5 Principles of an Effective Warm-Up
- DAN NORTH
- Warm-Up and Mobility
Most people skip their warm-up because they don’t know how to warm-up.
Warming up is one of the most fundamental aspects of training.
If you lift, it’s an opportunity to prime your muscles and nervous system to lift heavy shit.
If you’re an athlete, it’s a chance to maximize your performance potential.
For everyone, it’s one of the most foolproof ways to minimize your risk of injury and remain intact.
Not every warm-up is going to be the same, and your routine should be specific to you and your needs.
But there are some underlying principles that sum up an effective warm-up, no matter which routine you’re following.
These overarching characteristics ensure your warm-up is preparing your body in a safe and efficient manner, maintaining a “flow” in your routine. Think of it as a well-written story, taking you from point A to point B.
PRINCIPLE 1: GROUND-BASED TO STANDING
Babies flop around on their backs and stomachs before learning how to support themselves on their own two feet. You should take note of this “flow” of movement during your warm-up.
The more surface area you cover, the easier and safer it is to practice movement mechanics and engage specific muscle groups (your core, for example).
Applying the ground-based to standing principle allows you to “ease” your way into your workout and increase intensity as you progress.
PRINCIPLE 2: SINGLE JOINT TO MULTI-JOINT
Compound movements involve multiple muscles and joints working together simultaneously. Squat, bench, deadlift, pull-up…all these movements are examples of multi-joint exercises.
If your individual joints aren’t taken care of, your multi-joint movement patterns will suffer. It’s best to prepare each individual joint involved in the compound movement beforehand.
Example: Back squat
Requires mobility in the hips, ankles, and thoracic spine. Before loading a bar on your back and squatting away, you’d be better off doing some mobility work in each of those individual areas so you are prepared to perform the movement as optimally as possible.
PRINCIPLE 3: INCREASE CORE BODY TEMPERATURE
You probably see it all the time, maybe you’ve been guilty of it yourself. I know I have.
Rolling around aimlessly, scrolling through Instagram, doing a few arm swings, before eventually strutting over to the bench and loading up the bar.
There’s a better way to do this.
A good warm-up needs to increase overall body temperature. You should be leaving the warm-up glistening with sweat, like Rocky.
Increased body temperature + increased blood flow = better workout
PRINCIPLE 4: CNS STIMULATION
Your central nervous system (CNS) is the part of the nervous system that consists of your brain and spinal cord. Your CNS controls all the cognitive functions of your body.
Translation: Your CNS tells your body what to do and when to do it.
The stronger the connection is between your brain and your muscles, the better you’re going to perform.
You can perform dynamic and explosive exercises to “heighten” your CNS during your warm-up to maximize your workout.
Usually it’s a good idea to use dynamic exercises that closely mimic the movement pattern that’s going to be involved in the workout.
- Box jumps before squats
- Explosive push-ups before bench press
- Kettlebell swings before deadlifts
- Med ball slams before presses
- Overhead med ball toss before pulls
A few things to consider with dynamic CNS stimulation exercises:
- 1-5 reps for 3-5 sets is plenty. Explosive movements like box jumps and med ball tosses are meant to be explosive. You can’t be explosive if you’re doing 20+ reps of something. Keep the reps low and focus on producing as much force as possible each rep.
- Rest 2 min (minimum) between sets. These exercises are taxing both on the body and the nervous system, when done correctly.
- Focus on quality over quantity. Don’t go to fatigue or failure and perform high quality reps.
PRINCIPLE 5: YOUR WARM-UP SHOULD BE NO MORE THAN 15 MIN (MAX)
You need to get moving during your warm-up. Yes, it’s important to spend time getting ready, but you want to spend an optimal amount of time.
If you spend too much time stretching and end up taking half an hour just to start working, your strength and performance is going to diminish.
Usually 15 min is the maximum amount of time to spend warming up. Be efficient with your time here, not lazy.
How to tie it all together…
- Start with some ground-based soft-tissue work. This can be in the form of a foam roller, lacrosse ball, barbell, med ball, or any tool you find fitting for some soft-tissue work.
- Perform single-joint mobility drills. Mobility is your body’s ability to actively move through it’s intended range of motion. Remember, before moving on to compound lifts, take care of your individual joints first (a car can’t operate unless it’s individual components are intact).
- Get moving and increase your core temperature. Some core engagement and light-resistance exercises with your bodyweight or resistance bands work well here. This is the part of your warm-up where you want to focus on engaging all of the supportive muscles that are going to be used during your workout.
- Finish it off with some explosive/dynamic exercises. Pick 1-2 dynamic exercises (explosive push-ups, box jumps, med ball slams, etc.) and get your nervous system stimulated. This will maximize your potential when lifting heavy weights as the connection between to your brain and your muscles is going to be heightened.