Does your warm-up suck?

Five minutes on the treadmill, some runners stretching, toss some plates on the bar and squat away…sound familiar?

If this sounds like your usual warm-up, we’ve got some work to do!

When training, I like to break the warm up into a few priorities that need addressing, on paper these look split into three distinct phases, in practice each phase bleeds into the next.

1)Temperature and Metabolism

Starting every workout with a general roll out and movements such as simple dynamic stretches that elevate heart rate and body temperature helps metabolic processes function optimally for the rest of the session. For example; a light row, knee hugs, walking quad stretches, and body weight walking lunges would all be sufficient to raise body temp and heart rate while taking tissues through light ROM. 


2) Tissue and Movement Range of Motion

The goal of this phase is to progress into more ROM with basic dynamic stretches while adding in slightly more demanding warm up drills. This phase will prepare the specific tissues needed for the session for the ranges of motion and positions that will be demanded of the movements during the workout. For example, toy soldiers, shin boxes, lateral banded walks, and deep side lunges would all be appropriate to warm the hips up for a squatting session. Of course, the specific movements chosen should be chosen to address individual needs, the above 3 are not mandatory or suggested for everyone prior to squatting.

3) Neurological Arousal

Lastly, explosive activation drills should be utilized. Med ball slams and throws, hops, jumps, etc as well are all appropriately placed early in the session to warm up the nervous system for larger lifts as well as allowing any plyometric work to be done without fatigue. i.e do your box jumps first at an appropriate dose, doing 100 jumps in the middle of a workout after heavy squats is a recipe for precipitating injury later on.

Another way to think about the above traits is the RAMP method:




Raise refers to raising key elements, such as body temperature as discussed above, heart rate, respiration, blood flow, and joint viscosity


Activate and Mobilize


In this phase we activate the muscle groups we are going to be training in a more specific way in addition to mobilizing specific joints and movement patterns.


Potentiation for performance

Again, plyometric drills, sprint starts, or movement drills mimicking an athlete’s sport are all appropriately placed here.


First things first, get warm!

Our muscular system is a complex and nuanced chemical system that functions optimally at warmer temperatures. Think of it this way, you’re a baker that needs to make a yeast bread; at first, the little dormant yeasts are cold from the fridge, putting them in a sugar water base cold and adding that to your dough won’t make it rise. First, you must heat the water to the optimal temperature for yeast (too cold and it won’t activate, too hot and it dies), then “feed” it the sugar water mix so that it will begin metabolizing the sugar, it is the yeast’s metabolic processes that eventually will leaven the bread.

Much like the little yeasts that make our bread rise, our muscles need to be at an optimal temperature for metabolic processes to occur. Too cold and we don’t function well, too hot (think high humidity and hot weather induced hot) and we decline in our performance ability.

To quote the text Biochemistry for Sport and Exercise Metabolism, “rates of reaction show a linear increase up until about approximately 50*C…such sensitivity to temperature underpins our need to actively warm-up prior to exercise, so as to increase muscle temperature and increase enzyme activity in our muscles.Indeed, muscle temperature can rise from 35*C at rest to 41*C during intense exercise (Morton et al.,2006). To put this into a sporting performance context, a professional soccer player typically cover less distance in the first five-minute period of the second half period, compared with the last five min of the first half, and this has been suggested to be due to a fall in muscle temperature to near resting values during the half-time period (Mohr et al., 2004). In such instances, the same researches also observed that performing light exercise during half-time to keep muscle temperature (and enzymes active) high can offset such performance decrements”

So now we know that we need to elevate body temperature prior to training for optimal performance. We also know that if we are participating in long bouts of exercise with larger breaks in between such as half time at a ball game, gaps between lifts and lifters at a powerlifting meet, or rests between events at a cross fit competition that we need to do something in between to keep our temperature up that isn’t excessively fatiguing. 


Movin' and Grovin'

Grease the groove! As discussed above, we need to get more specific and take care of our tissues while exploring new ranges of motion. Pressing overhead? Get overhead! Do some T-spine mobilizations and wall slides. Squatting? Take your hips through the range of motion they will need under load, maybe you’ll notice your left glute is kind of tight and note that you should tackle it with a tennis ball before getting under heavier loads. This is an opportunity to explore your body and check in with what needs some extra TLC before you jump into the main part of your session. 

Jump Around!

Before fatigue sets in from the lifting session I like to take participants through explosive drills and skill practice. These help potentiate the nervous system’s ability to send signals to the tissue during lifting while also improving general athleticism and rate of force development. 


Gabriel, D. D. (2006). Neural adaptations to resistive exercise: mechanisms and recommendations for training practices. Sports Medicine, 133-149.

MacLauren, D and Morton, J. (2012). Biochemistry for Sport and Exercise Metabolism. Wiley-Blackwell

Shield, D. A. (2004). Assessing voluntray muscle activation with the twitch interpolation technique . Sports Medicine, 253-267.


This article doesn’t take the place of advice by a qualified health professional. What’s appropriate for one individual may be counterproductive for another. If you are suspicious of an illness, injury and/or are in constant pain I encourage you to see a doctor and a therapist to get a proper diagnosis and rule out illness. Illness, pain, and injuries are complicated topics that have a variety of causes and presentations. You should see your doctor before beginning any exercise program. I am not qualified to prescribe treatments, diagnose, or assess medical symptoms or conditions. This article and any information contained there-in is for informational/educational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for medical advice. Please talk to your doctor and medical care providers before starting any exercise or fitness program. Unbreakable Strength Co. and Anneliese Spence are not liable for any injuries incurred due to exercise training.

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