The dreaded warm up is by far the hardest part of the training process to create real buy in. Why? Most likely it is because the person is heavily anticipating the workout ahead of them. Strategizing effort, sets, rest, intensity, etc. Most of the time people are engaged in conversation and give a very haphazard effort to the prescribed warm up. Our warm-ups have a purpose. They aren’t just there “to get you warm” but instead offer more building blocks to a stronger foundation of movement. Half kneeling presses, star planks, single leg deadlifts, and other “simple” movement structures can help evolve the resiliency the person has for maintaining quality movement.
A misconception of warm-ups is that you’re “saving it for the workout.” That is ridiculous. Your body recovers faster than you think, and you aren’t tapping into your reserves during a warm up. You should get your heart rate up a few times if you’re about to do a fast, high intensity session. Getting a good sweat and slight muscle pump is more beneficial than lifting “cold.” You are trying to get the central nervous system prepped for the upcoming activity.
You can get stronger and increase muscle endurance while warming up. If you made every rep a quality rep for an entire year, and only during warm-ups, think of how many total reps you could accumulate. We want to practice good movement as much as possible. I consistently tell my client base that “shit reps” with only make them worse. You can of course treat this time as a social period. Just be mindful of your movement quality.
For conditioning pieces, we always like to start with something that elicits blood flow. An idea would be 2 minutes to 5-minute aerobic work that increases the heart rate some. Next will be adding movements that localize the muscles and joints being used for that day. “Flow” progressions aren’t the mindful flow you may have heard of but instead, think of them as dance or a continuously moving game. In this pattern, the person will move from movement to movement with a rhythm that has a relatively low intensity level. A couple of examples could be: 3 kettlebell deadlifts to 3 kettlebell hang cleans to 3 kettlebell presses. Or, 10m of walking spider stretch into a tall plank followed by a farmer carry, and continually the pattern for 2-4 sets. Static stretching is better left for post workout or in someone’s down regulation time (this will be covered in the Recovery portion.)
For strength/skill sessions,
Warming up for strength-based movements should start with a general total body movement session lasting 5-10 minutes. The focus should be on getting the joints and the muscles around the joint “loose.” Mobility can be done in this phase, but mobility work should be followed with a load applied to mobilized joint. You have +/- 15 minutes to utilize your new-found mobility. The best way to reinforce these new positions is by adding load. Using tempo is also a great way to “activate” certain muscle groups prior to adding load.
When we practice skills, we want to be relatively fresh. Especially at the beginning of learning the new skill. When we warm up for these we focus on making sure the joints are ready and the localized muscles are prepared. We wouldn’t want to go into a sprinting session by rowing 5 minutes. Instead, a dynamic warmup that has a fair amount of fast twitch movements with dynamic stretching would be most beneficial.
Hopefully this helps create a better understanding of why we must warm up. I’ve heard other coaches jokingly say, “have you ever seen a cheetah stretch?” and it’s true. Cheetahs don’t have to stretch but maybe once in the morning. They can “easily” go 0 to 70 mile per hour whenever they want. The difference is that they live in a primal state all their lives. They don’t sit at a desk for 8-12 hours or in a car the same amount of time. As we’ve evolved to rely less on our instincts and instead rely on our ability to reason, we’ve lost a fair amount of those primal abilities. I challenge you to make a better effort at your warm ups for the next 6 weeks and see how much different you feel during your recovery.