Not many people realize this but implementing a smart warm-up protocol before lifting weights could easily help you increase performance and get more out of your workouts in the gym.
The two biggest mistakes people make when warming up for a strength training session is a) they skip it or b) they overdo it.
Newsflash: Floating around on the elliptical for 15 minutes while reading US Weekly is not a very useful primer for lifting heavy stuff.
Neither is performing a few arm circles and leg swings, then proceeding to load a barbell with the heaviest weights you can handle three minutes after you have walked in through the gym doors.
A proper warm up should get your core temperature up to the point where you’re sweating, it should lubricate the joints, prime the nervous system for the upcoming working sets and it should both activate and pump up the muscles.
One thing you should remember is that you don’t want to kill yourself during the warm-up, thus sapping your energy before the actual workout has begun but you also shouldn’t be afraid of a little pre-fatigue to the point where you’re simply going through the motions and getting no real benefit of what you’re doing.
In this article we’ll take a look at how to setup an intelligent warm-up plan, which will allow you to lift more weight while decreasing the risk of injury. I’ve broken the protocols into upper/lower templates, because many of our clients follow upper/lower training programs.
If you’re doing full-body sessions or follow traditional muscle-splits, then naturally you’ll focus on warming up the muscles and grooving the movements/patterns involved in the actual workout of the day but these plans will work no matter what kind of training program you’re currently following.
You also want to keep in mind that warm-ups should be individualized. A 20-year-old newbie with no prior injuries under his belt will likely need to devote less time to it than the guy who has been lifting for two decades and has got the scars to show for it.
So there really is no need for long, complicated warm-ups that take you 20+ minutes to complete unless that’s the only way your body will cooperate when it’s time to bend bars and set some rep PR’s.
I don’t know your experience levels or injury history. Bear in mind that what I’m providing here is simply a template. Feel free to experiment and tailor it to suit your needs as you see fit.
You’ll notice that many of these exercises and drills for the upper body target the shoulders. Shoulder health is of paramount importance if you’re seeking continued improvements in the big barbell lifts. Or put another way, a bum shoulder will severely restrict what you can do in the weight room because the shoulders are actively involved in virtually all upper body pressing exercises.
I don’t have any fancy statistics to quote here but what I’ve learned from my own experiences as well as from talking to many lifters and reading books and articles by other trainers, shoulder issues are one of the most common injuries lifters can inflict upon themselves. So investing a few minutes at the start of a training session into some rehab/prehab work for the shoulders would be a smart move.
Doing this sequence should not take longer than 5-10 minutes. Move from one exercise to the next without rest.
1) Lying Y-Handcuffs: 10 reps
2) Band Pull-Apart: 2×10 reps
3) Band Rotator Cuff External Rotation: 2×10 reps per arm
4) Band Face Pull + External Rotation: 12 reps
5) Band Shoulder Dislocations: 12-20 reps
6) YTWL’s: 5 reps of each
7) Close Grip Push-Up: 10 reps
8) Rope Face Pull: 10-12 reps
9) Band Pushdown: 15-20 reps
10) Lateral Raise: 12-15 reps
11) Scarecrow: 12-15 reps
12) Front Raise: 12-15 reps
For the lower body, hip mobility is one of the key areas that most people need to consistently work on.
A big benefit of increasing hip mobility is that you’ll be able to hit foundational movements, such as any squat or deadlift variation, with greater ease.
For instance, squatting to proper depth while keeping the lower back in a neutral position, which in this age of people sitting on their butts for hours at a time and developing postural imbalances, is not exactly as uncomplicated a feat as one might think.
Thus, working on your hip mobility will allow you to execute lower body exercises with better form while also improving power output due to increased engagement of the posterior chain, which is vital in performing exercises like the barbell squat, deadlift or an Olympic lift variation.
Enter DeFranco’s Limber 11, a great hip mobility sequence for athletes and general trainees alike…
1) IT Band Foam Roll: 10-15 reps per leg from hip to mid-thigh + 10-15 reps per leg from mid-thigh to knee
2) Adductor Foam Roll: 10-15 reps per leg from hip to mid-thigh + 10-15 reps per leg from mid-thigh to knee
3) Lax Ball Glute/Piriformis Myofacial Release with Static Stretch
4) Bent Knee Iron Cross: 5-10 reps per side
5) Rollovers into V-Sits: 10 reps
6) Rocking Frog Stretch: 10 reps
7) Fire Hydrant Circles: 10 forward circles / 10 backward circles per leg
8) Mountain Climbers: 10 reps per leg
9) Cossack Squats: 5-10 per side
10) Seated Piriformis Stretch: 20-30 seconds per side
11) Rear Foot Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch: 5-10 reps per side with 3 second hold
For those of you who are more beat up or simply feel better after a more extensive lower body warm-up, I would perform the following sequence in addition to the Limber 11 protocol.
1) Bulgarian Split Squat: 2×10 reps per leg
2) Goblet Squat: 10 reps
3) Kettlebell Swing: 20 reps
4) Kettlebell Snatch: 10 reps per arm
5) Groiners: 10 reps per leg
6) Squat with Broomstick: 10 reps
7) Forward Hurdle Walk Over: 10 reps per leg
8) Lateral Hurdle Walk Over: 10 reps per side
9) Straight Leg Swing: 10 reps per leg
10) Side Leg Swing: 10 reps per leg
11) X-Band Walk: 10 steps in all 4 directions
12) Single Leg Hip Thrust: 10 reps per leg
Again, these drills shouldn’t take very long to move through. Move at a quick pace and get them all done in 5-10 minutes.
Following the dynamic warm-ups depicted here, in Part 2 we’ll find out how to progressively warm-up with weights so that you’ll soon be hitting new PR’s in training.
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Yunus Barisik, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for an elite junior hockey organization based in Espoo, Finland. He has trained hundreds of hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.