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The Workout Warm Up Guidelines

I get a lot of questions from people about warming up. How long? What should they include? Do you need to foam roll? Stretch? Walk on a treadmill?

isometric exercises

Isometric Holds are a great way to warm up the body. They can stretch and activate the muscles to make them ready to move.

And while there is no one right answer, I like to follow these Warm Up Guidelines:

  • Focus on warming up the specific muscles used. Walking on a treadmill isn’t really a great warm up for an upper body strength day. Foam roll those muscles than do a stretch or two to loosen them up. Use stretches that hit more than one area at a time to make your warm up more time efficient.
  • Before a workout all muscles must be warmed up that are going to be used so that you are ready to go when you start your workout. By rolling out and stretching the muscles that are going to be used, you will get more out of your workout because your body is ready to move. You will also prevent injuries from occurring. Focus on the tightest spots. If you find a knot, roll it out. If there is no knot, move on.
  • Do dynamic stretches to loosen up all muscles and MOVEMENTS that you are going to use during the workout. If you are going to move laterally, warm up so that your body is ready to move laterally. Spend more time and do more stretches for tight areas and fewer for areas that feel loose.
  • Any day you have time, you should focus on areas you know are tight or painful to roll out even if you aren’t necessarily using them . These tight, knotted areas need extra attention as often as you can. If you aren’t using these areas, don’t spend a lot of time on them but do touch on them. The more often you can do proper mobility/flexibility work for them, the quicker they will get better.
  • Do activation exercises for the muscles you want to work that day especially if they are traditionally underactive. If you sit at a desk all day, you will most definitely can’t skip mid/lower trap activation exercises as well as glute activation exercises if you are doing a back or butt day. These activation exercises will help you avoid injury and even alleviate minor aches and pains you may already have.
  • Especially if you are doing a metabolic day, you want to get your heart rate up a bit and the sweat flowing. You want to feel warm when you start your workout. Getting a little out of breath in the warm up isn’t a bad thing. Even getting a little fatigued in a warm up isn’t a bad thing.
  • The more muscles you plan to work and the higher the intensity of your workout, the more you may find you need to warm up. Same goes for if you are working out first thing in the morning. Your body may need a bit more time to really wake up and get warm enough to work hard and handle the intensity.
  • Always include something to really get the muscles working, be it activation, isometrics, locomotion or crawling. Use exercises that, while they may stretch, also make the muscles begin to work to stabilize the body. Use exercises that wake everything up. For example, a glute bridge hold will activate the butt and get the muscles working while also stretching your hips. Or a plank reach out and back…It will warm up the core while stretching the hips and activating the glutes. The important part really is to get everything WOKEN UP.
  • Don’t make it too long! Too often we skip the warm up to make the workout shorter, when in fact, it doesn’t have to be very long at all. Even the longest, most thorough warm up, including foam rolling, shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes. And, unless you are doing a full-body, super intense workout, it probably doesn’t even need to last longer than 5-8 minutes. Even when I rounded up for my full body warm up, it was still only 11 minutes….And I definitely rounded up. So while you want to get things moving and even a little sweat going, you don’t want to sap your body of too much energy.

Here is one of my favorite warm ups for a full body or leg day. There is also a great warm up for cyclists and one for runners in the Elite Library….Yes that’s right, you really should warm up before you ride or run!

Here are also some great dynamic stretches to include in your warm up.

What do your warm ups look like?

Flexin’ Friday Workout

There are lots of workout formats that work.

There are a ton of variables out there to play with to make a great workout.

And since I’ve been overwhelming you all with talking about the variables recently, I just wanted to show you how I manipulated some of them into a great squat workout the other day.

Squat Workout

WARM UP (15 minutes-ish):

Foam Rolling (Picked out places that will be used and could be tight. Quickly moved on if an assessment showed no trigger points. Spent time on areas with trigger points.)
Calves (couple of trigger points)
Hamstrings (focused on the area right under my butt since tight from other workout)
Quads (tight around knees)
Hips (TFL and glutes a bit tight)
Back (not too bad a bit tight in middle back..loosened up traps for holding KB a bit)
Adductors (good..quick sweep over cause no trigger points found but felt a bit tight)
IT Bands (good…quick trigger points found)

Dynamic Stretches (10-15 reps each one round through all)
3 Way Ankle Mobility
standing ankle mobility 3 ways
Bear Squat (calves)
Hip Hurdles
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Dynamic Quad Stretch
dynamic quad stretch

Dynamic Squat Stretch
Side Lunges

Activation (1 round through 45 second holds each)
Squat Hold
Scapular Hold
High Plank Hold
high plank

Glute Bridge


goblet squat
5 rounds of the following 1 minute on, 1 minute off:
Heavy KB Goblet Squat
(Use the heaviest KB possible, but make sure to get no fewer than 20 reps in the minute. Hold weight up at your chest and squat down to at least parallel. Do not lean forward or let the chest fall to the ground. Keep the core tight and drive up off the heels.)

Rest 2-3 minutes.

jump squat
5 rounds of 8-12 reps with about 1 minute of rest between:
Weighted Jump Squats 
(Can hold dumbbells by side or place a bulgarian bag around your shoulders like I did. Choose the heaviest weight you can while still being super explosive and getting high off the ground. Do not make it so heavy that you are quick and explosive with the move. Beginners may not want to make the move as explosive. They can regress to a squat or a squat then come up to their toes. They could then progress to a jump where they only slightly leave the ground. If your landings aren’t soft you need to regress! Super important to have good landing mechanics if you are adding weight!!!!)


5 rounds, 50 ft sprints about 45 seconds to 1 minute rest between:
Sled Sprints
(Lighter weight so that you can sprint the entire distance, but challenges you. You don’t want it to be a jog!!)


Walked to let my heart rate come down and everything relax.
Stretched out a few areas that felt tight and rolled them out (calves, quads, hips were main focus)

Workout Breakdown

Above is just one way to manipulate the variables.

While I worked quickly when I worked, the workout itself wasn’t a quick circuit. I completed all rounds of one exercise before moving on. I took my time and rested and recovered in between sets.

It wasn’t a race to the finish with me trying to get everything done as quickly as possible.

It was about quality reps and getting myself to create the same quality output each and every round. I wasn’t afraid, especially with the jump squats or sprints to take more time if I needed even though I was trying to go as quickly as I felt recovered. (With the KB squats I did force myself to go on the 1 minute intervals.)

If you notice, I also only included 3 exercises. Not every workout has to have 10 or 20 different moves.

And if you also notice, I chose all movements in the same place of motion – the sagittal.

While I’ve mentioned before that you don’t only want to work in one plane of motion, there are times when you can choose to manipulate your workouts so that you really are only working in one plane of motion. The point is that you are aware of what you are doing.

And not all exercise have to be done for reps.

My squats were based on time. I had to move as quickly as possible the entire minute to perform as many squats as possible. I used my goal of around 20 reps (25 was fine but meant I should try to go up in weight) as a guide to choose a challenging weight while still keeping myself moving quickly the entire time.

I also didn’t mix up rep tempo very much. I did quick squats and then some explosive moves. So the explosive moves were quicker, but there wasn’t a huge tempo change. Didn’t want to…Didn’t need to. Not every variable needs to be used or manipulated into something crazy every workout.

The point is you can play around with workout variables and combine them in a lot of different ways. This is just one example (and one that shows an example of my warm ups too…).

Hopefully this highlights some of the ways the workout variables I’ve talked about in the past can be used and makes considering them seem a bit less daunting.

It’s even a great workout if you need one for this beautiful Friday!

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!

Building up

Just because you can pick the weight off of the ground, doesn’t mean you should.

While you technically may be strong enough to lift a weight, your body may not actually be ready to handle the loads, especially on a consistent basis.

So how do you build up so that your body can handle the weight?

  1. Foam roll – Foam rolling releases tight muscles and helps restore proper length tension relationships so that the correct muscles are recruited when you need them.
  2. Stretch – So if you’ve ever seen a competitive lifter, you will notice they are extremely flexible. While you may not want to do any static stretching BEFORE you workout, a good stretching program each day will help to prevent injury and increase range of motion around your joints.
  3. Activate – Too often people aren’t using a HUGE muscle when they do squats and deadlifts – their butts. Make sure before you work out that you have all the proper muscles activated – you will lift more that way. And part of having everything activated….Is warming up!
  4. WARM UP – Walking on a treadmill for 5 minutes before you lift isn’t a proper warm up. Sorry. A good warm up should loosen up muscles and active muscles so that they are ready to work. Band walks to activate your glutes can be a great part of a warm up. So can inch worms, side shuffles, skips and multiplanar lunges!
  5. Light first – So each time I start a heavy lift, my first couple of sets is lighter than the rest. Even if I’m trying to maintain the same heavy weight for 5 sets, I’ll do two or three warm up sets first to build to the weight. NEVER jump right into the weight you built up to last week!!!
  6. Steady slow increases – As you build up to heavier and heavier weights, you want to do it in slow, steady increases. While form may break down when you hit your true max, you don’t want it to break down as you slowly add weight. Track your progress and each time try to add just a little more.
  7. Work your weak points – You are only as strong as your weakest link. If your shoulders aren’t strong, you won’t be able to bench as much or do as many push ups as the rest of your upper body can handle. You don’t have to do isolated muscle movements to strengthen the weak points just choose exercises that allow them to be the main mover!
  8. Choose complementary exercises – Don’t just keep doing the same exercises over and over again. Sometimes variety can be key. While you don’t just want to do random exercises, you do want to make sure that you are strengthening your muscles from a couple of different angles. For deadlifts, kettlbell swings can be great. Glute bridges can also help. Plus the variety in exercises can keep you mentally interested.
  9. Fuel properly – Eating the right stuff can also help your body be ready to handle the loads. If you don’t eat enough, you may find your strength declining!
  10. REST – Yep. If you want to hit the big numbers, you need to get enough rest. This means days off each week AND it also means adequate rest in between sets. If you don’t rest enough between sets, you won’t be allowing your body to get ready to lift even more weight the next set!

So follow these 10 tips and start building up to the big numbers!

Balancing on one foot

So if you’ve ever injured your ankle, you’ve probably had to do some balancing on one foot for rehab.

But balancing on one foot has a lot more benefits that just rehabbing your ankle.

Actually, I would say it is an essential part of any exercise program!

A one leg balancing exercise should be a part of any and EVERY warm up.

You can balance on a flat foot on an AeroMat Balance pad. You can balance on your toes on the flat ground. You can balance on an incline on your toes…

Whatever the your level….there is a balancing exercise that will help you become stronger.

These exercises prepare your body from the ground up for exercise. They work to strengthen your foot and the tendons in your ankle. They also help you create more stability at your knee joint AND they make you activate your core.

As I said…They work you from the ground up!

Stronger feet, stronger ankles, more stable leg joints and a core that is engaged….Sounds like a body that is ready to handle some loads.

So why aren’t you doing some sort of balancing exercise in your warm up?

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