How to Warm-Up Properly

A well-thought-out and well-executed warm-up is an important component of an exercise program that is often neglected without much deliberation. We’ve all been there before, pressed for time and wanting to get in a great workout. It’s easy to walk past the foam rollers, pretend stretching doesn’t exist, and step into the squat rack, grab the dumbbells, or press the power button on the treadmill.  We usually do this for one of three reasons:

1) You don’t see the value in warming up

2) You truly don’t believe you have the time

3) You don’t know how to properly warm-up

I once heard a physical therapist say, in regards to exercise, “do the little things or one day all you’ll be doing are the little things.” Read below to learn how to put together a proper warm-up that includes all of the “little things” your body needs, so that you can continue performing the exercises you love.

Know The Physiological Goals & Move Big Rocks First

A warm-up routine doesn’t have to be long and boring. If you know what your body needs to be able to feel and move the way you want during your training session, you’ll be able to shorten your warm-up and give it more purpose. A good warm-up will accomplish five things physiologically for your body:

1. Prepare Your Joints

2. Practice Motor Patterns

3. Increase Body Temperature

4. Central Nervous System Activation

5. Increase Heart Rate

Incorporating exercises that accomplish the five variables above, along with knowing what your “big rocks” are, is how you will be able to craft your perfect warm-up routine.  How do you know what your “big rocks” are? Answer the questions below to discover what you should be prioritizing in your warm-up.

1. Do you have a current injury that needs specific attention to help promote healing and return to full function?

2. Did you have an injury in the past that still restricts your mobility?

3. Do you have any other mobility restrictions?

4. What are your goals?

5. What exercises are you performing during your training session?

Set a Timer

Setting a timer is a great way to ensure you warm up properly and still have plenty of time to get in your workout. Depending on how you’ve answered the questions above, a warm-up should take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. If you’ve been fortunate enough to stay injury free, your joints move well, and you have good control of basic movement patterns, your warm-up may only need to be around 10 minutes. If you’re in the majority, you’ll likely need to spend more time preparing your joints and body for your training session with a 15-20-minute warm-up.

Sequence Warm-Ups for Increased Efficiency

Once you’ve sorted through what your body needs, what big rocks you must move first, and dedicated a certain amount of time to your warm-up, it’s wise to sequence your warm-up exercises appropriately to make them more effective and save you time. Below are four ways to sequence your warm-ups to increase your efficiency.

  • Move from Ground to Standing

  • Progress from Single-Joint to Multi-Joint Movements

  • Progress from Simple to Complex Movements

  • Progress from Static to Dynamic Movements

If you scroll back up and re-watch my full warm-up, you’ll notice all of these sequencing variables are taken into consideration.

In Summary

Warming up is essential to having longevity in your exercise program. Keep your joints moving well, practice movements that need improvement, and prepare yourself as best you can for each training session. Once you know how to be effective, efficient, and purposeful with your warm-ups, you’ll spend less time dreading them and more time seeing them as opportunities to get better at the exercises you love doing—and staying healthy while doing so.