We’ve all done it before. I don’t know, you may be doing it every session. You walk into the gym (after having driven there) and walk up to the squat rack and complete your ‘warm up’. You get under, un rack the bar and perform 1, 2 maybe even 3 sets if you’re feeling particularly tight that day. That’s it. You’re now ready to begin to ramp up set by set and start your workout.
Apparently, the above qualifies as a warm up. Doing the bare minimum because you can’t wait to get to the lifting.This doesn’t only apply to lifters either, it’s common amongst team sport athletes (who don’t have a good coach) who think that jogging around the track for a few laps is sufficient to prepare their body for the workload that they are going to be performing within their training.
Whilst there are many culprits and “excuses” as to why warm ups aren’t important such as, “I don’t have time” or “I’m not lifting heavy enough so I won’t get injured anyway,” is irrelevant. I’ve heard them all before. In fact, I have said them all before within my own training and been a victim of all of this.
REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD
The main culprit is that people often look as warm ups purely to prevent injury risk. And obviously, athletes, particularly those within their prime athletic years do not even pay attention to that aspect because “it’s never going to happen to me”. People, until they suffer an injury often subconsciously think they are invincible.
However, on top of reducing the risk of injury/increasing longevity within your chosen sport, warm ups are actually a means of optimising your performance within a given workout. Now you may be thinking that the benefits may only be small. And that is true to a certain degree. I won’t sit here and say that if you start performing a stringent warm up every session that your bench will increase within a few weeks. However, even if the warm up only gives you a small benefit, for the amount of time you have to invest, it’s a no brainer.
HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR WARM UP:
I’m pretty sure this is the main reason why people fail to perform warm ups. Because they either don’t know what exercises to choose, or simply don’t know how to effectively structure it. This is ironic considering many people will go to great lengths to plan every aspect of their training and nutrition (even down to an hourly basis) but they won’t focus on taking 10-15 minutes out of every training session to prep.
10-15 minutes is all it takes.
That amount of time is literally nothing in the grand scheme of things. All you have to do is click the link at the end of this article and you will see what Elite Olympic Weightlifters do to warm up. It can take as much as half an hour to fully prep for the exercises they perform.
In terms of structure, I personally utilise the RAMP protocol with myself and all of my athletes.
This is a simple and effective way to fulfil the necessary criteria before exercising. Let’s go through each section individually (2).
R for RAISE:
The clue is in the name. You must perform specific exercises, normally whole body cardio based (god forbid) movement in order to elevate your heart rate, blood flow etc.
A for ACTIVATE:
The goal here is to perform exercises that target the major muscles that will be worked during the training session. For example, if you are doing a heavy squat session, performing body weight split squats are a perfect way of activating the glutes, quadriceps, core and so on. (Although that may sound complicated – I mean why not just perform more squats, it will make more sense later on).
M for MOBILISE:
Mobilisation is becoming increasingly more popular and important as an aspect of your training, and for good reason. What’s the point in being incredibly big and strong, if you can’t reach down to tie your shoe laces without feeling like your head is about to explode. Again, this may sound like I’m only referring to injury risk, but if you actually have a tight muscle, the nervous activity (i.e. it’s ability to contract effectively is impaired) meaning it cannot produce as much force as it is capable of and therefore, you are missing out.
P for POTENTIATE:
Finally, the fun part of the warm up. This involves performing explosive movements that prime the nervous system for the upcoming stimulus. For example, if you are performing a bench press workout, 3×3 clap press-ups ensures that the nervous system is primed and ready for high intensity activity. The word potentiate comes from the phenomenon “Post Activation Potentiation” in which a high intensity contraction results in excitation of motor neurones which actually lasts for a prolonged period of time and can positively influence subsequent exercise performance (1, 6).
*NOTE – The movements, although explosive should be relatively low injury risk. For example, when using jumping tasks, taking note of the height at which the individual drops from (if using drop jumps) can significantly the force experienced during landing (7)
So now that we have a structure (you will be given a free template at the end of the article) it is important to discuss some further considerations on how to make the warm up even more effective. Remember, productivity is the key. It makes absolutely no sense spending 4 hours in the gym if you can get the exact same results (if not more) in half the time.
DO YOU EVEN MOVE BRO?
This is arguably the most beneficial way for both the athlete and the coach to benefit. Essentially, when performing every aspect of the warm up, the coach can utilise that time to assess the movement quality of the athlete in question. Whilst it is difficult to accurately assess certain aspects of movement at high speeds, asking the athlete to perform a rear elevated split squat can give you a wealth of information (depending on your aptitude as a coach). You can essentially utilise this time and body weight/activation style movements to “screen” the individual for any potential weaknesses that could impair their performance or even, result in injury.
Quick Case Study: Criteria for the Rear Elevated Split Squat
– Can you/the athlete perform the exercise through the full range of motion?
No? You’re not mobile enough. Red flag right there.
– Does you/the athlete feel tightness in their rear thigh/quadriceps region?
Yes? You’re rectus femoris may be tight and may be comprising your pelvic position during the squat, not to mention the amount of force it can produce.
– Does your/the athlete’s knee cave inwards?
God I hope not. If it does, you need to seriously address the cause of knee valgus for yourself/the athlete. It may simply be that you/the athlete does not know it is occurring, in which case it is a relatively quick fix. However, if not, it may be down to impaired muscle activation (4), inter-muscular coordination, impaired hip mechanics (5).
*TIP = Look to the ankle or the hip, great quote I once heard is that, “the knee is a simple servant to the hip and the ankle”.
KEEP ROLLING, ROLLING, ROLLING
Let’s face it. The majority of people say that have ever bought a foam roller use it at most, 4-5 times. A month. It’s one of those tools (like most mobility implements) that is bought during a state of panic/injury/chronic tightness and as soon as those symptoms disappear, it sits in the corner of the room until symptoms appear again. However, if you have read up on anything about mobility from the likes of Kelly Starrett, Quinn Hennoch etc. you will know that symptoms are oftentimes what’s called a lagging indicator. Meaning that the damage has already been done and now you have to go back to fix it.
Actually taking 5 minutes of time (ideally during the mobilisation section) to foam roll major muscle groups (quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae etc.) means that you are getting in your mobility work rather than saying, “I’ll do it post workout when I get home.” Oh yeah, you also don’t have the excuse of it potentially effecting your training, as research has shown it acutely improves joint range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle performance (3).
BE MORE DYNAMIC
As a lifter myself and having been through the whole, “size and strength is the only thing that matters,” phase and laughing at those who talk about the idea of running. I can safely say that that mind set can significantly affect your performance. Look at the strongest humans on the planet.
Hafthor Bjornson – are you honestly telling me that this guy isn’t dynamic for his size? He weighs around 400lbs and can still sprint backwards and forwards during a loading race. Can still throw kegs over head and so on. There’s a reason that strong men are so god damn strong.
Dan Green – whilst I know that he started as a gymnast before powerlifting, it’s evident that he has maintained his dynamism. If you flick through his Instagram, you will find a post of him doing handstand press-ups better than most Cross-Fitters.
Just a couple of examples, but you get the point. Just because you want to be big and strong, doesn’t mean that throwing in movements like box jumps, sprints etc. means you won’t get there. I have no idea where this ideology has come from. Still not convinced? Olympic Weightlifters. That should be proof enough.
EXAMPLE WARM UP:
Below I have included a quick and highly effective warm up to perform prior to a heavy squat session:
- R – Stationary Bike/Jumping Jacks – 3-4 minutes
- A – Goblet Squats w/KB x10*
- A – Rear Elevated Split Squats x6 each leg*
- A – External Rotation w/ light weight x6 each arm*
- M – Leg Swings (front and back for hamstrings/glutes and hip flexors) x10*
- M – Hip gates (old football move for adductors/abductors) x10*
- M – Shoulder Rolls/Barrel Hugs x10*
- P – Box Jumps 5×3 (progressively increase height if possible).
*Repeat 2-3 times
So there you have it. A simple guide to implementing and understanding the effectiveness of a warm up.
- Hodgson, M., Docherty, D., & Robbins, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation. Sports Medicine, 35(7), 585-595.
- Jeffreys, I. (2007). Warm up revisited–the ‘ramp’method of optimising performance preparation. UK Strength and Conditioning Association.
- MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.
- Myer, G. D., Ford, K. R., & Hewett, T. E. (2005). The effects of gender on quadriceps muscle activation strategies during a maneuver that mimics a high ACL injury risk position. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 15(2), 181-189.
- Powers, C. M. (2010). The influence of abnormal hip mechanics on knee injury: a biomechanical perspective. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 40(2), 42-51.
- Tillin, M. N. A., & Bishop, D. (2009). Factors modulating post-activation potentiation and its effect on performance of subsequent explosive activities. Sports medicine, 39(2), 147-166.
- Walsh, M., Arampatzis, A., Schade, F., & Brüggemann, G. P. (2004). The effect of drop jump starting height and contact time on power, work performed, and moment of force. Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association, 18(3), 561-566.