Do you want to make the most out of your training session? What if I told you there is a better way to prepare to deadlift the world and squat a house besides just swinging your arms around and doing a few quad stretches?

 

Warm Up to Lift Big

On a cold day, do you get in your car and speed off at 80mph? Of course not. You turn on the car and let it run for a while (or a long while, depending on how old your car is). The body works similarly to your car. Jumping into your lifting session without a proper warm up can, at best, reduce your body’s readiness to hoist heavy poundage, and, at worst, increases the likelihood of injury.

 

"Starting each lift with a proper warm up will reduce the risk of injury, enhance your ability to lift heavy weights (which is what we all really care about, anyway), and elevate your superhero status as a whole."

An intelligently designed warm up activates the nervous system, increases core body temperature, unglues those sticky joints, and generally prepares you. To help you do this preparation more effectively, I’m going to share some tips specific to warming up for the big three: squat, deadlift, and bench press.  I’ll explain the lift-specific movements, and then demonstrate how to incorporate them for your next date with the barbell.

 

Squat Warm Up Movements

Quadruped Rockbacks

 

Don’t be fooled at the simplicity of this exercise. These bad boys groove the squat pattern neurologically. Observe that the joint angles and movements are similar: neutral spine and deep hip and knee flexion. It is the squat pattern, but you’re on your knees rather than standing. It’s also a hip hinge, which will help pattern the deadlift. In addition, rockbacks encourage joint centration, particularly in the hip, thus encouraging glute activation at the end range, which should carry over to the bottom of the squat.

 

Another benefit of rockbacks is that they provide mechanical feedback on your hip end range. As you rock back, note how far into hip flexion you’re able to go before the low back rounds or the pelvis posteriorly tilts. This degree of hip flexion should be the same point at which you set your squat depth with a barbell, as anything lower than that would cause your spinal positioning to fall apart.

 

Hip Flexor Mobilization

 

There are a number of these mobility sequences out there to choose from. Typically, hip flexors are fairly tight and can restrict the end range of hip extension, so it behooves you to loosen these up. But this particular drill gets at the best of both worlds - hip flexor stretch and glute activation.

 

Goblet Squat with Prying

Dan John brought the goblet squat to light. The squat itself grooves the squatting pattern, while the “prying” (holding the bottom position and wiggling around a bit) in the bottom unglues any tightness and prepares the hips for deep squats.

 

goblet squat, mobility

Start in the goblet position and then wiggle around to find any areas of tightness.

 

Box Jumps

These fire up the central nervous system, improve your ability to apply force quickly (important for lifting heavy weights), and are relatively easy on the joints as there isn’t much of an eccentric component involved. Not to mention, they’re fun. Just don’t go crazy - 2-3 sets of 4-5 reps will be plenty.

 

Deadlift Warm Up Movements

Quadruped rockbacks and hip flexor mobility drills still apply here as the deadlift is a hinge movement that requires copious amounts of glute activation. The rockback and hip flexor drills will help with both of those considerations. But here are a couple more you should also add to your pre-deadlift routine.

 

Band-Resisted Broad Jumps

Why band-resisted? The band reduces the amount of deceleration your body needs to do, so you can really unleash and jump powerfully on every rep without having to worry about slamming into the ground each time. The other benefits are similar to those of the box jump: central nervous system activation, rate of force development, etc. Again, 2-3 sets of 5 reps will be adequate.

 

Kettlebell Swings

Swings mimic the deadlift motion almost perfectly, and the explosive hip extension also prepares the nervous system and muscles to do this movement with a barbell. Choose a weight that allows for powerful swings, but not so heavy that you tire yourself out.

 

Bench Press Warm Up Movements

Yoga Push Ups

 

These promote scapular movement, specifically upward rotation, and unstick the thoracic spine and shoulders nicely. The scapular upward rotation benefit is especially welcomed, as it will help to offset the downward rotation your shoulder blades are often forced into during the bench press.

 

Forearm Wallslides at 135 Degrees

 

With similar activation patterns as the yoga push up, wallslides also turn on the serratus, which helps to keep the scapulae stabilized during the bench.

 

Med Ball Chest Passes or Get-Some-Air Push Ups

 

Chest passes are a great CNS activation for the upper body, particularly if you make each pass as explosive as possible, but they do require both a partner and a med ball.

 

If you don’t have access to medicine balls, the get-some-air push up is a great alternative to the chest passes. Elevate your hands - even if you can do them on the floor - the point is neural activation, not strength (not to mention you don’t want to slam down on your wrists and elbows right before benching).

 

Light Chest-Supported Rows

I’ve found these excellent to do between warm-up sets of bench. They activate the lats and upper back nicely, both of which are needed to provide you a stable platform from which to bench press.

 

"The more lift-specific drills then home in on the particular movements, both from nervous system and mobility vantage points."

In addition to the aforementioned drills, here is a sampling of other movements to include in your warm up (click on them for video demonstrations):

 

 

Note that these movements address joint mobility and stability, activate the glutes, open up the sticky joints, and, when performed quickly, will elevate the core temperature. Also keep in mind that from a sequencing perspective, it works wonders to begin with ground-based drills, then move into kneeling drills, and end with standing, walking, and more dynamic drills.

 

Sample Squat Warm-Up Routine

Start with self myofascial release work on the quads, adductors, lats, t-spine, glutes, calves, and pecs. Then work through this sequence:

 

  • Hip flexor mobility x :25/side
  • Quadruped rockbacks x 10
  • Adductor rockbacks x 8/side
  • Double-leg glute bridge x 8
  • Rocking ankle mobility x 8/side
  • Spiderman with overhead reach x 5/side
  • Stepback lunge with posterolateral reach x 5/side
  • Goblet squat x 10 (prying on last rep)
  • Box Jump 2x5

 

Sample Deadlift Warm-Up Routine

Start with self myofascial release work on the quads, adductors, lats, t-spine, glutes, calves, and pecs. Then work through this sequence:

 

  • Hip flexor mobility x :25/side
  • Quadruped rockbacks x 10
  • Double-leg glute bridge x 8
  • Rocking ankle mobility x 8/side
  • Bench t-spine dips x 8
  • Spiderman with overhead reach x 5/side
  • Walking lunge with overhead reach x 6/side
  • Swings x 10-15
  • Band-resisted broad jumps 2x5

 

Sample Bench Warm-Up Routine

Start with self myofascial release work on the quads, adductors, lats, t-spine, glutes, calves, and pecs. Then work through this sequence:

 

  • Hip flexor mobility x :25/side
  • Side-lying windmills x 8/side
  • Double-leg glute bridge x 8
  • Rocking ankle mobility x 8/side
  • Bench t-spine dips x 8
  • Spiderman with overhead reach x 5/side
  • Forearm wallslides at 135 degrees x 8
  • Yoga push ups x 5-8
  • Medicine ball chest passes 2x8 (or get-some-air push ups 2x5)

 

Applications to Your Lifting Routine

You’re sharp if you noticed 80% of the warm ups are the same. That’s actually the point, as all of those similar movements address the aforementioned aspects of general preparedness. The more lift-specific drills then home in on the particular movements, both from nervous system and mobility vantage points.

 

Starting each lift with a proper warm up will reduce the risk of injury, enhance your ability to lift heavy weights (which is what we all really care about, anyway), and elevate your superhero status as a whole. So give these a try and see the difference it can make.

 

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Read.

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