Where do you stand on warming-up? There's a spectrum. On one end, there's no warm-up at all. People walk into the gym after eight hours slumped over a desk, then head right into the squat rack. On the other end, there are those who spend an hour on low effort movements that waste what little time they have to train.
Let's set the record straight. You need a dynamic warm-up that'll produce results without robbing you of training time.
The Best Warm-up For Desk Jockeys
Sit all day then hit the gym after work? This one is for you. It should take you about six minutes to get through, or 11 minutes if you jump on the bike beforehand. Move through this sequence with minimal rest between exercises.
Pre Warm-up: Stationary Bike
Go about 5 minutes at a moderate pace. The Airdyne Bike is quick and efficient for a general full body warm-up. If you have this old school staple at your disposal, or a modern Assault Bike, use it. It has the ability to make your lungs bleed, so go at a moderate pace for 3-5 minutes tops to limit the fatigue.
1 – Foam Roll Quads
Spend about 20 seconds on each side. The most notable of the quad muscles in terms of improving hip extension range of motion and mobility is the rectus femoris. It crosses both the knee and hip joints, predisposing it to tightness, especially in desk jockeys. Focus right down the midline of your thigh, knee to hip to target this muscle with the foam roller.
2 – Rear-Foot Elevated Hip Flexor Dynamic Stretch
Stretch about 30 seconds per side. After rolling the quads, place this same muscle group in a stretched position to further decrease its tone and tightness. This stretch incorporates a back and fourth oscillatory movement along with perfect alignment at the core, pelvis and hip joints to provide targeted mobility work without the unwanted compensation at the lumbar spine.
3 – Quadruped Bird Dog
Do 10 reps per side. This movement incorporates a coordinated contraction of the leg and arms simultaneously, both working off a strong core position. At the leg, make sure you drive your heel directly behind you while straightening the knee. Don't overextend the lower back. If your toe is more than a few inches off the ground, you're compensating. Though this movement looks elementary, mastering it pays off huge dividends for hip and spine health.
4 – Single-Leg Heel Elevated Glute Bridge
Do 10 reps per side. Using only a bench and possibly a plate for resistance, use this movement to target the posterior chain and light up the glutes and hamstrings. By activating the antagonist of the hip flexors, these tight muscles will be actively inhibited. Plus, if you're sitting on your ass for hours on end, it's likely that the glutes need some serious attention in terms of activation.
5 – Alternating Forward Lunge with Overhead Reach
Do 10 reps per side. The lunge facilitates active hip extension. Accentuate this movement with a spinal extension by placing hands over head on each step. This movement not only addresses tightness in the hip flexors on the back leg, it also helps stimulate functional stability of the glutes and hams on the front leg.
6 – Vertical Jump
Do 2 sets of 3 reps. A general rule of thumb is to end your dynamic warm-up with some explosive movements, working into your newfound mobility and using the activation of specific muscles that were just targeted. The vertical jump is simple, just stand and jump for maximal height. These are single reps with a few seconds between jumps in each set. Remember, the jump is about quality and coordinated power of the entire body, so quality over quantity.
Design Your Own Dynamic Warm-up
Now let's break down each step above so you can build your own customized warm-up.
Phase 1 – Self Myofascial Release
Self myofascial release (SMR) techniques such as foam rolling and other soft tissue modalities can be very helpful in the dynamic warm-up, especially if you're dealing with chronic pain, tightness, or any dysfunctions in specific areas.
Avoid full body foam rolling before big workouts or training sessions. The practice has a dulling effect to the central nervous system that you're needing to ramp up for performance. Using a few targeted techniques on specific tissues can help improve gross movement and function of the body as a whole.
Test and retest before and after you roll. Did the rolling actually improve your mobility or make you feel better going into the workout? If the answer is no, stop doing that SMR technique and start devoting your training time to things that will yield results.
Phase 2 – Static and Dynamic Stretching
After targeting specific muscles with SMR, hone in on those same tissues and hit them with a combination of static and dynamic stretching. Don't worry, long duration static stretches are not mandatory phases. They've been routinely shown to decrease performance metrics including power and agility, while even predisposing people to injuries. But a majority of this research has been conducted using some long-ass hold times for minutes on end. This is neither practical nor plausible for a dynamic warm-up.
Prioritize short-duration static stretches in combination with dynamic stretches that key in on tissue mobility, but also joint function. For static stretching, use holds anywhere from 10-30 seconds. This is appropriate for decreasing the tone of some overly tight muscles without dulling neurological impulse to these tissues, which can improve gross movement quality, especially if a dysfunction is present.
Some of the most common areas of mobility dysfunction in athletes and lifters are the hip flexors, pecs, lats, and hamstrings. If you're overly tight in these areas, place a static stretch or two into this phase of the warm-up for increased mobility.
Dynamic stretching involves the oscillation (back and forth motion to end range) of a stretch that's targeting a specific muscle or set of muscles. This is the best of both worlds when it comes to stretching. Dynamic stretching in and out of an end range stretch (as opposed to holding at end range) allows the joints involved with the movement to be mobilized along with the tissues. This is an important point since joint mobility largely permits greater soft-tissue mobility.
Combine a short duration static stretch with a dynamic stretch out of the same position for best results. The extra 30 seconds you spend mobilizing will pay off for long term mobility, so be sure to program multiple days a week to stimulate the mobility of these stubborn tissues.
Phase 3 – Corrective Exercise & Movement Remediation
Now improve the function of your movement as a whole with corrective exercises. These are specific movements programmed to fix faulty movement patterns. When used strategically, correctives can unlock some pretty brutal dysfunctions and help improve movement and overall function.
To work, corrective exercises must be CORRECTLY executed. This takes focus and intent on every single rep, and requires a high degree of central nervous system activation and function. Though the average corrective looks easy, it's not uncommon for some of the most dynamic athletes to break into a sweat and have an elevated heart rate during some of these. That can be attributed to your CNS taking over and rewiring some patterns – just what you want.
These exercises rewire some dysfunctional movement patterns that may be negatively affecting the way you move and perform, or even put you at risk for injury. Less of a focus needs to be placed on the sets and reps here, and more focus on choosing the most appropriate exercise and executing perfectly over time.
Phase 4 – Targeted Muscle Activation
Each phase builds on the last to improve your performance. Once you've practiced and improved some movement patterns, it's time to try and "turn on" those muscles to an even greater extent with muscle activation techniques.
No muscle ever truly turns off unless there's a mechanical problem with nerve conduction or a faulty mechanism of transmission between the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. What you're doing by activating is positioning the body to better create coordinated and timely force and synergy with other muscles.
Activation drills are just another type of corrective exercise, with more of an emphasis placed on the quality and intensity of muscular contractions for targeted tissues in this phase. The better you can get "dulled" muscles firing, the better you'll be able to move and function when it comes to the big movements.
Again, test and retest. Make sure you're actually seeing some benefit from your exercises and not wasting time. Assess your movements after each drill and during your training on a daily basis. This is the only way to streamline the warm-up process without going through the motions on movements that play no role in improving performance.
Phase 5 – Foundational Movement Pattern Development
The six foundational movement patterns of the human body are the squat, hip hinge, lunge, upper body push, upper body pull, and loaded carry. The goal is to be able to complete all six of these movement patterns with no pain and perfect motions.
For many, keying in on a few of these patterns will do wonders to overall function. For the most dysfunctional movers, all of the six patterns could be potentially faulty, making the warm-up process a bit longer. Prioritize movements. For lower body day, highlight the squat, hinge, and lunge. For upper body day, the push and pull. Core activity in static and dynamic stabilization cannot be overemphasized, so prioritize this one above all else.
For those with the ability to complete all six of these patterns perfectly, the maintenance of the patterns themselves is paramount to long-term success. Hitting each of these patterns at least once a week will go a long way toward protecting yourself against developing future dysfunction.
Phase 6 – Central Nervous System Activation
The last phase of the dynamic warm-up involves ramping up the central nervous system and preparing the body for explosive performance. These movements are dynamic and explosive in nature. They target coordination and muscle recruitment globally to increase the way the brain and neurological system is signaling to the muscles.
Training the CNS sounds complicated, but it can be broken down into a few key areas, which include sprinting, jumping, and throwing. The effort put behind these movements should be the focus. We're retraining the CNS to coordinate explosive movements with many body segments all linked together, not necessarily training the muscles involved to fatigue.
Keep the number of reps low here, and the speed, power, and explosiveness high. This will limit the overall mechanical and nervous system fatigue while acting as a means of a pseudo post-activation potentiation.
After your last explosive rep in the CNS activation phase, take a few minutes and get right into your training for the day. You should be feeling mobile, juiced up and ready to dominate.