Warm Up to Better Workouts

What’s up gang?  Hope all this snow isn’t keeping you down.

With all the cold, what better topic to discuss than warming up?!  (pretty clever, eh?)

Workouts can take on many different looks according to our personal goals and what we’d like to achieve as a result of said workout. 

  • Want to get stronger?  Spend more time lifting heavy weights (85-95% 1RM). 
  • Want to pack on muscle?  Lift with more volume (sets of 8-15 with 70-80% 1RM).
  • Want to drop fat?  Perform total body circuits with little rest and spend more time on cardio (including some interval training).

But these workouts should share one common characteristic:  an adequate warm up.

A proper warm up will prepare an individual for the workout (or practice, game, etc.) to follow.  Warming up doesn’t mean perform a few arm circles before loading a barbel to 135 and benching it 10 times.  I did this at one point of time, but then got smart.  (No offense, but if you’re still doing this 3 times a week in an effort to get a hyoooge bench press – you’re an idiot who should stop reading bodybuilding magazines)

*Watch this for a great upper body warm up

The effects of a well designed warm up include increased muscle temperature, core temperature, and blood flow.  According to Baechle and Earle (2008), these effects can have the following positive impacts on performance:

  • Faster muscle contraction and relaxation
  • Improved rate of force development and reaction time
  • Improved muscular strength and power
  • Lower viscous resistance in muscles
  • Improved oxygen delivery
  • Increased blood flow to active muscles
  • Enhanced metabolic reactions

In a nutshell, a good warm up will improve our performance while at the same time decreasing our risk of injury.  Win-win.

So what goes into an effective warm up?  Good question.

We can break the warm up down into two components:  a general and specific warm up.

Both general and specific warm ups could last anywhere from 5-10 minutes, but I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 15 minutes warming up.  A good warm up can make the workout, but shouldn’t be the workout.  Make sense?

Great for warming up

General warm ups involve activities that slowly increase heart rate, blood flow, core and muscle temperature.  This could include 5 minutes of cardio (elliptical or rowing are good total body options), light jogging, jumping rope, bodyweight calisthenics (jumping jacks, clap jacks), or light sport-specific drills.  Athletes could include some full-court dribbling (basketball), pass routes at half-speed (football), dribbling and partner passing (soccer), etc.  Always start slow and progressively pick up speed and/or intensity.

Specific warm ups involve activities that either prepare you for the specific activity to follow or performing the actual activity with very light intensity.  With the above example, we could and should perform warm up sets prior to heavy bench pressing; but remember, warm up sets should make the workout, not be the workout.  Don’t fry your muscles or central nervous system before you get to the heavy, working sets.

Sprinters might perform a warm up that includes some light jogging (general) and then proceeds with gradually more specific movements to running.  For example:

  • High knee and grab walking stretch, heal up and grab walking stretch
  • Walking lunge with elbow tuck
  • Skipping, butt kicks, carioca
  • Build ups (20-30 yard accelerations)

Someone about to hit the gym should perform a warm up suited to the workout they’re about to perform.  Upper body lifting = upper body specific warm up.  Lower body lifting = lower body specific warm up.  Total body lifting/conditioning = you got it, total body specific warm up.

*Good dynamic warm up for an athlete

I personally like to break a light sweat before my warm up is over.  That tells me I’ve gotten my core temperature on the rise and am ready to start working at a greater intensity (I’m assuming you’re training with some intensity).

I’ll get some video together of actual upper, lower, and total body warm ups that I’m performing before my workouts.  Till then, here’s a basic bodyweight warm up that can be performed with little space and time.

General (increase HR, blood flow, temperature):

  • Crossover Jacks
  • BW Squats
  • Clap Jacks
  • Alternating BW Lunge
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Single-leg RDL (toe touch)
  • *perform 10-12 reps of each back to back, then repeat 1 more time


Specific Lower:

  • Supine (on back)
  • Shoulder bridge x6
  • Knee up and grab x6 each leg
  • Straight leg raise x12 each leg
  • Prone (facing ground)
  • Bird dog x6 each leg
  • Wide mountain climber x6 each leg
  • Alternating calf stretch x6-12 each leg
  • Kneeling hip flexor stretch x30 seconds each leg
  • CNS Activation
  • Box jumps x6


Specific Upper:

  • Push up plus x6
  • Band pull-apart x12
  • Dive bomber push up x6
  • Underhand band pull-apart x12
  • CNS Activation
  • Clap push ups x6
  • Band dislocates


Total Body (DB Complex*):

  • Push up
  • Bent over row
  • RDL/Upright Row
  • Squat/Military Press

*This particular DB complex can be used not only as a warm up, but as a great metabolic finisher and conditioning tool.  Keep the weight light and reps moderate (5-10) for warming up, but when performed at the end of a workout for conditioning (fat loss) purposes, don’t be afraid to increase the weight and/or rep schemes.  I personally like pyramids: perform 1 rep of each, then 2 of each, 3, 4 and so on until you can’t perform one of the exercises with good form.  Then work back down to 1 rep of each.  Be warned: this will crank your heart rate through the roof.

I know this was a lot to take in, but every great workout will start with a great warm up.  Devote 10-15 minutes to warming up for the activity at hand and reap the benefits of a great workout (or practice, game, etc.).

Train hard, but train smart!


“live like no one else, so later, you can live like no one else”

Reference: Baechle, T.R., and Earle, R.W., editors (2008).  Essentials of strength training and conditioning, National Strength and Conditioning Association.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

One thought on “Warm Up to Better Workouts

Leave a Reply