I've spent the past five months on the road training athletes, interviewing the best strength coaches and searching for a hotel that could actually offer some decent scrambled eggs (the search continues).
During this foray into the nomadic lifestyle, I learned a lot. Corporate gyms still don't get it; you can absolutely experience great workouts without any weight, and most strength coaches agree that nearly everyone is warming up the wrong way. Every place I went, I asked a series of questions. Those interviews constitute the raw material for a special series I'm writing for STACK, emphasizing the information you need to know to stay ahead of the game.
Today's topic is the warm-up. If "warm-up" to you means walking on the treadmill and doing a few light sets on the bench, your attitude is what has so many trainers frustrated with most people's approach to the gym, says Martin Rooney, CSCS, strength coach and founder of Training for Warriors. You might think that approach is working for you, but odds are your body needs a little more love. It doesn't need to happen before you train, but since that's the best time to make it happen, your best bet is to spend at least five to 10 minutes preparing your body, adds Rooney.
When you enter your gym—whether it's your home, the park or a massive state-of-the-art facility—the goal is to put in work, improve your health and become better. Avoiding any type of warm-up prevents you from reaping the benefits of working out. Our bodies are beat up from jobs that force us to sit and habits that ruin our natural alignment and make us more susceptible to injury. We don't go into the gym ready to perform. We need to prepare our bodies for the stress we're about to create.
Think about it: When we're young (think 10 years old), we can go outside and run, jump, tumble and bounce back. But as we get older (as early as adolescence), the sedentary nature of life makes our bodies less efficient. Sitting shortens our hip flexors, affects our running stride and rounds our shoulders forward. Poor posture causes strength imbalances or shifts our anatomy in a way that increases the likelihood of injury. And these are just problems from being inactive.
That's exactly why a good warm-up will prime your muscles for a better session and speed your recovery afterward. A cold muscle is dangerous, but a warm muscle will conduct more energy and be more pliable and prepared to perform.
We could debate all day about how long a warm-up should be (the truth is, some people need more time and others need less), but here are a few basic movements that require no equipment and would make any strength coach nod with approval.
Target: Lower-body muscle activation
- Stand as tall as you can with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Clasp your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides.
- Lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. The tops of your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then slowly raise back up to the starting position.
- Keep your weight on your heels and your torso as upright as possible.
- Don't let your lower back round.
- Perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps.
Target: Shoulder stability, upper-back activation
- Start in the standard push-up position.
- Maintain a neutral spine, keep your chin tucked and place your hands beneath your shoulders.
- Keeping your abs tight, allow your chest to sink toward the ground without allowing your lower back to cave in.
- Once you've sunk as far as you can go, forcefully push up as far as you can go while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Rear-Foot-Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch
Target: hip mobility
- Kneel on your left knee and rest the instep of your left foot on a bench behind you.
- Place your right foot flat on the floor in front of you with your knee bent 90 degrees.
- Keep your torso upright and rest your hands on your hips.
- Gently push your hips forward as far as you comfortably can while keeping your torso upright.
- Raise one arm overhead. You should feel a stretch in the front of your right hip.
- Hold for 30 seconds, switch leg positions and repeat.
- Do 3 to 5 sets on each leg.
Target: Full body, core activation
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly bend at the waist.
- Keep your legs as straight as possible until your hands touch the floor about 8 to 12 inches from your feet.
- Walk your hands out to push-up position, then walk your feet in toward your hands.
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