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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Take the Time to "Set the Table" for Training

First and foremost, WOW. I set down on August 27th to write this blog and haven't gotten back to it until now, which is both a reflection of me needing to work on a few time-sensitive projects, and my lack of drive to write something after I completed my next book, Day by Day - The Personal Trainer's Blueprint for Becoming the Best. My book will available through a variety of outlets in print.

The book will be published by Forward Focus Publishing and Entertainment, my own label, dedicated to writers and influences who are tired of the run-around traditional companies give them. The book is a part of a large scale project that I'm co-launching with peers of mine. It is called "The Daily Trainer", which includes an app for both I phone and Android, an online platform to take daily courses for CEC's and a backlog of tips and exercise breakdowns meant to improve your craft today!

There is so much more I want to share, but so much is still in flux and other details are legally advantageous to keep to myself, so we will have to discuss this later. Just know that I absolutely can't wait.

Either way you are here now. Ready to digest a short and sweet blog that details how our workouts are like meals and our warm ups are like setting the table. It is the art of analogy that aids our memory most and it is with hope that this one resonates with you and helps you coach yourself and your clients about the importance of preparing ourselves before our training sessions.


I can remember my role during dinner perfectly. Most nights I'd hear my mother call from the kitchen to me in my bedroom, or maybe downstairs on the computer, to come up to the kitchen and set the table for dinner.

Begrudgingly I'd stumble into the kitchen, my usually bare feet sliding against the white ceramic tile, and begin grabbing what was needed. I'd first move the place mats, a favorite of my mother for decorative purposes, but an absolute no-no during dinner time. With these pieces of cloth would usually go some sort of centerpiece, usually a bowl full of fruit and snacks, into the dining

room for safe-keeping until dinner was finished. (The irony of eating in your kitchen while having a room titled "the dining room" has never been lost on me I might add).

I'd grab the plates and the silverware, three napkins, and the pot holders. I'd set up the table for my father, my mother, and myself. Salt and pepper, condiments, and serving spoons would round out the chore. On Holidays, this process was much more specific and required even more places to be set.

As a child, I couldn't quite understand why we would "set" the table for dinner when all we were going to do was eat and move on with our lives. Why not just grab everything we need ourselves, sit down and eat, and clean up?

That same question is echoed by many of my clients, young trainers, and fitness enthusiasts alike. No, they aren't questioning setting the table for dinner per se, but they stand curious as to why an adequate warm up is so necessary before a training session. Each day they begrudgingly foam roll, do the "world's greatest hip opener" and knock out bird dogs before their more-challenging exercises.

And just like me as a teenager, they don't quite understand why the are doing what they are doing, even if they keep doing it. This conundrum is what brings us here to this truth:


"You set the table for your workouts just as you'd set the table for dinner. The magnitude may vary but the intention never changes. We "set-the-table" in order to reap the greatest reward and satisfaction from our efforts, whether they are a meal or a workout."


Why we "Warm Up"

In generations past physical labor was as normal as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Men and women alike toiled through their days until the very end; either tending the fields, working the factories, or keeping with the home and children - each day was a physical, mental, and emotional challenge.

These days we wake from our beds and sit in our cars so that we may sit at our jobs until we sit in our cars again in order to sit on the couch at home before going back to bed. Our lives have become a race from chair-to-chair, one which no one really wins.

If you were to go from tending your crops to lifting weights, then you'd likely need less specific of a warm up procedure. You might want to stretch a little, hydrate your body, and mobilize anything that's sore from the day's labor, but you wouldn't be starting from scratch. The traditional desk jockey though, must start from zero each time they exercise.

They must "set-the-table" every time they exercise for them to get the most out of their workouts. They must mobilize stiff joints, activate inactive muscles, groove rusty movement patterns, and increase blood flow and body temperature. The modern human needs such a process before they workout to prevent injury and to maximize benefit.

Just as setting the table before dinner allows you to better enjoy your meal by ensuring everything you need is right before your eyes - an adequate warm up protocol ensures that all necessary factors are accounted for prior to the higher intensity program that awaits you.

All Warm Ups Aren't Created Equal

I remember when we'd entertain guests for the Holidays. There were usually decorations that needed to go on the tables, more placings, the good dishes, and the addition of wine glasses and casserole trays. I saw this as just more work and my parents would just shake their heads when I wined about "it not mattering".

But then there were those nights were it was just my mother and I. Dad would be overseas with the Air Force and my mom and I would be eating some variation of chicken, macaroni and cheese, and a canned vegetable. She'd cook dinner and make our plates right next to the stove before bringing them to the kitchen table. Only our utensils and drinks were placed in advance.

How could there be such a variation in "setting-the-table"?

Exercise works just like these examples. Not every workout you or your clients perform is going to need an elaborate warm up, nor will it require a process that takes longer than the workout itself. The way you'd prepare for a heavy deadlift day that also includes high volume hamstrings and horizontal pulling patterns is radically different than how you'd get ready for a light jog for twenty minutes.

And that's the real secret to this analogy... You need to match your warm up to your demands. Your demands may be external (the workout you are about to do) or internal (you struggle with shoulder mobility or have chronic pain in your knees). If you'd like to optimize your meal, i.e. your workout, then you'll want to make sure your warm up protocol covers all of the necessary place settings.

On average though, a normal warm up program should take no more than fifteen minutes. A little of this and a little of that usually suffices. However, there are instances where a longer, more thoughtful approach is needed, such as injuries, specific goals, or dysfunction. Those situations will show themselves quite apparently, just as Thanksgiving never snuck up on me when I had to get out the fancy silverware.

What is on the Menu of Warm ups?

I began this article recounting all of the things I had to bring to the table in order to complete the chore of setting it prior to dinner. There were the plates and glasses, the silverware and potholders, condiments and seasonings, as well the occasional element of decoration. Forget one and the whole situation is thrown off.

Your warm up protocol works just the same. You have a menu of things that you must consider and each one is important for its own purpose. They are as follows:

SMR - self myofascial release includes foam rolling, lacrosse balls, therapy guns, and other implement you decide to roll or poke yourself with. This intervention method is used to increase blood flow to tissue, address "sticking points" in troublesome spots such as the pec minor or lats, and generally alleviate tension from places that we don't want it.

It is best used after the body has begun increasing its core temperature. Thus, an incline walk or a series of dynamic movements may be best in advance of our SMR methodology.


Mobility Exercises - mobility is the golden goose of fitness. Every person seems to want more of it and most people desperately need more. However, mobility for the sake of mobility is unwise. An excellent program design considers exactly what joints in the body should be mobilized and the methods for which this will occur that fit where the person of interest is currently at.

For example, asking someone who hasn't stretched in years to do a yoga wheel pose would be as effective as asking someone at Electric Daisy Carnival to not wear just won't happen.

so much colorrrrrrrrrrrr

Our goal with mobility should be to increase the range of motion in a given joint relative to a person's capability while increasing blood flow and tissue hydration.

A great mobility flow would be my video below, which I call the triple triad:


Activation and Stability Exercises - While most of the world is blindly chasing mobility so that they can put their feet on their nose - great fitness minds honor the structure of the body and its design. This is why we have activation exercises which work to stabilize joints that require said stability.

The lumbar spine, for example, is not designed to be mobile. Instead, it functions as a strong base to the mobile thoracic spine and pelvis. Exercises such as hip bridges, planks, and bird dogs are a great place to start to get the core and glutes to fire to stabilize the lumbar spine.

Other muscles, such as the ones in the rotator cuff can be frustrating little buggers that hide under the primary movers. Thus, some dedicated activation work that target these smaller muscles can be incredible for someone looking to get more out of their body. Band pull apart come to mind here.


Multiplanar Fascial Exercises - This may be a new concept for you to hear in the context of the warm-up section of our workouts, but I assure you that it belongs here. First, let's deconstruct the fancy terminology here:

  • Multiplanar - an exercise that exists in more than one of the three planes of movement (saggital, frontal, and transverse). An example would include Vipr flows, Animal Flow, advanced yoga, and any traditional sport. Simply put, the body moves in three-dimensions of space.

  • Fascial - the fascia is highly integrated system that runs throughout the entire body without beginning or end. It connects through the body in a variety of "slings" that unify segments of the body, such as the spiral sling or anterior sling. Any movement that is lower load, highly integrated, and moves throughout the planes of motion will be targeting our fascial system in some manner.

From here we'll find that any exercise that challenges us to go outside of our normal functions will "warm up" the fascia and help us get better integration between all the systems of our body. Imagine just how well you'll perform when your fascia, muscles, joints, and mindset align under one focus..

Check out my animal flow for an example:


Specific Prep - lastly we have specific prep, which is exactly how it sounds. It is any of the specific practice needed for your tasks of the day. An elite deadlift comes on the heels of working with an open bar, some kettle bell swings, and build-up sets. A talented sprinter may be do a series of skips, footwork drills, and arm drives to create the perfect stride. This example goes on...

The point of this final step is to get specifically what you need out of your warm up that helps you achieve the specific tasks in your workout. This would be like getting ketchup out of the fridge for a meal that has french fries or steak sauce for the tenderloin.

Here is a great prep movement for deadlifts:


Drawing to close we find that our analogy sticks. We are in fact setting our own tables when we take the time to warm up prior to our workouts. Not every workout requires an intricate warm up just as every meal doesn't require place settings. Our point here though is simple:

Do what you must to get the job done, but realize that you'll always enjoy your meals, and your workouts, when you take the time to set the table.


Keep Reading with Kevin's book - Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint

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