On my way to the gym. Running late. Got out of the office late. Then forgot something and had to head back really quickly. Stopped at seemingly every traffic light that has ever existed.

Surely you’ve experienced that. Do you ever skip your warm up when that happens?

How much of it do you skip? Do you even have a warm up?

There are some parts of a warm up that are absolutely essential. Then there are some things that you can use to “stack the deck”, so to speak, to ensure you’re optimizing your session.

A good warm up sets you up for a great workout.

Ritual

I don’t believe in changing warm ups too often. If there are obvious exercise tweaks I can make, then sure — I’ll make them. There are too many thoughts, however, that should take precedent in your cognitive real estate. Be particular about rationing out your most valuable resource.

Instead, think of your warm up as a ritual. Do things in a particular way and in a particular order:

  1. Pause for 5 seconds once arriving to the gym. Be mindful that work is over.
  2. Step into the gym and head to the same spot.
  3. Change and hang up your clothes in your favorite locker.
  4. Tie your shoes with a rhythm.
  5. Use the restroom.
  6. Fill up your water, grab a towel, and head on out to the gym.

It doesn’t have to be that — this is just an example. What is your gym ritual? Leave a comment below.

The gym ritual allows your mind to know where you are. And if your mind knows you’re about to workout, your body can start preparing, too.

Foam Rolling

Some people really enjoy foam rolling, or “self-myofascial release”. It’s part of their ritual. Personally, I don’t spend much time on it, but if you’re going to do it, I would do it before you start moving much.

Reset Your Body

Did you know that your body’s position can impact your mobility immediately?

I’ve written a long, pretty technical article on this already => Stop Stretching, You’re Wasting Your Time — Here’s What to do Instead

The short version: simply cuing your hips in a more neutral position can increase your hip mobility and take stress off of your low back. I like starting people with a plank, cuing an ideal low back/hip/pelvic position, to turn on the abs like crazy. Some people are astonished with how strongly they feel the abs contract when you do this… but then I tell them to exhale…

Example Exercise: Lat Hang (with or without a balloon)

Example Exercise: Pullover

Benefits of Resets

There are so many benefits:

  • Better low back control… for less stress where you DON’T want it
  • Better body awareness… to help you unplug your mind from other worries
  • Proper core muscle timing and position… to keep you safe and strong
  • Improved mobility in the hips, shoulders, ankles… EVERYWHERE
  • Involuntary nervous system balance… the Mama Bear’s porridge of neural activation

Some weirdos (like me) even notice a wider visual field, relaxed neck, and better thought organization. I’m addicted to it. Does that mean I’m biased? Or does that show us how important it is?

I don’t know. Either way, I would not advise skipping your body resets.

Slow, Controlled Movement

You’ve reset your body and gained all this magical new mobility and flexibility. Now use it! One arm, one leg or “unilateral” exercises are great here: lunges, twisting, 1-arm planking, rolling around on the ground, and Turkish get ups are some of my favorites.

Example Exercise: Lunges

Example Exercise: Half Kneeling Rotation

You’ll notice I don’t talk much about stretching…

…BUT I ACTUALLY DO!

We have to be precise about the types of stretching we mean. Static stretching is generally what people think of when they hear the word “stretching”. Sit down and grab your foot to stretch your hamstring, for example.

Static stretching is nice and all, but it doesn’t do much. Active stretching — where you contract a muscle through all of it’s length — produces both (a) greater gains that (b) stick around for longer.1

Take these lunges, twists, and whatever else you decide to do, and make sure to use your full range of motion. That way you can both warm up and stretch your muscles at the same time.

Fast, Dynamic Movement

Slow movement is for control. Fast movement is for activation.

After you’ve done your lunges and whatever, throw in some fast-paced exercise: skips, jumps, hops, etc. This primes your nervous system to be faster and stronger for the rest of your workout.

Example Exercise: 4x Hurdles

Example Exercise: Power Skip

Is It Hot in Here or Is It Just You?

Throughout all of this, keep breathing and make sure your movement is high quality, but rest as little as possible.

One of the often forgotten components of warming up is the literal one. Get sweating. Elevate your heart rate (you can even use a heart rate monitor if you want). Stop thinking so much and just DO STUFF.

This is easy and can also be done simultaneously with everything else. You should feel good by now and ready for the workout.

Lift Specifics

If you’re training for strength or size, I always recommend doing some lift-specific warm ups, too. This allows you to practice the movement with lighter, easier loads before you overload the body.

If you plan to squat 275lbs for 5 reps, maybe you do warm up sets like…

  1. 45lbs x 15 reps
  2. 95lbs x 10 reps
  3. 135lbs x 8 reps
  4. 185lbs x 5 reps
  5. 225lbs x 5 reps
  6. 245lbs x 3 reps

Managing Your Time

Now that you understand the structure of a warm up, you can decide what you need to cut out when you’re running late.

Foam rolling? Skip it.

Body resets? Get at least two sets in.

Static stretch? Opt for something more dynamic.

Warming and sweating? Don’t rest during your other stuff and MAKE yourself warm up.

Timeline Summary

Here are a few themes to keep in mind. As your warm up goes on, you should move from…

A racing mind to a clear mind

Complex to simple

Cold to warm

Dry to sweating

Distracted to aware

Slow to fast

Clunky to fluid

Static to dynamic

Awkward to rhythmic

 

1.
Meroni R, Cerri CG, Lanzarini C, et al. Comparison of Active Stretching Technique and Static Stretching Technique on Hamstring Flexibility. C. 2010;20(1):8-14. doi:10.1097/jsm.0b013e3181c96722