Warming Up: The Why and How for the Average Guy or Gal!
It all started back in elementary school gym class. You'd have to line up single file, column after column, and do your stretches as your teacher said them. You'd run around the basketball court to get your heart rate up afterwards. Then, and only then, would they let you play whatever childhood game was planned for the duration of cllass.
Fast forward ten to twelve years and there you are at practice. Doesn't matter what sport you played back in the day, or may still play...we all warmed up. It typically went like this: First, Everyone took a few laps around the field, or court. Next, everyone would get in lines or a big circle, and begin doing stretches like arm circles, hamstring stretches, and butterflys. You would finish stretching and break off to do specific drills that applied to your particular sport.
In baseball: Throwing with a teammate and gradually increasing distance until your arm gets loose. Do batting practice in the cage, take infield/outfield, or start your bullpen.
In Football: Break into position and start throwing, running, catching, blocking, or wrapping teammates.
In Tennis: Start hitting short court, move to forehands, backhands, volleys, and serves. Work side-to-side, front-to-back, and expand to full court hits.
It doesn't actually matter what sport you participated in, but rather the fact that you warmed up. It started rather general and progressed into specificity as you came closer and closer to competition. Collegiate and professional sport follows this model too, albeit that they go much deeper into the process because their athletes are quite literally investments.
All these leads me to a few questions...
Why don't we treat our bodies correctly when we workout and take the time to warm ourselves up?
How can we expect to perform at a high level when we are still cold?
How many injuries and aches and pains could be avoided with proper procedure?
How many excellent sessions were cut short by poor warmup procedure.
I hope that by the end of this post that I can inspire each and everyone of you to schedule the time to warm-up prior to your next exercise session.
I have to take a quick second to admit that I don't always take the time to properly warm-up before my lifts either. Sometimes I am squeezing my workouts between two clients within only an hour to lift, eat, and be cleaned up and prepared. No excuses though.
Warm-Up: The Science
If you hate science, and the thought of talking about the insides of your body and how it works bugs you, then feel free to skip ahead to the practicality piece. However, if you get all types of giddy talking anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology like I do...let's take a dive together.
The body is made up a series of bones that articulate with each other at particular points, which we call joints. Our Muscles are attached to our skeletal system by our tendons and allow us to rotate our bones ABOUT those joints in a controlled and powerful fashion.
If science isn't your strong point and you want to make sure you understand that last statement, simply look at your elbow right now. Your biceps muscles can contract forcefully to pull your ulna and radius (lower arm bones) closer to your body (flexion). On the contrary, your triceps muscles contract forcefully to extend your lower arm bones away from you (extension). Your elbow acts as the axis in both of these transactions.
For optimal movement patterns it is good for us to increase blood-flow in our body to lubicrate our joints with synovial fluid, which acts to "smooth" things out. Furthermore, light exercise (warm-up) increases blood flow to our muscles by causing vasodilation.
Vasodilation is the expansion of the arteries and veins in your body to increase blood flow throughout the body. The benefits of this are well known. Increased oxygen transportation to active muscles, and the more efficient removal of carbon dioxide from the muscle site. All of this means is that your muscles will recieve more oxygen and nutrients from the arteries and be better capable of removing lactic acid from the scene.
This also lessons the burden on our hearts. It allows our blood pressure to go down as blood becomes more "slick" and slides through the vascular system with relative ease.
Hydration plays a key point in this phenomenom. Dehydrated bodies lack the capability to maximize this occurence, and so it is one more reason to drink enough water prior to your workout.
Proper warm-up procedures provide a gradual introduction to exercise for our hearts, which allows for it to better up and down regulate during more intense exercise. The muscles of the heart also become more prepared for exercise as well. The fibers themselves gain significant elasticity to promote more powerful pumps OUT of the heart, and a greater ability to recieve the venous return (blood flow back into heart).
The skeletal muscles also gain extensability and elasticity as we progress through a warm-up protocol. The fibers of the muscles benefit from the increased body temperature, which has the awesome secondary benefit of burning more calories. Also, blood caries nutrients like glycogen, which provide energy for muscle contraction, as well as dissassociated oxygen, which is neccessary for life...let alone exercise!
Another benefit of warming up comes for our nervous system. The process of warming up increases the speed of communication between our brains and muscles by "grooving" movements and helping the brain better understand where the body is at in space. We call this proprioception. As proprioception increases we are better able to control our movements with greater accuracy and velocity. These are two CRITICAL elements of any compound lift like the deadlift or squat, and the cornerstone of a successful Olympic Lift.
Warm-Up: What Various Methods Do
Ok, so we just chomped through some pretty good science in the last section. I did my best to not overdiscuss particular elements, because frankly it is unneeded. Science is the most important element of exercise, because if someone doesn't research it, then we will never know if what are doing is right or wrong. However, science is for those who need to know it's nitty-gritty-nerdy-ferdy face by heart. If at any point someone wants clarification on these principals I highly recommend studying The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning by NSCA to get into it. It is a textbook, so prepare from thickness on the issues.
There are fifteen thousand ways to warm up your body on any given day, and we should discuss them a little bit prior to getting into a protocol I suggest, as well as the hidden, but maybe most beneficial benefit of warming up.
Foam rolling is all-the-rage now. Every gym has them, or SHOULD have them. Although most will look like the one below this paragraph, and not the one above it. Personally, I prefer the trigger point rollers such as the ones above because those little diamonds, ribs, and notches get nice and deep into the muscles and loosens the fibers quite nicely!
Foam Rolling Science:
Oh damn, Kevin...more science? Ok, listen; I had every intent of being done with the science, but I dont' like discussing the details of what foam rolling does for you until I'm holding one, or teaching someone about it. So, hang on just a second!
Foam rolling, trigger point, and other similar methods (peanuts, lacrosse balls, etc.) are a technique known as myofascial release. Let's break that down.
Fascial refers to a very important and recently realized region of our bodies. We have always known fascia existed in the body, because we'd cut them open in exams and see this web-like structure weaving throughout the body's musculature. It is fibrous, sticky, and functions to communicate forces throughout the body. Only recently have we realized that SO MANY OF OUR DISFUNCTIONS BEGIN AND END IN THE FASCIA and that we can correct many issues such as insufficient thoracic mobility, hip immobility, and knots throughout the body by treating the fascia.
This is where Foam Rolling and Trigger Point Therapy come in big time. We are able to attack our fascia and roll out knots that can hold us back from being the best versions of ourselves. Applying direct pressure, sliding, and rolling techniques on top of muscles can release fascia from the surface of the fibers and allow for stronger, more efficient contractions in our muscles.
Taking some time prior to a session to release the glutes, IT band, lats, and quads can lead to tremendous change in your ability to produce force, and let's face it...THATS WHAT WE DO!
If you want more science please visit
Trigger Point Performance (These guys are on cutting edge of science and the market)
All of the previously mentioned benefits of warming up are readily available in a light intensity cardiovascular bout. If you focus on doing something for no more than ten minutes on a treadmill, stair climber, outside run, bike ride, or anything else (zumba for all I care), then you will see increased heart rate, body temperature, and vasodilation. These are all important for getting into what comes next. Specificity.
Cardiovascular work can also include dynamic, non-loaded movements such as A-Skips, B-Skips, high knees, 50% sprints, jumping jacks, walking lunges, inch-worms, so on and so on. The idea is to get the body moving, increase blood flow, temperature, and preparedness of the body!
To quote Mike Singletary's famous press conference, "Nope, can't do it! Won't do it!". Stretching should not be a major part of your pre exercise routine. Here is why...
Studies have shown that stretching can impair performance by manipulating the length-tension relationship that exists in our muscles. Picture it like this: Your muscles are a rubber band in between your two index fingers. No stretch doesn't create force and too much stretch rips the rubber band. This is similiar to how your muscles percieve themselves.
Stretching lengthens a muscle at its ends towards it's mid-point. So, it is like pulling your fingers further away from each other. Now, our body naturally seeks out an optimal length-tension relationship when we properly warm up our muscles with foam rolling and cardiovascular warm ups. So, why would we disrupt this and stretch the two ends further from each other? You'll lose force production and set yourself up for a muscle pull or worse...
Save the stretching for after you are done your weight routine as a recovery measure. While the bloodflow gains aren't as overwhelming as we originally thought they were; you will still see some change in oxygen uptake in damaged muscle.
This is the part that I take great care in. You wouldn't go straight to the mound and face a batter without taking some warmups would ya? And you wouldn't try to play basketball in the playoffs without taking a few jumpers before the game right?
Point is that we need to take the time warm up and work the specific muscles that are being utilized in that day's session. Many people refer to this as the activation period of their workout.
Squatting? Warm up the abductors by doing some band walks, BW Box Jumps, and squatting with only the bar weight on your back to groove your form (remember that part about our neuromuscular system needed to know where the body is at in space).
Benching? Warm up the shoulders with some banded pull-aparts, do a couple sets of bodyweight pushups, and some internal and external rotations prior to grabbing the empty bar, and yup, you guessed it...move it until you feel like you could do it with your eyes closed.
Curling? Not being completely serious here, but to show some value I'll discuss anyway. If you are trying to "suns-out-guns-out" the place, then take the time to curl some light dumbbells and warm-up the bicep tendon. Do some arm circles to increase blood flow to the shoulder joint and essentially give the bicep tendon space to breathe!
Regardless of what you are doing that day you want to take the time to break it down and get after it with the movement you are going to do, and movements that wake up muscles that need to be active.
Warming UP: The Hidden Benefit
So, we have to discussed all of the science of warming up and why it needs to be in your routine. That is all well and good, but I believe in the mind.
Warming up offers a transition period for you to begin focusing on what lies ahead; your workout. Shitty day at the office? Take the time to leave it behind. Boyfriend keep leaving the seat up? Foam roll that frustration away. Still hate the end of How I Met Your Mother? re-write the script in your head as you jog to get loose!
Our psychology as humans can be quite simple. We focus on what we decide is most important. We need to take out the mental garbage before we workout before we can ever truly realize our potential in the gym.
Furthermore, you can begin visualizing your success. All to often we dread our workouts, but warming up provides a chance to accept our fate, decide to own, and proceed to set in motion the events that will make us kick ass, take names, and chew bubble gum.
Warm-Up: The KM Fitness Systems Protocol
Here is the money on this one. A program that I believe in and apply to clients (when they show up ready to rock), or myself (when I actually can work out for an extended time).
1. Ensure that you have eaten a healthy protein rich meal with a moderate amount of carbohydrates about an hour prior to your workout. Food is fuel and this will get you going right.
2. Find your happy place and set up a playlist of tunes for warming up. They don't have to be as high of intensity as your workout playlist though! In fact, focus on memory-inducing songs that will allow to zone out through the mundane portions!
3. Mix up your pre-workout shake. Whether it has caffeine or not is up to you, but I believe in the pre-workout phenomenon. It's not the product though. It's the action. By drinking this beverage, even if it just a fancy water you don't normally buy, allows you to say...OK workout on. If you ARE going to use products, than focus on ones that have high levels of BCAA's, some caffeine, and some arginine to promote that awesome vasodialation.
4. Break out the foam roller. I should really have a video of me doing this, but I have to actually have someone film me. Needless to say, follow the below rolling positions. P.S. Cressey Performance NEVER does anything wrong. It is crazy amazing!
5. Get that blood flowing with a ten minute, low intensity, barely break a sweat routine that will you ready to go. Treadmill walk at 10.0 incline and an average walking speed is one of my favorite. It wakes up the posterior chain and gets the heart rate up to a decent level!
6. De-Franco 11. Best mobility routine out there. Sure, we can all tweak certain things, but I love this and use it with a few clients!
7. Specificity. What are you doing today? Squat the barbell, bench the barbell, deadlift the barbell. Do some band walks, do some overhead presses. Whatever you are working, do some lighter work before hand and get after it!
8. Finish with a smile and begin engaging beast mode. Whatever you are doing...do it to the best of your ability. Work out hard.
So, there you have it. My mega-guide to warming up before your next session. Remember, treat your body like you are trying to win something with it, because you are. Life is a competition and those that are prepared prevail! Warm up, Work hard, and cool down. Thanks for reading and please share this article if you feel like it was worth the read.