Let me start by saying this, “If you’re not warming up, you’re lazy!”
That is about as direct as I could put it. I get a lot of questions in regards to warming up and to be honest a lot of my warm-up work looks the same. I’m not saying it is the same everyday but pretty similar. Jumping into a lift or working out or whatever your plan may be for the day without taking the time to warm up properly is a recipe for disaster. I’m not sure why but a lot of people seem to think you can simply grab a bell and start swinging. While I use swings in my warm-up almost everyday, this is simply not the case. I take the time to loosen my hips, release pressure and stress from my vertebra, and a few other things. You could even say I do a warm-up before my warm-up.
Besides generalized warm-ups, you know- that quad / hamstring stretch you do on the squat rack before you start squatting, there are very specific things we can do to help out the lifts we are about to do. After our traditional mobility and stretching is where we begin to truly warm-up.
We will break down these warm-ups into 1 example for simplicity reasons. The body has 7 primitive movements in which we are able to move. We will focus on the squat pattern for this discussion.
While I love to squat and do so almost everyday in some fashion, I take a lot of time in warming myself up in order to operate under any form of load (weight.) The majority of the time I have a similar warm-up for any type of squat I perform; back, front, goblet, over-head, etc.
It usually goes a little something like this;
I warm up with moving the hip-adductors, which is the large group of muscles that make up your thigh. Don’t get caught up in technicalities here. We are warming up our thighs. Start by placing your hand on a vertical object like a wall or the side of the squat rack and slowly swing your leg in all directions, back, forward, side to side, circles, etc. Take about 30 – 60 seconds each leg.
I want to keep good posture in my squat so it is important that I open up the back and “get tall.” To ensure this I will simply perform a few walkouts. Start by standing as tall as you can, then slowly bend over to touch the floor followed by walking your hands out in front of you until you reach the “high pushup” position with wrists directly under the shoulder. You should be on your toes at this point. You should also make special consideration as to not let the hips / butt sink to the floor. Keep a neutral spine when at the bottom of the walkout. Flex the abs as you walk your hands to your feet and stand up. I do not have a preference as far as having bent knees or straight legs. Straight leg is always the goal so if I have to spend a few more reps here to get straight legged I will. This will help us extend the vertebra and help relieve any pressure we might have in our backs and also deliver a good stretch to the hamstrings when I get into the straight-leg position.
Next I want to specifically warm up the inside of the hip known as the hip flexors. To do this I will slowly pull myself down into the squat. Notice I said pull myself down and not just drop it like it’s hot into the squat. Take your time. Listen to your body. What do you feel? Something off? Address it before you start squatting. While keeping a neutral (straight) spine I will place my elbows inside my knees on the VM or vastus medialis. This is the meaty portion on the inside of your knee. I will place my hands together and try to pry my elbows into my VM and stretch the hip flexors, forcing my knees into an outward position. I hold it for about an 8 count then release and slowly push myself up out of the squat. I will repeat a few times or as necessary. On the last rep I will get into the bottom of the squat, place my elbows in the VM without forcing the stretch and start to rock the hips side-to-side. This is to make sure my hips are lose enough to perform a squat and not too lose as to become hyper-mobile.
I conclude my warm-up with a 2-exercise split. The first being a corrective or another form of squat that will assist in my squat exercise that day. For example I will pick a light bell and goblet squat holding for an 8 count for about 3 – 5 reps. I will follow this up by back squatting with just the bar and getting comfortable in the hole with the bar on my shoulders. I will spend a few seconds in the hole, then push out and repeat 2 – 3 more times. I will repeat this series for 3 sets.
If I feel questionable about the condition of my hips on any given day I will add a few kettlebell swings to the warm up as well. I know it is not the same pattern as the squat but I want to minimize the risk of injury. 5 reps of swings will be just fine in most cases to get a good read on the hip position to determine if more warm-up is necessary.
Stick the exercises or corrective you need the most work on into your warm-up. These should be done immediately before your big lifts. For example the combo stated above before actually performing the work of squats with load. You can always perform them at other times as well. The key is to not hurt yourself during both the warm-up so that by utilizing the warm-up you don’t hurt yourself during your lift. Keep the weights and reps lighter so that you can benefit without sacrificing the gains you will make from your planned lifts.
The course of action can used with any big lift to compliment the lift style (squats, presses, etc.) as well as most workouts that are not strength based. You may find that your lifts and workouts go better than usual when doing these warm-ups as long as you don’t go all out with them.