You woke up this morning excited to go to the gym. Ready to have an awesome training session! However, after a long, stressful day at work, the same thought only causes dread. You contemplate not going for a second, but then quickly realize that isn’t the solution. You finally gingerly walk yourself into the gym, look at your program for the day, and see the warm-up. You think to yourself, do I really have to do this? Hell maybe, I can just do a few light sets of my first exercise and then get to the fun part.
Does this sound familiar?
For many of us, this is an occurrence that might happen daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. It varies from person to person, but the truth is that most people hate warming up. Throughout my career, I have worked with Division I athletes, a former Olympian, and busy office professionals. The one thing that they all have in common is that they hate the warm-up.
I believe that most people just find warm-ups to be tedious and boring. Well, lets change that! Dynamic warm-ups are important! However, just because something is important doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun while being effective.
Purpose of the Dynamic Warm-Up
So what exactly is the purpose of the warm-up?
Increase Body Temperature:
I realize this is probably not a shocker since it is implied. Just the way a car at times struggles when it is cold outside, your body also needs to get the muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments warmed-up before activity to prevent injuries.
Prime the body for movement:
Most people in 21st century America spend the majority of their day sitting in front of a computer screen for prolonged periods of time. As with most things done in excess, it starts to lead to problems. The problem areas seem to be similar for most people, such as lack of thoracic extension (you sit with your back rounded, which is thoracic flexion), poor glute activation, increased muscular tone of the hamstrings, and increased tone in the hip flexors. Focusing on these areas will help increase your range of motion for the day’s movements.
Stimulate the Central Nervous System (CNS):
Just as your muscles and joints need to get warmer to perform their best, so does your brain and all the nerves that control your muscles. The central nervous system is like the orchestra conductor for all the parts of your body. It coordinates all of your muscles so that you can move more powerfully and with greater balance. As you perform drills that are explosive or more complex it excites the nervous system so that you can better control your movements and perform better in your workouts. This is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to work up to your heavier sets with incremental increases in weight.
So there you have it! Now lets get to the fun part. How should we organize warm-ups to not only be fun, but also efficient?
How to Organize Your Dynamic Warm-up
Regardless of whether you are warming up by yourself or in a group setting, generally speaking a warm-up should contain drills to increase hip mobility, improve glute activation, allow for better thoracic extension, and stimulate the CNS.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but for most recreational lifters, who have an office job, these are generally the problem areas.
Now lets put all of this information together and create some strategies to make warm-ups fun for the individual, who doesn’t have a workout partner and for those who train in a group setting.
Change up your dynamic warm-up
This is a fairly simple solution for those that do not mind warming up, but absolutely cannot stand doing the same routine day in and day out. Choose two exercises from each group below to create your own unique dynamic warm-up, if it becomes stale, simply replace with one of the other variations. I am not going to include specific repetitions or sets because it is really based on individual preference. However, a warm-up should be short, sweet, and to the point.
- Spiderman Crawl
- Rocking Hip Flexor Mobilization
- Half-Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations
- Fire Hydrants
- Supine Glute Bridge
- Wall Glute March
- Supine Glute March
- Side-Lying Clam
- Yoga Push-up
- Quadruped Extension Rotation
- Foam Roller Thoracic Extension
- Side-Lying Windmill
Use Medicine Balls & Jump/Skipping Drills
If you like a really active warm-up, then use medicine balls and jump drills. This method is not only a great way to increase core temperature, but also helps stimulate the CNS.
I don’t know about you, but there is something really fun when it comes to slamming medicine balls and jumping around the gym.
You can put these activities after the drills listed above. Here are some of my favorites:
- Overhead Slam
- Push Press
- Half-Kneeling Rotational Throw
- Standing Chest Pass
Jump & Skipping Drills:
- Box Jumps under 18”
- Hurdle Jump & Stick
- High knee skips
- Lateral knee skips
I don’t think that this has ever been suggested, but if it has then I apologize and fully give credit to the inventor. For those that like games, you can only use drills that contains an animal’s name. For example:
- Duck walk
- Bear crawl
- Dead bug
- Tactical Frog
Coin Toss Warm-up
Make two warm-up sessions using the information above and then let the coin decide your fate. This way you never know what warm-up you will be doing that day!
Group Warm Ups
Bear Crawl Tag – Everyone loves his or her favorite childhood past-time of tag. Lets make it a little more challenging. You play a couple of 1 to 2 minute rounds where a person randomly gets assigned as the tagger. Rotate the tagger each round. In between, rounds you choose do other warm-up drills.
Musical Medicine Balls – I actually picked this up from one of my CrossFit friends. I thought it was fairly innovative and fun. Unlike regular musical chairs where you walk around the chairs until it is time, here you must bear crawl one round, frog walk another round, inchworm another round, and duck walk the last round.
Medicine Ball Hot Potato – You split up into groups of two. You have one person playing the music and stopping it. The person who loses must do the dynamic mobility drill that the winner chooses.
Loaded Carry Relay Race – Split up into even teams and find some heavy dumbbells, try to make it so that teams are balanced. The distance will be dictated by the amount of space available, but generally I like anything between 20 to 40 yards. In between races, perform other warm-up drills.
Now go out there and have some fun! Time to start enjoying the warm-up process and reaping the benefits!
James Darley is the founder of Historic Performance, New York City based fitness company catered to improving the health of busy office professionals. He has formerly interned at LIU-Brooklyn (Brooklyn, NY) and Benfield Sports Performance (Staten Island, NY) as a Strength & Conditioning coach. For more information, check out his website at www.historicperformance.net.
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