Save It for the Good Stuff: How to Minimise Your Warm Up
Do you warm up before your training sessions? By now, the answer is probably yes since the industry has force-fed you the idea of the dynamic warm up being the most pivotal aspect of fitness. But the better question is, how is your warm up helping you move closer to your goals, and is it producing optimal results?
Although the dynamic warm up has become more mainstream over the past decade, there are still many questions when it comes to programming. It’s easy to place too great of an emphasis on soft-tissue work, activation drills, and corrective exercises that can be an endless rabbit hole.
If you find yourself spending more time warming up than actually training, listen up. I call this majoring in the minors – and it’s is a perfect way to attain sub-par results, even if you are seemingly spending your time and energy training.
Simplifying your pre-workout routine will exponentiate your results and save you a hell of a lot of time in the process. Time to strategically trim the fat off your long and tedious warm up routine with surgical precision.
The Dynamic Turning Point
As a sports performance physical therapist who specialises in body composition and orthopedic health, I’ve seen some amazing things from physio-esque warm ups and programming. But if you are moving well with no glaring dysfunctions or pain, is there really a need for all the fluffy programming on top of a traditional strength and conditioning program? I used to think so, but here’s what changed my viewpoint.
My own pre-training routine was getting a little out of hand about a year ago. I have expertise in this niche in the industry, so it just made sense to use what I knew to program my own dynamic warm up and activation routine before every big lifting day in my programming. I was spending nearly 25 minutes warming up before every session, and an additional ten minutes in an active cool-down at the tail end of my training days.
For someone who makes a living programming training and regeneration strategies for clients all over the world including Olympians and MLB All-Stars, I’d let my curiosity get the best of me in my own programming, tacking on a half hour to every single training day. At the end of the week, I was spending an additional four hours warming up and cooling down. But what was I getting out of that time?
For someone with no notable previous history of injuries, no major dysfunctions, and great requisite movement capacity, it had just become absurd, and I was in need for a big turn around. Was that four hours a week enhancing my body, or had it just become a ritual with no underlying purpose or progression? Time is one of the most precious commodities in the world, and aimlessly pissing it away is unforgivable. But how do you determine what is working and what is wasting time in terms of exercises in a dynamic warm up? Not so simple, is it?
"It was time to do what every coach and therapist passionately preaches not to do – to ditch the dynamic warm up altogether, and determine my own functional and performance baseline."
I decided to go back to my scientific roots and set a baseline for myself. Any time you carry out an experiment, it is of the utmost importance to determine a control group for your studies to compare to the variable that is being manipulated. In this case, the control was the dynamic warm up and its many components.
It was time to do what every coach and therapist passionately preaches not to do – to ditch the dynamic warm up altogether, and determine my own functional and performance baseline.
The Results of No Warm Up
After bringing my warm up and cool down time back to zero, what transpired with my own body and the results from my hard earned sweat dollars training every day was amazing. After four weeks of walking through the doors of the gym and starting right in on my strength program with nothing more than a few steps of “warm up” from the door to the power rack, my mobility, body composition, and general feeling of recovery and freshness had never been better.
How the hell could this possibly be? Was the decade I spent in academia mastering movement strategies for correction and optimisation a waste of time and tuition dollars? Not quite.
Creating Perfect Movements
It’s important to reiterate that I do not have any glaring physical issues that need increased focus and reinforcement. I was moving pretty well before I hit the warm up rock bottom. This opened up my eyes to something fellow Breaking Muscle coach and a great friend of mine, Charles Staley, had been saying for years, “Maybe all you need is lifting.”
I also knew I was not going to do any soft tissue work, activation drills, or mobility movements before or after my training session. If you know for a fact that the only physical activity you have every day is strength and conditioning work, you will make damn sure that your range of motions, tempos, strategic positioning, and overall synergistic feel of movements are as close to perfect as possible.
"Want to kick your own ass and justify any movement? Then do something new and novel, and compare it to what you’ve been doing."
Executing your current programming to the apex of your abilities will do amazing things to your results. It’s easy to lose just enough focus on every set to limit your gains and transferrable functional carry over. I made it a game for myself every single rep, asking myself, “How perfectly can I execute this movement?” And to say that mindset worked would be a huge understatement.
Train Less to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat?
This approach allowed me to mentally and physically push to a higher intensity set to set. I was going into my most important lifts absolutely fresh, and was able to push balls-to-the-wall repeatedly with little neural or mechanical fatigue that I was causing myself with my prolonged warm up routines.
I was asked on the Breaking Muscle Radio podcast what was my major training goal, and my answer was simple, “To push myself every single set to the brink of my physical limits and not let my mind deter me from my ultimate performances.” I stand by that, and it becomes increasingly important when you are trimming the fat off any program.
Once a lifter or athlete gets out of the novice stage of training and into the intermediate and advanced stages, a major plateau breaker is found in the mind-muscle connection and the ability to push loads, reps, and sets to the brink of absolute physical failure. That sounds pretty intense, I know. But pushing yourself as close to your physical limits as possible is what will produce physical adaptations in a more efficient manner.
Can You Limit Your Aches by Not Warming Up?
Before you all jump onto my Facebook page to write me some nasty notes pertaining to my blasphemous claims, give this idea a fair shake. By dropping down to my baseline of warm up and cool down in my own personal training, I felt better from a joint, soft tissue, and neurological fatigue standpoint. This may go against everything you thought you knew and love to teach and program yourself, but I am reporting my own self-case study here.
Many warm up routines are done at such high frequencies that the once novel techniques and movements have a decline in execution over time. After any movement strategy is somewhat mastered, there is no progression or way to overload these sequences.
Many people hit autopilot and just go through the motions. This is when a warm up routine can become dangerously close to a movement ritual. But as I discussed above, you need to set a control group and baseline to compare and contrast what is actually producing results.
Corrective movements, soft tissue work, and activation drills are highly dependent on internal tensions, synergistic stabilisation, and activation patterns. They also require a high amount of focus and mental acuity to continue to produce the desired result. If you run every day, your body will get more efficient and thus reduce the caloric expenditure and benefit of cardiorespiratory health and capacity. The same can be said for warm up drills. As you do more of the same drill, your body adapts to that drill. Without an increase in internal execution factors, your body becomes less adaptive to the same moves over time.
This is the same reason any new exercise is always perceived to be harder from your sympathetic nervous system response. Want to kick your own ass and justify any movement? Then do something new and novel, and compare it to what you’ve been doing.
3 Worthwhile Warm Up Progressions
Over those four weeks, I identified many aspects of my body and programming that were not clear to be before finding my baseline. And after that period, it was time to strategically place just one or two movements into my pre-workout warm up routine to get the best bang for my buck and justify the time spent on these movements.
I now have six months under my bare minimum warm up training belt, and I’ve determined these dynamic warm up exercises work for split routines with push, pull, and lower body emphasis. These are the exact warm up drills I use before my big training sessions, and I highly encourage you to give them a try - after you set your own physical baseline, of course!
Click to page 2 for video demonstrations of all the warm up exercises