Bulletproof Your Body: The Ultimate Warmup

You make or break your workout before it starts. Before you grab that barbell and before you pile on the plates, you need to warm up your body to perform your best every time. But is your warmup helping you reach your full potential? Better still, is it “bulletproofing” your body to resist aches and injuries?

“The biggest mistake is to gloss over the warmup,” says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, co-founder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. “That does nothing to increase body temperature, increase neural activation, warm up the joints, or get the nerves ready to go.”

Instead, a great warmup helps you perform better in the weight room. “It’s not uncommon to see immediate improvements in the deadlift or squat,” says Gentilcore. “There’s a strong performance incentive to do a good warmup, not to mention stacking the odds in your favor that you won’t get injured.”

Avoid the pitfalls of poor warmups and take a few minutes before every workout to prepare yourself, build more strength, and prevent injuries. You’ll be glad you did.

SEE ALSO: 9 Best Warmup Exrcises for Maximal Mass

Why Most Warmups Fail

Most guys wander into the gym, do a few stretches they learned in Phys. Ed., and jog on the treadmill for a few minutes to sweat. Then, they stroll to the weights and start lifting.

But walking in and faking a few stretches never prepares you for the tenacity of an intense workout — a quick jog and a few arm swings before a 225-pound bench press is a recipe for a lousy workout and shoulder surgery.

Bad warmups leave strength on the table because you never train at your highest potential; those stretches you learned in high school actually relax your muscles, relax your central nervous system, and diminish your power output.

Also, they neglect your problem areas. “Most people have poor glute activation, poor thoracic spine mobility, weak hips, and a weak anterior core,” says Gentilcore. “Even the guys who are lifting a lot of weight.”

If you ignore those issues, you’ll expose yourself to injuries: weak glutes, for example, can lead to knee pain, lower back pain, and hamstring pulls while a tight thoracic spine can cause shoulder pain.

Instead, use the warmup to bulletproof your body.

SEE ALSO: The Fastest Way to Get Ready to Lift in the Gym

The Keys to a Good Warmup

A great warmup readies your body and nervous system for a hard workout, eliminates your weak links, and improves your movement quality. The result? More muscle; less injuries.

At Cressey Performance, athletes lift heavy weights and pile on strength. But during the first few minutes of every session, the coaches orchestrate a careful collection of activation drills, dynamic stretches, and movement preparation designed for optimal performance. 

This gets the blood flowing, clears waste from your muscles, brings fluids to your joints, and opens your body — often, athletes who feel drained beforehand find relief with a good warmup. Research also shows that warming up with dynamic stretches, which actively move your joints through a full range of motion, enhances muscular performance.

Also, think of the warmup like getting your car aligned — the right blend of drills will improve your posture, set your muscles and joints in the right position, and keep you safe. “Don’t stop with just getting your heart rate up,” says Gentilcore. “Correct things like posture or imbalances and address what you want to improve in the weight room.” 

1. Foam Rolling

“We always do the foam rolling first and then the dynamic warmup,” says Gentilcore. Think of it like a poor man’s massage: it removes the knots, trigger points, and scar tissue that accumulate in the body. Over time, you’ll restore your muscle’s natural length and reduce nagging aches and pains.

“When you hit a tender spot or a trigger point, sit on that spot and let it dissipate,” explains Gentilcore. “Shoot for eight to ten rolls per body part.”

Spend a few minutes targeting the calves, quads, groin, IT band, glutes, upper back, and lats. Once you finish, it’s time for the dynamic warmup.


2. Supine Bridge

“When we talk about performance and strength, the glutes are where it’s at,” explains Gentilcore. Stronger glutes mean a stronger deadlift, squat, and even bench press. But when they’re weak, they force nearby muscles to compensate, reducing strength and increasing injuries.

Instead, start your warmup with a drill to kick your rear in gear: the Supine Bridge.

How to do it: Lie on your back and bend your knees about 90-degrees. Squeeze your glutes, drive through your heels, and lift your hips. Avoid using your hamstrings. Repeat 10 times.


3. Split Stance Dynamic Adductor Mobilization

The adductors are the muscles on the inside of your thigh. (If you’ve ever had a groin pull, you know how annoying it is.) Often, our hips tighten because of too much sitting, which can cause pain and injure surrounding areas. To open the adductors, use the Split Stance Adductor Mobility.

How to do it: Get on all-fours and extend your right leg 90-degrees to the right. Keep your right leg straight, push your hips back, and keep your lower back arched throughout. You’ll feel a tremendous stretch in your groin. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.


4. Quadruped Extension-Rotation

“You cannot get enough mobility in your thoracic spine,” says Gentilcore. Most guys have a rounded upper-back and shoulders that slump forward, called “kyphosis.” (Think Quasimodo.) Aside from looking unappealing, kyphosis can cause shoulder problems because it inhibits your joints. It also causes your shoulder blades to spread apart and bulge from your ribcage.

Yet much of that comes from lifestyle and training. “People are sitting and flexing all day,” explains Gentilcore. Thus, they get locked into that posture. “Not to mention the guys that bench press 4 days-a-week and get a muscular imbalance.”

To counter that bad posture, use the Quadruped Extension-Rotation.

How to do it: Get on all-fours and place your right hand behind your head. Keep your left elbow locked throughout the drill. With your right elbow, reach down then reach up to the sky, feeling a stretch in your thoracic spine. Watch your elbow the entire time. To accentuate the stretch, as you reach the top with your elbow, press your left hand to the ground. Repeat 10 times, then switch side.


5. Rocking Ankle Mobilization

A lot of problems start at your ankles: they manifest themselves in everything from knee pain to lower back problems. Also, wearing crappy footwear only worsen your ankle health.

How to do it: In pushup position, lift your hips and place your left shin over your right calf. Then, rock your hips back and forth, trying to press your right heel into the ground and stretch your ankles. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.


6. Scapular Wall Slides

Now, do your standing drills. “Ideally, a warmup should move from the ground, up,” explains Gentilcore. “It just makes more sense to have a flow and order to it, rather than hopping all over the place.”

Scapular wall slides build shoulder stability and activate your lower trapezius muscles, which is important for shoulder health.

How to do it: Stand with your head, shoulders, and glutes against a wall. Press your forearms flush against the wall. (There should be no space between your skin and the wall). Squeeze your glutes and press your lower back against the wall while sliding your forearms up and down the wall.


7. Walking Spiderman with Reach and Hip Lift

Once you finish your stationary drills, start your dynamic movements where you’re covering ground. “The Walking Spiderman is probably one of the best mobility exercises anyone can do,” says Gentilcore. “You’re hitting arms, legs, hamstrings, T-spine, and scapular stability all at the same time.”

How to do it: With your left leg, lunge forward and to your left about 30-degrees. Place both hands on the ground while keeping your elbows locked and press your trailing knee to the ground. Extend your right arm to the sky while watching your hand with your eyes. Return both hands to the ground, then lift your hip and straighten your left leg to feel a hamstring stretch. Maintain a neutral arch in your lower back throughout. Stand up and switch sides.


8. High Knee Skips

“Add movement to get the body ready for the dynamic nature of your workouts,” says Gentilcore. These exercises — known as “movement preparation” — are coordinated drills that train good technique, jump your heart rate, and get the body ready for work.

High Knee Skips, in particular, teach good extension at the hip, knee, and ankle, and good arm mechanics while sprinting.

How to do it: Focus on choppy skips, pulling your knees up with every step, and maintaining a 90-degree angle