Better Warmup

In my last post, I made the case for why you should never skip the warm-up before you exercise. I ended by saying that a good warm-up should start off slowly with simple, low-intensity movements and gradually build in complexity and intensity, ending with movements that closely mimic the exercises you’ll be doing in the workout itself. Today, I want to give you a few different warm-up templates you can use to create your own workout-specific warm-ups.

Cardio Workouts
If you’ll be doing a cardio workout, the most important aspects of your warm-up will be to wake up the nervous system and warm up the muscles and core body temperature. If the workout will be intense, as with sprint intervals or hill repeats, then you should also incorporate some exercise-specific movements at the end of the warm-up. If you’ll be going at a steady pace throughout the workout, then simply ramp up your intensity at the end of the warm-up and transition right into the workout. Here’s a warm-up template you can use for cardio workouts:

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Workout-Specific Muscle Activation: For higher intensity workouts, end this warm-up with a few exercises or drills that will activate the primary muscles you’ll use during the workout. If you’ll be doing a hard, hilly bike ride, then lunges are appropriate; if you’ll be doing sprint intervals, spend a few minutes doing skips and strides. Increase intensity gradually from moderate to high during this phase of the warm-up. When you’re finished, you should feel ready to jump right into the workout.

Strength Training Workouts
Before lifting weights, it’s important to raise muscle and core body temperature and to put your body through a series of motions that closely or exactly match the exercises you’ll be doing.

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Exercise-Specific Warm-up Sets: Before you perform any “working sets” at your target weight, do one to three sets using body weight only, or very light free weights. If you’ll be doing barbell squats, for example, start with a set of deep knee bends, and then do a set of barbell squats with the bar only before adding plates. For bench press, start with pushups and then press the bar only before adding weight. If you’re working with dumbbells, simply start with empty hands and go through the range of motion, then use a set of very light dumbbells for your second warm-up set.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)/Bootcamp-Style Workouts
If you plan to do a high-intensity, body weight calisthenic workout, your primary goals during the warm-up are to raise your muscle and core body temperature, and to move all of your joints through a full range of motion.

  • Core and Breath Work: Start off by practicing a few rounds of belly breathing, both lying on your back and on all fours, then work your way through some simple core exercises like the Cat/Camel stretch, Bird Dog pose, and Glute Bridge.
  • Light to Moderate General Warm-up: Next, spend 5 – 10  minutes warming up your entire body. Transition from light intensity (such as walking) to moderate intensity (such as light jogging, high-knee marches, etc.)
  • Exercise-Specific Movements: Finish your warm-up with exercises that move your joints through a full range of motion and mimic the exercises you’ll be doing during the workout. For example, warm up your shoulders with arm circles, forward and backward, and then do the arms-only movement of jumping jacks. Warm up your hips with some side-to-side and front-to-back pendulum swings, high-knee marches and butt kickers. Then, before your first round of high-intensity work, do a quick circuit at half speed, or do modified (easier) versions of the exercises. For example, do some knee push-ups, half lunges and shallow knee bends. If your workout will include plyometric (jumping/explosive) exercises, incorporate some skipping and hopping into your warm-up.

By including a comprehensive warm-up into your workouts you’ll not only help prevent injury, but you’ll get your body ready to exercise at peak intensity, helping you to maximize performance and fitness gains, as well as calorie burn.