3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

The Warm Up.

It’s the least “sexy” part of training. It lacks the competition and the intensity of the rest of the workout. Because of this, it is often overlooked by coaches and or avoided by athletes. The warm up, though, is one of the most important components of any training program.

Beyond simply preparing athletes for more intense work, a proper warm up simultaneously offers us a chance to work on movement technique, prevent injury in the gym and on the field, and become a better overall athlete (mobility/ROM/proprioception/etc). (1, 2, 3

How should you approach the warm up in order to achieve all of these significant benefits?

Let’s take a quick look at the structure of a well-executed warm up.

Important to note here, is the order in which everything is executed. Though we have laid out a specific sequence of events, a warm up does not always need to follow such to the letter. Often, these stages will overlap, and sometimes it makes more sense to perform a technique brief before mobility or perform your activation in place of dynamic movement. Bottom line: so long as you are using a structured warm up with purposeful intent, you’re doing it right!

Step 1: Get Moving! (Elevate Heart Rate)

1A: Light Cardio

Before we do anything else, we must prime the engine. 

To do this, we elevate the heart rate, incite blood flow to the entire body, and begin moving our muscles and joints in a low intensity environment. The goal, here, is to elevate body temperature and increase tissue elasticity. (4)

The simplest way to accomplish this is to hop into some light “cardio” work. You have a whole host of different options:

  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Rowing
  • Jumping Rope
  • Jumping Jacks

Beyond the traditional cardio options, you could easily opt for something more entertaining to a group of young athletes. A casual game of knockout, tag, musical chairs (the med ball version is quite entertaining!), etc. are great options so long as it is casual and relaxed. All we are looking for is continuous movement at a very moderate pace. 

Perform for somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes depending on time constraints.

1B: Dynamic Movement

Once the heart rate is up and blood has begun to flow, we like to transition directly into another kind of continuous movement (you could also start the process here). 

Unlike our monostructural cardio, though, we are working through fuller ranges of motion about different joints. The goal is to expand our initial warm up into more athletic, movement-relevant motion.

Example: The Alternating Spiderman & Reach

Other possibilities:

  • PVC Pass throughs
  • Bodyweight Good Mornings
  • Inchworm to a Push Up
  • Continuous Line Drills

In each of these examples, the goal is slow, purposeful movement. These are not static stretches, but neither are they fast-paced. We want to reinforce great biomechanics (focusing on the maintenance of the lumbar curve during a bodyweight good morning, for example), and begin to warm up the muscles and connective tissues through a complete range of motion that will be used during the workout ahead.

Step 2: Mobility

After the body has been warmed up a bit, we sometimes like to slow things down a little with some targeted mobility work. 

Passive mobility holds (aka static stretching), or tissue mashing, can help prime our body for optimal movement and positioning in our upcoming training. When done consistently, it can also improve our overall flexibility, stability, and range of motion over time. (5)

For example, if we are getting below parallel in the day’s workout, we may prescribe some banded hip and ankle mobility holds.

Banded Squat Mobility:

Not only does this grease the groove for our squatting, it reinforces proper hip/knee/ankle alignment to prevent unintentional internal rotation of the hip (specifically the valgus knee collapse so often associated with ACL injuries) and also improves ankle dorsiflexion. Both are key to avoiding injury and improving performance when running, jumping, etc. 

Now, there is a LOT of debate on the place and the efficacy of static stretching and tissue mashing (foam rolling, etc) as it pertains to a training warm up. For years, many people trashed the concept as a detriment to subsequent muscular strength and power output, removing it from warm up protocols altogether.

Recently, though, much research has come out that seems to oppose this train of thought. (6, 7

In fact, research has shown that static stretching, when done in durations of greater than 30, but less than 60 seconds has been proven to improve range of motion while not impacting peak power or strength. (8, 9, 10)

Further, when it is combined with dynamic movement, static stretching at all has absolutely no negative impact on muscular strength or power. (11)

If there are no recognizable negatives, then, in our minds, passive mobility can set up the athlete for short term and long term success.

Step 3: Movement Prep

3a: Activation

Once we’ve gotten the blood flowing and our range of motion enhanced, we want to take some dynamic activity and make it specific to the training demands of the day. 

Our goal is to begin to “activate” the particular muscle groups and kinetic chains that are of primary focus later on. In conjunction with your mobility work, proper activation can lead to a significant improvement of overall movement quality. (12)

What does this look like?

Frankly it can take on many forms, all depending on your approach and goal for the day. One day you may choose to shore up the midline in preparation for heavy deadlifts by working some hip extensions or simple supermen. Another day it may be concentrated shoulder pre-hab before barbell pressing work. It may be specific glute activation before squatting to help prevent valgus knee collapse in inexperienced lifters. It may even be simple gymnastics of push ups and air squats, or barbell complexes to dial in lightweight movement patterns that will be used later on.

For example, this series of DB Carries is a great way to activate the shoulders and lockdown the midline all at once.

The beauty is in the flexibility – you can get a lot of things done while also preparing for your more intense work to come.

3B: TECHNIQUE

Arguably the most important component of movement prep. No athlete is at a level of movement competency that would eliminate the need to drill technique and form every single day. We are great believers in mastering the basics…then mastering them again!

We first like to grab a PVC or empty barbell and drill the movement in question, and all of its constituent parts. If it’s a heavy squat clean day, for example, we will likely run through our 3 position clean drill first. Then, we drill the exact movement for a number of light, perfect reps. 

Then we gradually increase the loading and resistance until we’ve reached our desired level of intensity. 

3 Position Clean Drill:

This process really serves two purposes. First, it allows time for technique work. Too often, coaches and athletes opt not to continually work movement technique to their detriment. It also prepares us, neuromuscularly, for the intensity to come within that exact movement pattern.

All of the above is a surefire way to prime the body for your training session. You’ll be less susceptible to injury, you’ll gain total body control and ROM over time, you’ll cement great movement patterns, and you’ll see the best gains – you’ll PR more.

So next time you train, incorporate a great warm up then get to work!

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High Knee to RDL Stability Drill

A great combination of activation and single limb balance, this drill is much like a SL RDL in that it is unilateral flexion and extension of the hip. Here, though, we are adding the element of a high knee drive during extension and our focus is on slow, smooth movement and perfect balance without a counterweight.

Starting in a hip-width stance with soft knees, drive one knee up towards the torso while balancing on the other leg. Then, take the elevated knee and reach back out behind you while initiating and hinge of the hip, bringing the torso forward. The ultimate goal is to achieve something of a “T” position, with back leg fully extended and inline with a flat back, parallel to the ground.

Keep the movement slow, and try to hold at the bottom for a full second or longer. If you must, rest between reps by bring the foot back to the ground. To make it more difficult, keep your weight balanced on the stationary leg throughout the set.

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Squat Therapy

Squat Therapy, or the overhead wall squat, is a relatively simple, yet dynamic training tool. At PLT4M, we use it for an array of different purposes. It can be used to dial in great squat positioning before a big below parallel day, assess current levels of mobility and track progress over time, or simply drill form during the development of new athletes.

Above all, though, we love these wall squats for their ability to act as a diagnostic tool.

Starting at least a full foot or more away, have the athlete face a wall, and settle into a shoulder width stance, with toes slightly turned out. Then, have the athlete raise their arms directly overhead in full lockout position. From here, we will ask them to complete a slow and controlled squat rep, during which we can look for common faults.

1. Do the arms unlock, or do the chest & shoulders drop toward the wall in a “hunched” position?

Take a look at the athlete’s shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. Many young athletes are incredibly immobile through their thoracic spine (section of the spine from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage) from sitting in front of computers, hunching over cell phones, etc. We can reverse this chronic thoracic flexion through regular mobility and strength/activation work.

2. Does the athlete lose their natural lumbar curve – aka does the lower back round out?

This likely signifies a lack of core stability or the need for specific activation. We’re not talking “strength” here, or the active generation of force – we’re talking about the ability to resist movement. With so many crazy dynamic “core” exercises out there, we tend to forget that the primary purpose of our abs is to stabilize the trunk and keep the spine in a neutral position. A great way to shore up and activate the core is through isometric holds. Planks, glute bridges, asymmetrical DB carries, etc are all great options to turn on and improve that core stability.

3. Is the athlete unable to get the hips below parallel?

Lack of depth could be due to a number of different issues. First is basic strength – if an athlete is extremely “untrained” he or she may be unable to support their bodyweight through a full range of motion. Here we can scale depth with targets of decreasing height, progressing them to full depth over time, much like we would scale a push up or pull up. It could also be a product of supremely tight hip flexors – another wonderful byproduct of our sedentary/sitting/desk lifestyle.

Frequently, the lack of depth actually arises due to a lack of ankle mobility, namely the total range of dorsiflexion. There are a number of easy tests and fixes for this issue that will help athletes achieve greater depth while maintaining an upright torso. We will be addressing those tests in future videos, but working calf/achilles flexibility is an excellent start for any athlete having trouble.

4. Are the knees caving in?

Valgus knee collapse is likely due to poor hip mobility or a lack of glute activation and can be a serious risk of injury (both in the gym and on the field). Soft tissue work (foam rolling and poses like the Pigeon stretch) coupled with targeted glute/hip activation (bridges, banded crab walks, etc), can help to open up that hip joint for proper external rotation. This will allow the knees to drive over the toes and maintain the natural hinge position of the knee joint. (See our article on this specific issue here: https://www.plt4m.com/fix-your-squat-4…).

5. Are the feet spinning out, actively rotating on the floor during the descent?

This is most likely the athlete’s body compensating for a lack of ankle mobility. If the knee cannot drive out over the toe, the ankle will rotate outwards in the path of least resistance. It is also possible that the athlete suffers from a lack of stabilization through the foot arch – cue them to drive the big toe into the ground as the squat. Lastly, the spin could also be caused by a lack of hip internal rotation, which we can fix with mobility drills like the Frog pose.

By no means are these the only possible faults and fixes, but they should give you a great place to start with your athletes. Every athlete will follow a slightly different path to perfect form, and regularly diagnosing their movement patterns is a great way to help them along the way.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!

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Teaching Jump Rope

Back as a first year PE teacher and high school strength coach, one thing that surprised me most was the inability of many students and athletes to jump rope. I had assumed that jumping rope was a universal skill kids picked up along the way during childhood. Turns out, that’s not necessarily the case. Again and again, I ran into kids who had serious trouble performing this basic plyometric movement and were embarrassed enough by the inability that they would avoid the movement altogether.

Jumping rope is an extremely valuable tool for athletics and basic healthy living alike. It promotes full body proprioception (or body control), develops simple plyometric ability, promotes proper soft mid-to-forefoot strike, does wonders for the ankle and shoulder joints over time, and can be used for metabolic conditioning. It’s also a movement that can be practiced anywhere, by anyone. Given these benefits, it behooves us to teach all of our charges how to jump rope with consistency and efficiency.

The first step in teaching it to new athletes, is finding an appropriate length rope. When placed under one foot and held up along the body, both handles should be roughly armpit height (from here, athletes will find their own personal sweet spot when it comes to rope length).

Once athletes have ropes in hand, our next step is grip and hand positioning. Instruct athletes to maintain a loose grip between the thumb and forefinger with the rest of the fingers “just along for the ride”. Hands should be held out from the body at roughly 45 degrees, at about waist height.

Then, we set up the swing. Make sure athletes avoid trying to move the rope with large shoulder circles. Movement should be limited to the wrist – elbows should be kept close to the torso. “Flick” the rope with snappy wrist action as opposed to shoulder circles.

Lastly, we focus on the jump. Our athletes should be instructed to hop lightly up and down on the mid-forefoot area. Feet and legs should remain together. Avoid piking the feet forward, or pulling them backwards in a semblance of a donkey kick.

In the end, the best way to learn is to try! Make sure students know that failing is an important part of reaching success and have at it!

Want to see how we can help you train your students & athletes? Request a free demo!

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How to Teach Push Ups

We teachers and coaches are constantly faced with the challenging task of introducing new and inexperienced students and athletes to what many may call “the basics.” It is this foundation that we lay when they first walk into the gym, that serves as the basis for their long-term fitness and performance. Our responsibility, then, is to demonstrate and instill mastery of these basics within each and every athlete.

More often than not, this is easier said than done.

Take the push up, for example. The foundational “push” movement, it is the functional baseline for all of the pressing that we will ever use in a training program. When done well, it develops strict pressing strength, reinforces safe/powerful shoulder pressing mechanics, works midline strength & stabilization, and can even be used in a conditioning capacity during volume training.

All of that being said, the push up is also a movement that is daunting for new or inexperienced athletes. Athletes are also quite often embarrassed if they cannot complete a real push up and avoid attempting it at all. What’s more, it’s also a movement frequently mis-coached and mis-performed.

So how can we help all of our athletes become masters of the push up?

First, we must articulate, completely but concisely, the points of performance that constitute a perfect push up.

1. Hand Placement – Palms flat on the ground, fingers forward, just outside of the shoulders.

2. Elbow Path – Shoulders remain externally rotated, tracking the elbows back towards the lats/rib cage, not flaring out to the side.

3. Midline Position – Core should remain engaged through the lift, maintaining a neutral spine. Hips should not sag, or move independent of the torso (think the worm style push up). Hips should never hit the ground and should move in time with the shoulders.

4. Full ROM – Chest must touch the floor at the bottom (not the abs) and elbows must lockout fully at the top.

Once you have defined & demonstrated the elements of a good push up, you look for common faults and work to correct them. For a few athletes, this may be as simple as verbal cues changing hand placement or engagement of the core.

As great educators, though, we must also acknowledge that not every one of our charges will be capable of a perfect rep on Day 1 no matter what we say. Even with an understanding of the movement, some athletes will lack the pressing or midline strength required. In fact, at first, most students and athletes will likely struggle to complete even 1 perfect push up from the floor.

Should we just throw athletes to the fire and let them struggle until they’ve figured it out or quit in the process?

Of course not.

Our goal is to progress students through a range of movement variations that continually challenges their capacity while simultaneously reinforces great positioning and technique.

In regards to the push up, we here at PLT4M opt to scale difficulty of the press through elevation. By taking the press off of the floor (via a box, bench, desk, or other object), we decrease the force necessary to press to full lockout (changing the percentage of bodyweight the press moves and midline must support).

This progression allows for the athlete to perform any prescribed volume of push ups in a given workout (thus developing their capacity) while not sacrificing form or the midline stabilization component (like in a push up from the knees). Once an athlete develops consistency at a given height, we move them down, increasing the difficulty. This consistent focus on appropriate movement mechanics, while progressing through an increasing level of difficulty results in the eventual completion of perfect reps from the floor.

Scale your push ups appropriately from the beginning, and your students and athletes will be pro’s in no time!

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Teaching the Overhead Squat

One of our very favorite movements here at PLT4M, the overhead squat is a must-have in any athletic training program. We love this squat variation not for raw strength development, but primarily as a mobility, stability, balance, and body control tool.

Athletically, developing the overhead squat does wonders for core stability and positioning – much like the wall squat (squat therapy). It challenges hip and ankle mobility, while demanding a more vertical torso, and increased shoulder range of motion throughout the movement. Disassociating the shoulders/thoracic spine from the hips during a squat (keeping a vertical torso) is useful for any athlete.

The need to “Get Low” is ubiquitous in sport. If, to drop hip level, you sacrifice your entire torso by losing the lumbar curve or collapsing the chest with extreme T-spine flexion, you are surrendering your athleticism. Maintaining a proud chest and active shoulders allows the athlete to act beyond the hip descent. Eyes are up, lungs are open, shoulders are engaged and the hips can move in any direction.

It’s no surprise that the OHS is now often being used by college recruiters as a mobility test for a range of athletes, including football Offensive Linemen.

While widely beneficial, the OHS can be a difficult movement for new athletes to master – or at first, even complete (part of the reason we love it!).

When introducing the OHS, we focus on the overhead position and bar path (beyond our standard points of squat performance).

Athletes should grip the bar in a snatch-width grip and bring overhead to full lockout. We are looking for active shoulders in a “press that never ends”. Armpits should be facing forward in that externally rotated position, with elbow pits to the ceiling.

As the athlete descends into the bottom of the squat, the bar should remain over center mass. This may require some opening of the shoulder (reaching the weight back) to compensate for any forward lean of the torso. This is OK, so long as it isn’t extreme, and they bring the weight back on the way up so that the bar is always directly over the mid-foot.

Once we’ve dialed in supreme positioning, the OHS may also double as a next-level test of midline stability, balance, and full-body strength by adding load to the bar overhead. (This should only be done with experienced athletes that demonstrate perfect technique.) A weighted overhead squat is one of the most athletic blends of mobility, midline stability, full body strength, balance and body control.