Warm Up Like A Pro

By Matthew Ibrahim

The biggest mistake made in the general fitness population is to think that you’re not an athlete, or better yet, that you’re not athletic. 

That’s far from the truth. Actually, it’s the exact opposite to the truth. It all comes down to your perception.

Professional athletes and recreational athletes in the general fitness population definitely have commonalities. More over, being an athlete isn’t just a label meant for those individuals being compensated to play and compete in a particular sport. Truth be told, everyone is an athlete to a certain extent.

I’m a firm believer in this mentality. I also believe that this is where the “weekend warrior” thought process came from and honestly, I dig it. You just need to be keen on adopting a proper warm up routine to keep you moving well and moving often for the long term. Think of this as building long-term resilience for your body to help bulletproof it against injury.

Although the majority of professional athletes possess high levels of elite fitness and athleticism, that simply represents one end of the spectrum and a very small portion of the population. There’s still a ton of room on the opposite end of the spectrum, in the middle and everywhere in between. Plus, I bet there is a handful of stud “athletes” still roaming about in the general fitness population as well.

My point – don’t think that you’re any different than the pros, at least when it comes down to athletic capabilities, physical fitness and performance development. Although the pro athletes have a greater duration of time available on their hands to train, the simple fix for you is to prioritize and compartmentalize your entire training routine from start to finish. It all starts with an intelligently designed warm up that’s centered around efficiency; that’s the key.

This is a primary reason why I teamed up with Dr. John Rusin (a mutual friend of Dr. Tim DiFrancesco and mine) to present our upcoming workshop in the Boston area this July, which focuses on breaking down the warm up and recovery process in an efficient manner. 

A big issue I see in the general population when it comes to fitness is this belief that a light 10-minute bike ride suffices for proper movement preparation prior to training. This idea completely boggles my mind, since there are so many vital components to a quality warm up that you miss out on by just incorporating a light bike ride.

More importantly, we need to pull back the curtains first in order to see the “what” and the “why” behind a proper warm up routine. Let’s break down the basics first.

 

BODY AREAS THAT NEED THE MOST ATTENTION IN THE WARM UP

Tight hips. Immobile mid-back. Shoulders that feel cemented in place. Glued down ankles.

Nearly everyone, especially those in the general fitness population, have felt one (if not all) of these area restrictions at some point. Look at our society and our common daily movements and habits. It just comes down to logic, and logic says that we tend to mimic the positions we spend the most time in throughout the day. Think: your average desk job and sedentary positions. 

Enter: the warm up. Not just any warm up. I’m talking about a routine built to mirror the movements and groove the patterns needed before pushing weight around in the gym and displaying athleticism on the performance field. 

Broken down, it looks like this:

  • Hips – The absolute most common area of restriction I see in the general fitness population is undoubtedly the hip region, both anterior and posterior. Folks tend to lack the necessary tissue length and joint mobility capacity here, most likely due to sitting for long periods of time throughout the day. Stand-up desks are helpful, but you definitely shouldn’t believe that they’re going to solve the problem alone. You need to move those hips around. It wouldn’t hurt to activate those glutes either.
  • Thoracic Spine (Mid-Back) – The t-spine is in dire need of solid mobility, however, computer desks along with poor posture have created T-Rex-like abilities in that region. This area is often coupled with lack of movement in overhead mobility and in the shoulders.
  • Shoulders – Piggy-backing off of the previous point, we can see how this area is directly related (in most cases) to an immobile thoracic spine. However, this makes it an easy area to attack, since we can get some great bang-for-your-buck warm up drills for both.
  • Ankles & Feet – This is one of those “if you don’t use it, you lose it” type of areas. Often a culprit in breaking down the biomechanics of a squat, the ankles need some love in the warm up to keep them moving well and steering clear of restrictions in the range of motion department. Also, your feet are predominantly dormant in a pair of socks and inside shoes all day. The tissues and arches on the bottom of your feet would benefit from some basic soft tissue lacrosse ball rolling.

These are primary areas, along with other secondary areas, that should be covered in your warm up routine, regardless of whether you’re a professional athlete or recreational athlete in the general fitness population. 

At the end of the day, we are all humans and we all have similarly operating machines (also known as your body) that require specific maintenance.

The perfect place for this daily maintenance to take place is in your warm up. Your warm up isn’t just meant to warm you up prior to training and performance; it’s also a place to build healthy movement patterns and increase your ability to move well.

Remember: quality movement precedes quality training and performance.

 

MAIN COMPONENTS OF A QUALITY WARM UP 

I’m a big fan of efficiency. If you’re in the general fitness population, you know that you only have 1 hour to train. That’s it. 

It doesn’t make much sense to spend 30 minutes on your warm up and only 30 minutes on training. This situation wouldn’t yield many results; therefore, it’s better to compartmentalize the warm up process for quickness and efficiency.

The maximum amount of time spent in the warm up should come out to 8-10 minutes total. No more. No less. Keep it simple.

Here’s a breakdown of the warm up: 

  • Soft Tissue – Use a foam roller, lacrosse ball or tennis ball here. A primary area, if you’re going to spend time here, should be the arches under the feet. Roll these bad boys out with the lacrosse ball for 20 seconds per side, and watch how much it helps with the tissues at and above that joint for becoming more supple. Some other ways to implement soft tissue via the foam roller can be spending focus work in the following areas: Calves, Hamstrings, Quads, IT Bands, Adductors, Glutes, QL (low back), Thoracic Spine (mid-back), Lats, and Pecs. In terms of using the lacrosse ball or tennis ball, feel free to work in these commonly restricted areas: Calves, Hamstrings, Quads, Adductors, Gutes, QL (low back), Lats, and Pecs. For all soft tissue implementations, spend either 20 seconds or 20 seconds per side on each. The goal here is priority, so only roll out what you feel you need that day – nothing else. Spend no more than a couple of minutes in this section. Save the rest for the regeneration and recovery aspect in your training (we will be covering how to “Recover Like A Pro” in the next article).
  • Mobility – Your joints need to be able to express certain ranges of motion and positions required during training with external loading. Case in point: if you want to squat with good form and depth, your hips need to have an adequate amount of mobility coupled with a good deal of mobility in the ankles as well. Additionally, your tissues need to build a good foundation of tolerance (think: soft tissue length) during the loading in training. A simple way to understand this concept is to load the tissues with body weight gradually (in your warm up) to build up tolerance prior to loading them in training. An accompanying mobility sequence video will be presented in the next section.
  • Activation – I like to think of this section in the warm up a “turning the light on in the room”. Wake up certain areas in the body and get them firing prior to using them during powerful and/or explosive movements in training. An accompanying activation sequence video will be presented in the next section.
  • Dynamic – This is where we groove quality movement patterns, build sound running mechanics, and prepare the body to move well. The dynamic section is my personal favorite, because this is where true movement comes to life in the warm up. Never overlook quality movement with pristine form. An accompanying dynamic sequence video will be presented in the next section.
  • Action – Here, we express power output and prepare the CNS through plyometrics. We want movements to take on a snap-like ability, accompanied by quick and concise movements. Think: elastic bands or the quick snap of your fingers.

 

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER 

Here’s how to build your warm up by tying everything in together. 

Below is a complete step-by-step breakdown of your warm up. Make sure to follow it in this order. Once you get the handle of it and become efficient with it, it should take you no longer than 8-10 minutes.

  • Soft Tissue

o   Select two (1 or 2) specific areas of need for that training day, and only spend 20 sec/side per area. 

  • Mobility

o   Half-Kneeling Wall Quad-Hip Flexor Mobs – x5/side

o   Hammer-Nail Glute Mobs – x5/side

o   Split-Stance Adductor Mobs – x5/side

o   Side-Lying Windmill – x5/side

o   Squat-to-Stand w/Rotation – x5/side

  • Activation

o   Glute Bridge (2-Sec Pause) – x5

o   Rotating Plank – x10 sec/each

o   Single-Leg Lowers – x5/side

o   Mini-Band Lateral Walks – x10/side

o   Band Pull Apart – x10

  • Dynamic

o   Greatest Stretch – x5/side

o   Lateral Lunge into Curtsy Lunge – x5/side

o   Yoga Push-Up into Inchworm – x5

o   Linear Crawl (Forward) – x5/side

o   Lateral Crossover Crawl – x5/side

  • Action

o   Linear March Skip w/Running Arms – x10 yards

o   Lateral Shuffle w/Overhead Reach Swings – x10 yards/side

o   Wall Acceleration Drill: Single Leg Exchange – x5/side

o   Quick Drop Squat w/Stick Landing (1-Sec) – x5

o   Quick Lateral Crossover w/Stick Landing (1-Sec) – x5/side

Feel free to print this warm up template out and start using it prior to training. 


Matthew Ibrahim is a strength and conditioning coach, physical therapy rehabilitation coach and licensed massage therapist at Boston Physical Therapy & Wellness. As a Boston-based sports medicine provider for the ClinicalAthlete global network, he routinely works with athletes from all walks of life and training disciplines to help bridge the gap from rehab to training. He is also the founder of Movement Resilience, a blog geared toward enhancing the fields of human movement and athletic performance through featured articles and guest speaking engagements.


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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and founder of TD Athletes Edge.  He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

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