You probably already know that the half-hearted stretch you rush through before lifting isn’t doing much to better your fitness. Stretching and warming up are not the same thing, and hitting the weights without warming up not only limits your performance, but puts you at risk for injury.
A good warmup prepares your nervous system, muscles, and joints for the demands you’re about to put on them, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Plus, it also dedicates time to working on your body’s weaknesses and mobility, which will help you nail your lifts.
Any pre-lift warmup should target your entire body and take about 15 minutes, says Fhitting Room coach Dennys Lozada C.S.C.S. Run through this 15ish-minute warmup before your next training session for maximum gains and minimal hurt.
Part 1: Light Cardio
Time: three to five minutes
First up: A few minutes of low to medium-intensity movement on the treadmill, rowing machine, or assault bike. This will start to heat up your body temperature and prime your body for movement, says Wickham.
Part 2: Myofascial Work
Time: five to 10 minutes
‘Myofascial work’ is a fancy way to say ‘foam rolling’ or ‘self-massage.’ “Foam rolling and lacrosse ball work remove knots and trigger points,” says Wickham. (You can use a lacrosse ball to massage out muscle groups that are hard to foam roll, like your chest.)
Spend about a minute or two focusing on each limb and your core, he recommends. (If you’re extra tight or sore, you may need an extra minute or so.) As you massage your muscles out, hone in on any knots or tight spots and focus on just those spots until they start to dissipate, Wickham says. Over time, foam rolling can help restore the length and mobility of your muscles, so you’ll move and feel better.
If you’re going to be lifting upper-body, spend extra time rolling your lats and traps, he suggests. On legs or lower-body days, target your quads, groin, IT bands, and glutes.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Foam Rolling
Part 3: Dynamic Movements
Time: 30 to 45 seconds per exercise, six to eight minutes total
Dynamic warmup movements get you moving and prepare your entire body and nervous system (which signals your muscles to go, go, go) for your workout, says Lozada. He uses the following dynamic movements before his Fhitting Room workouts. Hit each move for 30 to 45 seconds.
High knees work your calves, quads, hamstrings, abdominal muscles, and arms, says Lozada. Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart and arms bent at your sides in a running position. Then, quickly drive your right knee up as high as you can. Bring the right leg back down to the ground and immediately drive your left knee up. Stay on the balls of your feet and quickly hop between each knee lift. Engage your abdominal muscles every time you explode your knee upward.
Butt kicks are basically the inverse of high knees: Instead of bringing your knees up, you bring your heel back as if you are trying to kick your butt, which activates your hamstrings and glutes, says Lozada. Start standing with your arms bent at your sides in a running position. Slowly kick your right foot back and up so your heel comes as close to your glutes as possible. Repeat with your left food. Start out slow, and pick up the pace so you’re moving as fast as possible by the end of the interval.
Lateral shuffles work your hip flexors, calves, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and your endurance, says Lozada. Start standing, then tighten your core, bend your knees slightly, and sit your hips back. Then, take a big step or lateral jump to the side with one foot, allowing the other to follow. Repeat for five to 10 steps in one direction, before performing 5 to 10 steps in the opposite direction.
The bear crawl loosens your hips, activates your shoulders, and prepares your whole body for movement, says Wickham. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then, take a small step forward with your right arm and left leg. Take the following step with your left arm and right leg. The key is to keep your back flat as you move.
“Like the bear crawl, the crab walk is a great way to activate the whole body and get the central nervous system into alert mode,” says Wickham. Plus, it really works the chest, abs, glutes, and hamstrings. Start sitting with your feet and palms planted on the ground, with your fingers facing towards your feet. Lift your butt up off the floor to walk backwards or laterally on your hands and feet. Step your left hand and foot backward or to the side together, and then follow with your right hand and foot. Keep your hips up as high as possible as you walk.
The inch worm primarily hits the abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, and back, but also works the biceps, calves, shoulders, and chest, says Lozada. Start in a standing position, then bend at your hips and reach your palms to touch the floor. (Keep your legs as straight as possible.) Keeping your core tight, walk your hands forward until you reach a plank position. Then, walk your feet forward to meet your hands. Return to the standing position and repeat.
Lunges With A Twist
“Lunges with a twist are great for activating your trunk, which you will need to use for any kind of lifting you might do,” says Lozada. They also isolate your quads and hamstrings and force you to work on body stabilization and balance. Start standing with feet shoulders-width apart and your hands on your hips. Then step forward with your left foot and lower into a lunge. Keeping your front knee above your ankle, twist your core to the right and then back to the left. Push up through your front foot to return to standing position, and repeat on the other side.
Finishing up dynamic stretches with a sprint or fast-paced jog is a great way to activate fast-twitch fiber muscles and prepare the body for intensity, explains Lozada. If space allows, sprint or jog back and forth to get your body heated.
Part 4: Range of Motion Work
Time: one to two minutes
Now is the perfect time for working on joint mobility and range of motion. This part is especially important for anyone who spends long hours sitting at a desk and doesn’t use their joints’ full ranges of motion throughout the day, says Wickham. Focusing on mobility now can help you regain range of motion and get the most benefit of the lifts you’ll be doing.
Two joints that are particularly troublesome: our hips and shoulders. To loosen these up, start on all fours. Rotate at your wrists and knees to move your core in five large clockwise circles. Then reverse your direction and make five large counterclockwise circles. Shoulder and hip strength and mobility will help you perform moves like snatches, power cleans, overheat squats, and front squats more efficiently, says Wickham.
Part 5: End Range Isometric Work
Time: Three rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off; about two to five minutes total
Basically what you’ll do here is activate your muscles at the end of your range of motion for the lifts you’ll be performing. “We are weakest in these end-ranges of motions, but activating the muscles in this way helps increase flexibility, prime the nervous system, and strengthen the joint,” says Wickham. You’ll stretch the muscles you’re going to use, then flex them for intervals of 20 seconds in that position.
On deadlift day, for example, you’d do this for your hamstrings. Elevate your foot on a box or a bench and lean forward to stretch the hamstring. Once you feel the stretch, flex! Then, switch legs and repeat, performing 3 sets of 20-second contractions on each leg. Follow this pattern for whichever muscles you’ll be hitting hard during your lift.
Part 6: PVC and Empty Barbell Work
Time: As long as necessary
Prime your body for the specific moves you’ll be doing by performing the moves with a PVC pipe or empty barbell before diving into your sets, says Lozada. “Basically, you don’t want to get under the bar for a bench press and immediately try to hit your one-rep max, or immediately try to pull 90 percent of your latest deadlift PR,” he says. Instead, perform four to 10 reps of each move with a PVC pipe or empty barbell to prep before loading up with your working weight.