression we can follow with the acronym RAMP.
Raise body temperature
Activate muscles through exercise
Mobilize using dynamic movements
Potentiate using workout specific drills
Raise Body Temperature
This is the simplest part of the warm up to work through. In this case your movement doesn't need to be specific, and even if you're doing a squatting session, upper body session, squash game, etc... you can hop on a bike, elliptical, jog, etc... just to get moving for 3-5min. It's handy if you can use a cardio machine that measures heart rate so you can ensure you're actually raising your heart rate. I'd recommend (assuming you're a healthy adult) getting up to 120-130bpms before hopping off the machine.
Activate Muscles Through Exercise
Our next task is to "wake up" our muscles by doing lighter movements and training the muscle groups we're going to be working that session. If I'm doing an upper body session that might include: face pulls, push ups, external rotations, wall slides, etc... Anything to get my shoulder and upper body muscles working. I always recommend including 1x glute and 1x core/posture drill in every warm up regardless of session content.
Mobilize Using Dynamic Movements
Along with warming our bodies and activating our muscles, we need to move our joints through the ranges of motion we're going to be training. The key word here is dynamic. We know that static stretching prior to sessions can lead to decreased power output and reduced performance. Therefore, try not to include stretches that include long static holds.
At this point, our warm ups still may not look exactly like our session content, but we will trying to prepare our joints for the work coming up. So things like: squat to hinge, leg swings, arm circles, thoracic rotations, etc...
Potentiate Using Workout Specific Drills
This is the most obvious part of our warm up. If you are doing a squatting session, do light squats building up to your work sets. If this were a sport session this is where we would place reaction drills, accelerations and jumps alongside ball handling/sport skill. The tricky part here is performing enough warm up sets to be ready for the work sets but not so much that you fatigue yourself. If my work sets for bench press were 3 x 5 @ 85% my warm ups might look like:
8 reps with bar
5 reps @ 50%
5 reps @ 60%
3 reps @ 70%**
3 reps @ 80%**
3 x 5 @ 85%
**Here i'm able to prepare my muscles for the next set's load, but I'm able to shave off 4 reps from my volume.
It's also important to consider that you'll need less warm up for exercises later in your session as you'll be warmed up. I.e. if you're doing hamstring curls on a machine after squats, you don't need 4 sets warming up to a working weight.
As you'll see in the examples below, the RAMP protocol isn't necessarily done as segments, instead it could just as easily been written as:
General Warm Up -> Mobility/Activation -> Specific Warm Up
If nothing else here are a few boxes to try and tick in your warm ups:
- 1x glute exercise every warm up
- 1x postural/core exercise every warm up
- Get heart rate up before training
- Stretching should be dynamic
- Start general, end specific
- Consider your environment. If it's cold out, you might need a longer warm up.
Until next week - cheers!
Mylan Clairmont MSc, CSCS
P.S. I'll cover foam rolling in another blog post.
Here are a few warm up templates you can use yourself and slot in whichever warm up drills you'd like!
Warm Up 1 - Full Body Template
3-5min Cardio Warm Up
Glute Exercise x 10
Squat Movement or Lunge x 10 or 5 per side
Thoracic Mobility x 10 or 5 per side
Pressing Exercise x 10
Pulling Exercise x 10
Core Exercise x 20-30sec
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch per side x 10 per side
Specific Warm Up
Warm Up 2 - Barbell Workout Warm Up
Leg Up and Across x 5 per side
Supine Hamstring Stretch x 10 per side
Thread the Needle x 5 per side
Wall Slide x 10
Deadbug x 10
2 Rounds - complete with unloaded bar
Barbell Back Squat x 5
Barbell RDL x 5
Barbell Overhead Press x 5
Barbell Bent Over Row x 5
Warm Up 3 - Running Warm Up
3min Stretch (glutes/hammy/groin/calf/hip/low back)
10 Glute Bridges
10 Bodyweight Squats
10m Side Shuffle e/s)
10m High Knees
10m Ankle Hops (hands on hips)
5 Jump Lunges e/s
After 2 rounds:
3 x 20m Build Ups (70, 80, 90%)
Warm Up 4 - JustMove!
Don't stop moving for 5 minutes. Jumping jacks, push ups, squats, lunges, stretches, yoga poses, etc... just move for 5 minutes. This is one for those without a lot of time and who don't want to plan.