That’s a Warm-Up?


The temperature is rising, the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and I have a shadow, it must be Spring. The last couple of years, I have had an SOU student shadow me as part of their senior capstone project. This year is no different. I actually enjoy it, I love to transmit what I have learned and hopefully help up and coming fitness professionals avoid some of the pitfalls I had to endure and help them provide clients with high quality fitness programming. One of the regular gym goers always gives me a hard time, especially when I have my clients performing hip hinges in their warm-ups while my shadow takes notes. He jokes that I must have a big ego since I make my clients bow to me while I transmit knowledge to my scribe. But all joking aside, I wanted to talk about warm-ups. My recent shadow was surprised that I have my clients warm-up, often times without the use of any cardio machines. I used to have my clients do the traditional cardio warm-up and then we got rolling into the workout, but I realized, a good warm-up encompassed much more than that. The mobility warm-ups I give clients usually involve foam rolling, dynamic stretching, corrective exercise, and movement preparation. Let’s explore this in more depth.

Foam rolling is where I like to start. There is recent research revealing the many benefits of foam rolling and I even typed up a blog post on it a few months back that you can check out here. Foam rolling helps increase range of motion, reduce muscle and arterial stiffness, and improve circulation. I like to have my client work on all the major muscle groups, 30 seconds on each, with more time dedicated to areas of increased stiffness. We don’t have to spend all day rolling, just hit those spots and move on. In my opinion, a couple of minutes spent rolling is worth the time.

Dynamic stretching involves the act of stretching with the combination of movement. The client can oscillate in and out of the stretch, taking it to the point of a gentle stretch, and then backing off. In my opinion, this type of stretching is superior to traditional static stretching, at least in the context of the warm-up. Stretching in three planes of motion is preferable and it’s a concept I picked up from physical therapist, Gary Gray.

Corrective exercise can be integrated into the warm-up. A movement screen can help identify movement deficiencies and muscle asymmetries. Then the proper correctives can be added, based on the findings from the screen. Correcting movement before entering the heart of the workout, helps clients perform better in the more advanced exercises. Functional Movement Systems has an excellent exercise library.

Movement preparation involves performing some of the foundational movements such as squats, hip hinges, inverted rows, and push-ups. It helps to perfect form before we get to the advanced variations, later in the workout. The client should perform all these movements with strict form. I usually have them finish the warm-up with a high intensity exercise like jumping jacks, skater hops, or burpees. I want them to get the blood flowing and the nervous system firing.

I like to use a progression that allows the movements to flow from one to the other, as much as possible. The foam roller starts things off, then we do ground work, progressing from the back to the hands and knees, and ending with exercises on the feet and movement drills. Once all the stretches/exercises are understood, the warm-up flows rather quickly. Studies have indicated that the optimal protocol for a dynamic warm-up is 1 to 2 sets times 10 to 15 repetitions or 10 to 20 yards of movement. I recommend doing mobility work throughout the day, every day, even on days without any physical training. Consistency will foster progress. The warm-up also works great as a cool-down, just reverse the order of the exercises and drills, you will move from standing to the ground. Finish with some deep abdominal breathing to kick-start the recovery process.

I recently took my children on a spring break trip down to Arizona. Most likely due to a combination of sleeping on a hard bed (what do you expect from a bed that folds out of a wall) and a massive amount of driving, my left shoulder started acting up. It was bothering me even with simple movements, but after doing one session of the following mobility work, my shoulder felt great. I know it’s hard to believe that it only took one simple session, but it did and I should have done it sooner. It’s easy to skip the work when you are feeling good. If you keep up on it, then there is less chance you will have any problems in the first place. This is a simple warm-up that addresses the whole body and is good for anyone that suffers from poor posture and stiffness due to our modern lifestyle (assuming you are not suffering from a serious injury). Here is the warm-up:

On Back:

1) Deep Abdominal Breathing x 5 Deep Breaths

2) Overhead Arm Raises x 5

3) Overhead Arm Slides x 5

4) Bent Knee Hip Rotation x 5 each side

5) Side Lying Upper Back Rotation/Windmills x 5 reps/3 reps each side

6) Pretzel Stretch x 5 Oscillations in and out of a deeper stretch

On Hands and Knees:

7) Cat/Camel x 5

8) Kneeling Rock-Backs x 5

9) Yoga Push-Ups x 5


10) Toes Elevated Calf Matrix (front/back, side to side, rotation) x 5 each

11) PVC pipe Hip Hinge x 10 (5 with each arm position)

12) Deep Squats w/ Lat Stretch x 5

This worked well for me, and while it might not work wonders for everyone, someone else just might find it helpful.  Reverse it for a cool-down. I recently went too deep into a lateral slide lunge during an exercise demo and tweaked my adductor (groin) muscle. A little foam rolling combined with some adductor mobility work has me feeling much better. It looks like I will be back on track to strength test this week.

My warm-ups look far from traditional and not everyone is going to buy into it, but for those who do, their movement appears to improve and muscle tweaks have become a very rare occurrence. I have found that traditional cardio warm-ups for strength training are not necessary. My studio has no cardio equipment and every client still gets a thorough warm-up to enhance their workout. If you would like help putting together your optimal warm-up, feel free to contact me.

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