When seeking to kick some fitness ass, how we begin things matters.
Warm-ups are often skipped over the by the casual gym-goer. For those that do perform a warm-up, it’s generally a short jog on the treadmill, and possibly some static stretching. While this is probably better than nothing, the past ten years have brought some more progressive approaches to prepping the body for the workout to come.
As my pal John Romaniello once noted, the warm-up is like foreplay. The main event always goes better when you invest the time to get the equipment ready.
SOFT TISSUE FOREPLAY!
The first step in our warm-up is preparing your tissues and making them a bit more pliable.
Although saying muscles get “knotted up like a rubber band” is probably not exactly accurate, for our purposes it’s a useful enough metaphor. Think of a rubber band with a knot in it. Now think of pulling the rubber band apart. What happens? The knot gets tighter. No bueno.
Our goal with “soft tissue” work is to prepare the body to move more fluidly in the warm-up proper to come. This could be done with a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, or any number of instruments that allow you to apply pressure and provide some release for gunked up tissues.
Although this video here is a few years old and we’d probably do some things differently these days, it will give you some idea how to employ soft tissue work in your warm-up.
The next element to address before jumping into the warm-up proper is breathing. I know this may seem bizarre at first, as being able to read this post implies you have breathed successfully your whole life.
And while this is true, most people would benefit from breathing more efficiently. Many people are stuck in a chronic state of inhalation and don’t exhale so well. Since your breathing muscles are also important core muscles, this doesn’t bode well for core stabilization. This could lead to back pain and other injuries, and at the least, it will compromise your bad-assery while training.
Although there are a number of different drills one could employ, below is one of my favorites as it’s pretty easy to learn.
CORE, HIPS, SHOULDERS FOREPLAY!
Now that we’ve got your tissues lubed up and we’re breathing a bit better, we want to start to actually move. This could be considered the start of the “warm-up proper.”
Although it’s an admittedly gross generalization, it’s fair to say most humans would do well to improve their core stability and their shoulder and hip mobility.
To warm-up the core, it’s helpful to use exercises that train it to “resist” movement and keep the spine in a happy, neutral position. Go to exercises here include the classic plank, or perhaps a deadbug for more advanced trainees. To warm-up the hips and shoulders, it’s helpful to gently increase range of motion. Since the hips and shoulders move in three planes of motion (forward/ backward, side to side, and rotation), you’ll want to address all three planes.
Although the exact exercise choices here are beyond the scope of this article, it’s fair to say some people do better with different hip and shoulder mobility exercises based on what it is their body needs. As a rule, improving breathing and core stability will do wonders for improving hip and shoulder mobility.
I’d also like to point out that despite conventional wisdom, more is not better when it comes to stretching. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) Some people have too much movement in their hips and shoulders, putting them at greater risk for injury. So while you’ll want to explore your hip and shoulder range of motion in a warm-up, not everyone should be actively looking to get more motion here and will be better served focusing on encouraging stability in the hips and shoulders.
FULL BODY FOREPLAY!
Depending on one’s movement needs, there are warm-up drills that will focus on one or two joints, and there are warm-up drills that will use most of the body at once.
While the first category has its place, full body warm-up drills allow for more time efficiency, as well as raising your body temperature. Hence the term… “warm-up.”
For instance, crawling patterns are absolutely money here as they’ll do great things for your core, shoulders, and hips, but they’ll also be sure to have you sweating a bit. If your warm-ups focus purely on isolated movements, you may not get your body all hot and bothered. And if you’re gonna get it DONE… you need to get all hot and bothered. (TWEET THAT SHIT!)
If one is really lacking in mobility for hips and/ or shoulders, it’s useful to still include some dedicated isolated mobility work. More advanced trainees and trainees with sufficient mobility (not to mention strapped for time) can often get away with a few big-bang- for- your- buck full body warm-up drills.
If appropriate, you can also sprinkle in some light calisthenics style movements to really make sure you elevate your heart rate. Some options here include jumping jacks or jump rope.
For a minimalist warm-up consisting of mostly full body foreplay, check out this warm-up to MFF’s 30 Minute Workout Pie.
As a final note, once you’ve done a general warm-up, you should include some specific warm-up sets of your first exercises to rehearse that pattern. This becomes particularly important the stronger you get, as it would be unwise to go from even a great general warm-up directly into your deadlift 2 rep max!
LUBE IT UP, BABY
Hopefully this has given you some awareness around how a general warm-up can be constructed. Although the ideal warm-up will always be based around your body’s particular needs and the work to be done in that day’s session, by using this general structure you’ll get far better results than going for a quick jog on the treadmill.
Remember, it’s not the end of the world to occasionally have a quickie. But if you’re finding you’re skipping your foreplay more often than not, assess if you’re really having the best sex life you can. I mean fitness life. I mean… sex life.
Now I want to hear from you! Any other tips or tricks for getting the body ready for working out? Any go to warm-up drills? Have any favorite big-bang warm-ups? Does coconut oil really work as lube? Hit me up in the comments!