We’ve all done it. Let he who has never rushed through his warm-up—or just plain skipped it entirely—throw the first stone. I’ve been there, too. It’s one of those things we know we all should do before training, but the reasons why often get lost in the perfunctory nature of it all. We often treat our warm-ups like the dry spinach salad before the juicy sirloin course of actual weightlifting, when in reality, the warm-up is a whole meal in and of itself. Warming up is necessary for training performance and helping reduce the risk of injury. And while the recipe for a good warm-up is simple, the application is often misused. A warm-up is not simply five minutes spent on a cardio machine, combined with some random stretching.

"We often treat our warm-ups like the dry spinach salad before the juicy sirloin course of actual weightlifting, when in reality, the warm-up is a whole meal in and of itself."

On the contrary, a proper warm-up, one completed with the intention of priming the body for the work to come prepares the body in three ways: mechanically, physiologically, and neurologically. Each of these components is important to getting the most from your training session, as well as keeping you off the injured reserves list. So, NO MORE SKIPPED or HALF-ASSED WARM-UPS. Here’s how.

Foam Roll Early

This guy may need an extra five minutes of foam-rolling before his training session.

This guy may need an extra five minutes of foam-rolling before his training session.

Here at Volt HQ, we are pretty obsessed with our foam rollers. Foam-rolling is a crucial part of the “mechanical” component of a complete warm-up. Before training, spend some time on the foam roller and loosen up whatever muscle stiffness or tissue restrictions you may have developed from daily life. Chances are, you just got out of class or work, which means you’ve been sitting for a decent amount of time. Foam-rolling helps to “un-glue” you from sitting in bad positions all day and restore proper muscle function. As Coach Christye details in her series of posts, foam-rolling breaks up fascial restrictions between muscles and muscle fibers, helping your body’s sliding surfaces (muscles, skin, etc.) glide more smoothly along one another. Restoring your muscles’ ability to move freely within their proper ranges of motion allows you to train these ranges of motion more intensely—e.g., when your hips aren’t tight, you can squat deeper and heavier. So take a few minutes—doesn’t need to be long—and give a good once-over to the muscle groups you’re preparing to train. If your workout has you deadlifting heavy, foam-roll your hammies. If pull-ups are prescribed, hit your lats with the roller. Cleans or box jumps coming up? Give some foam love to your quads and calves. The point here isn’t to roll your entire musculature before every training session, but to be intentional about the muscles and movements you’re preparing to perform. Mechanically “getting the kinks out” is key to the overall success of your workout.


Get Warm

@@The "warm" part of the warm-up is quite literal—you gotta break a sweat!@@ Raising your internal body temperature brings with it some important physiological changes that are essential to your training performance. Warming-up increases your heart rate, helping to move more blood around the body to your working muscles, raising your overall body temperature, and increasing muscles’ extensibility or flexibility. The more pliable your muscle tissue is, the better ROM you get during activity—and the less risk you run of injuring that tissue. Breaking a light sweat is advised for a proper warm-up, and you can accomplish this by running, jump-roping, or using any cardio machine of your choice. Doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get warm!


Activate and Engage

We talk a lot of “core” here on the Volt blog, but its role in human performance and injury prevention is often devastatingly overlooked. Prior to training, it is beneficial to activate inhibited muscle groups and practice early engagement of the muscles that stabilize the trunk. Athletics are quite dynamic in nature (duh), so athletes need to prepare their bodies to move through multiple planes of movement while maintaining good core activation. Shoulders, hips, and ankles all need practice being mobile while the spine remains stable. Easier said than done, right? This is the very reason we designed the Volt Dynamic Warm-Up to include so many core-activation exercises. It’s an easy way to flow through 12 movements that get your body ready to work in all planes of motion. The use of a medicine ball helps challenge the torso to remain upright and stable while moving through space—this also helps to neurologically “wake-up” the small stabilizing muscle groups of the torso. 

Following these steps to a good dynamic warm-up so far, most of us can get right under the bar and start training—but some athletes have more specific warm-up needs prior to lifting weights. This brings me the last aspect of a good warm-up.


Prime Your Body

Specificity is the final key to an outstanding warm-up. We all come from different sport backgrounds, using different bodies, with different anatomical changes. A 6’5”-basketball player with tight ankles is going to have a harder time hitting full squat depth than a 5’6”-wrestler (usually). Using a primer specific to your current training needs is essential to being successful and injury-free in the gym. It is also important to consider the specific demands of each sport. Baseball and volleyball athletes spend a lot more time placing stress on their rotator cuffs than soccer players typically do, therefore these athletes need to warm-up differently. A good primer helps develop an early connection between the central nervous system and the necessary motor units specific to the task at hand. Using basketball and volleyball athletes as an example again, the Volt Rotator Cuff Primer helps recruit the muscles that stabilize the scapula and initiate external rotation of the shoulder. This early activation of muscles needed for your sport leads to better proprioceptive control and use in training.

As a Super Bowl Champion QB in a certain Northwest city once said, "The separation is in the preparation." Don't treat your warm-up like a hassle to be rushed-through in three minutes—treat it like the main course it is! The warm-up lays a foundation for the work ahead of you, and can make or break a training session. By taking care of your body, and being intentional about the goals you want to accomplish in your workout, you can train smarter, train harder, and avoid more injury than you can as a dumb ol' warm-up-skipper. So get to the gym early today, and NEVER skip another warm-up again—your body will thank you for it.

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is the Head of Performance Training at Volt Athletics and is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Seattle Pacific University. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.