The old standard warm-up of "5 minutes on the treadmill and some random stretches" is as outdated as the high school gym teacher who taught it to you. While it might be okay if all you're doing is playing kickball, it could leave you vulnerable to injury if you're actually planning to lift.
It's time to upgrade your warm-up, and as a result, increase your workout performance. The good news is you don't have to waste precious gym time rolling around on the floor or doing endless activation drills that bore you to tears.
There are three parts to an effective warm-up practice: the general warm-up, the specific warm-up, and explosive/plyometric drills. The goal of each stage is to get blood flowing, activate your muscles, and prime your nervous system for the work you're about to do.
The purpose is to literally warm-up your tissues by increasing your heart rate and getting blood flowing faster to surface tissues – the muscles you're about to work. You COULD spend five minutes on the treadmill, but a less boring method is dynamic warm-up drills.
Think of these as moving stretches. Drills like walkouts, knee pulls, butt kicks, and various crawling patterns are great to get your heart rate up before moving on to more specific warm-up drills.
Next, do some movements that mimic what you're about to do during your workout. A great example would be knocking out some push-ups on a bench press day. Bodyweight squats and lunges would be a good choice for leg day.
You can also throw in drills to target specific mobility restrictions that would prevent you from pushing yourself during your workout.
For instance, limited hip mobility can interfere with deep squatting. You'd want to tackle that with an exercise to open up your hips and "turn on" your hip internal and external rotators. The 90-90 drill is a perfect choice here.
Another drill I like for opening up the hips is a goblet squat with an iso-hold in the bottom position.
Truth is, there are a million different drills you could use depending on your mobility and workout program. The main thing is to pick a couple that address your unique needs and knock them out quickly so you can get lifting.
Spend about three to five minutes tackling mobility and activating your weaker muscles. One to three total exercises for a couple of challenging, but not fatiguing, sets is all you need.
Finally, it's time to prime your central nervous system (CNS) with plyometric drills so that your lifts are more explosive and more effective. When your CNS is fired up, your lifts will be safer too.
Here are some of my favorite plyo drills, grouped by the main lift you should pair them with:
- Bench press: Medball chest pass, plyometric push-ups
- Overhead press: Light, snappy push presses
- Rows and pull-ups: Medicine ball slams, ballistic kettlebell rows
- Squats: Box jumps, jump squats or lunges
- Deadlifts: Box jumps, broad jumps, kettlebell swings
Stick to 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps and focus on making each rep as explosive and forceful as possible. Rest 60-90 seconds between plyometric sets for your CNS to recover.
Your general warm-up can include drills that mimic the movements in your workout, thus accomplishing both the "increased core temperature" and "prepare your body for the movements you're about to do" parts of the warm-up system. A good example would be pairing walkouts and dowel good mornings before deadlifting.
You'd then choose an explosive exercise like a box jump or kettlebell swing to prime your nervous system before starting your lifting sets.
Using the drills in this system, your body will be ready and you can focus on what you come to the gym for: lifting heavy weights and actually getting stronger without fear of injury.
The beauty of this three-part system is that each step builds on the step before it. You can flow fairly seamlessly from part one, to two, to three and take your body from Tin Man to turbo-charged in about ten minutes.