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Warm Up – Always Ask Questions

Yesterday on my post, I got the following questions. Generally I try to respond in the comment or by email, but I thought this comment by Jill posed some interesting questions and raised some interesting issues. (It actually made me think of a post by 43 Fitness about questions and how sometimes we, fitness professionals, don’t always realize all the questions that need to be answered to really help others on their journey). That being said….

Cori, I really like your blog and the way you approach workouts in a sensible way. I just sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed reading it and wondering how to incorporate these things. Basically, you are WAY smarter and stronger than me and it sounds really complicated to get to where you are at. How many activation and strengthening exercises do we need in our warmup? Should we always be doing the same warmup? How do we know what to focus on? Usually I just do a dynamic warmup with many of the exercises you linked that I found in a book (New Rules of Lifting for Abs or something similar). What are some corrective exercises? I don’t really know what my imbalances are, other than that I always seem to injure my right quad when doing exercises like step-ups so I’m obviously not using good form. How long do you recommend the warmup should be? You don’t have to take the time to answer all these questions…they are just a few that come to mind as I read your post. I’m moving from my running “season” back into weight training and want to do it right. (The good news is I did achieve my goal I set at the beginning of the year to run a half marathon under 1:35 and now I feel like I can take a break from running.)

For one, congrats Jill on achieving your half-marathon goal!

Two, it doesn’t matter how much you know. All that matters is that you question and seek out knowledge. We all have to start somewhere and have to grow from there. It doesn’t matter our starting point just how hard we work to learn and grow!

When it comes to health and fitness, especially, there really are a ton of different “correct” answers. You’ve got to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

And three, health and fitness is, but isn’t complicated. There are a ton of workout variables you can manipulate to make your workouts good. BUT you can’t freak out about manipulating each and every one every single workout.

The point is more to know that all of them matter and can affect your results. When you know the variables that matter, you can better track your progress and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

It is good to know the details just don’t get bogged down in them.

Anyway…Let’s see if I can break some of this down so that it not only answers your questions, but questions I’m sure others have as well!

Warm Up

How many activation and strengthening exercises do we need in our warmup?

I’m sure you all will love this answer…IT DEPENDS!

I usually pick out about 6 or 7 moves for my warm up although I have spent longer on days when my body is super tight.

Some are stretches and some are activation moves. The exact number and breakdown of what I do depends on the workout and how my body feels. I generally do one or two activation moves during the warm up although I can do up to 4 or 5 with a butt workout.

I generally base my warm up on how I feel during foam rolling. Don’t get me wrong…I have some stretches planned out based on the workout, but I may lengthen or shorten the warm up based on how loose my body feels when I foam roll.

If I find a ton of trigger points and am super tight I may add in a stretch or two more or do more reps of the stretches I planned to do.

For example…with a back workout I may do:

1 or 2 Forearm stretches (depends on how tight my forearms are and how much computer work I did that day…or grip work I did the workouts earlier that week)
2 or 3 Thoracic mobility moves (Here is a link to a post with a few. I may do more or less depending on how tight my back feels and how much I’ve been seated and hunched over recently)
1 or 2 Lat stretches (See the link above for options)
1 or 2 Chest stretches (See the link above for options.)
2 or 3 rounds Scapular Holds for activation

There is no set number of exercises you should do. I generally wouldn’t do more than 10 moves in a warm up. I usually do fewer exercises and just more reps.

I pick out those moves based on what my workout is going to work.

The MOST IMPORTANT RULE when it comes to warming up is to make sure that your body FEELS loose and ready to work. You want the muscles you are going to use to be warm and mobile. You don’t want to be forcing a range of motion when you start using weights!

Should we always be doing the same warmup?

I like mixing up my warm up so that I can stretch the muscles in different ways. Let’s face it…Our bodies do adapt to whatever movements we do.

HOWEVER, if you pick out moves that create the mobility you need for your workout, it isn’t that important to mix it up.

I probably mix it up more than most people because I’m constantly experimenting with new mobility moves I learn to see if there are better ones out there than the ones I’m currently using (because then I’ll use those with my clients).

Find moves that create mobility around your joints….So that you have proper thoracic extension, shoulder mobility, hip mobility…ankle mobility…

I must say…Those 15 moves I listed are some of my favorites and staples in my warm ups.

Also, different types of workouts require different warm ups. An upper body workout shouldn’t have the same warm up as a lower body day. Chest workouts should have different warm ups than back workouts.

Shoot cardio or metabolic workouts should have a different warm up than strength warm ups.

Focus on your workout and use that to figure out what your warm up needs to do to get you ready!

How do we know what to focus on? 

Your focus in warm up is always to get your body prepared for the work it is going to do during the workout.

If you are doing an upper body workout, don’t worry about warming up your lower body. Focus on what you plan to use during your workout and the movement patterns you plan to do.

What is the goal of your workout? What muscles are you working? Is it cardio oriented or strength oriented? What movements are you going to be doing?

Once you answer these questions, stretch out the areas and activate the muscles that are going to be used.

For instance, say you are doing a Squat Day.

You need to warm up your hips to be able to squat. Dynamic squat. Hip flexor stretches. Low back stretches. Quad and hamstring stretches. Think

You will also need to warm up and stretch your ankles so that you have the mobility to squat. (Many people can’t squat very low because they don’t have much dorsiflexion…Their calves and even the sides of their shins are tight). Ankle mobility is key during a squat workout warm up.

You may also want to warm up your core and back on squat day, especially if you plan to do front squats.

Think about that movement. You need to make sure you work on your thoracic extension because you don’t want your back to round forward as you perform squats. You want a nice tall posture. You want to remain upright while holding the weight.

Focus on the muscles and movements used during the workout and what needs to be activated.

Then also consider what feels tight on you. If I’m going to squat and I’ve been sitting a lot and know my hips are tight, I may spend extra time stretching my hips and working on hip extension.

hip extension

One of my favorite stretches to stretch everything made tight by sitting. A great one for days when you do front squats.

Remember the whole point of a warm up is so you can do the workout movements correctly and prevent injury!

What are some corrective exercises?

Ok corrective exercises ARE NOT squats on a bosu. They don’t need to be overly complicated or confusing.

Corrective exercises are moves that make the body develop stability, a better mind-body connection and PROPER MOVEMENT PATTERNS.

Corrective exercises work to activate inactive muscles and inhibit overactive muscles. So foam rolling, stretching and activation exercises are all part of a corrective exercise program.

It’s really hard for me to tell you that this or that exercise is a corrective exercise.

Glute bridges, bird dogs, band walks, squats with a band, planks, YTWLs…They can all be corrective exercises.

Makes sure you activate the glutes and is great if your knees tend to cave in when you squat.

Makes sure you activate the glutes and is great if your knees tend to cave in when you squat.

The point is to do moves that strengthen and improve your movement patterns.

If you’ve had an ankle injury, balance exercises or single leg deadlifts may be the corrective exercises you need.

Corrective exercise CORRECT imbalances.

These are generally best prescribed by someone after an assessment. However, you can pick out exercises to work on your weak points and do those to “correct” your problems.

I don’t really know what my imbalances are, other than that I always seem to injure my right quad when doing exercises like step-ups so I’m obviously not using good form.

Ok here are a few things to do/questions to ask yourself to figure out your imbalances…

Do you have a dominate side?

Have you ever had any injuries?

Do an assessment. Watch yourself squat or have someone else watch you. How low can you go? Do your toes point out? Do your heels come up? Do you lean forward? Do you arch your low back? All of these hint at potentially tight/underactive areas. (I recommend getting a trainer or outside party to assess you since they can see your movement from different angles.) The assessments I like to do are squat, push up and row. You can tell a lot by just watching these three movements.

Heck you can learn a lot by looking at someone standing there. Are they rounded forward. Do they slouch to one side. Is there head forward or pelvic tilted?

We all have imbalances…

If you don’t have someone else to assess you, you can tell a lot by just foam rolling. Take a day and roll out your body from head to toe. Where are your trigger points? Are they all on one side? Are they only in specific areas? Trigger points mean that an area is probably tight and may be causing problems in other areas close by.

Once you know the tight areas, stretch them out!

That is at least a start!

And once you know the tight areas, you can work on strengthening their opposite. Like if your hips or low back are tight, strengthen your glutes. If your chest is tight, strengthen your back. If your upper traps are tight, strengthen your lower traps.

While I explain this, I do want to note that it is best to have a fitness professional perform an assessment and give you some guidance.

In terms of your quad and step ups. My recommendations:

Roll out and really stretch your quad, low back, TFL and IT Band before you do them. Then do some glute activation exercises to make sure your glutes are firing. A great warm up move for you could be hurdles (stepping back and forth as if stepping back and forth over a little fence).

Then try a lower step up. Start close to the step, place one foot on top and drive through the heel to come to standing on the box.

Watch yourself in the mirror. Do you lean forward as you step up? Or do you go straight up. Does your weight go forward onto your toe? Or do you drive through your heel?

If everything looks fine (aka you don’t lean forward and you drive through your heel) and you feel it in your glute, move to a higher step up.

Take it back a bit and regress the move until you can do that perfectly and feel it in the correct places. Then move forward.

How long do you recommend the warmup should be?

My warm ups last about 10-15 minutes depending on what I’m doing and how tight that area of my body feels that day.

If I’m just going for a leisurely walk, I may not really warm up at all. However, if something feels super tight I may take a second to roll out before.

For harder workouts though, especially more cardio workouts, I generally spend longer on warm ups and make sure I do enough to “pre-fatigue” my body.

I may not “warm up” as long for strength workouts if my first few sets will be lighter and build since that will also warm me up and get me past that first little fatigue hurdle.

While answering these questions, I realize that in some areas I’ve just given you more variables to consider.

Take a deep breath and don’t get overwhelmed.

Don’t stress about length. Or about doing new warm up moves every time. Don’t even worry about corrective exercises or imbalances.

Lots of different things can work!

These variables that I discuss are all just things to be aware of.

The best thing you can do is to look at your workouts and feel what is tight and then pick out a few moves that you feel like hit your tight areas.

If you have any other specific questions, or if this creates new questions for anyone, please let me know and I will try to address them.

Hope this helps!

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