You swipe your card at the desk, crack open your Monster, and head straight to the free weights. It’s either dumbbell curls or straight onto the bench. If you’re new to lifting, you’ll start with just the bar, if you’re seasoned, it’s a set of 135. Follow that up with some arm swings and a 5 second stretch, and you’re ready to go. You call that a warm-up?!
This is common in most gyms around the country, and I see it happen in the two gyms I train at. Thanks to my brainwashing efforts, an increasing number of members at the JCC are foam rolling and doing mobility drills, but it’s still a small percentage. If you’re not taking the time to properly warm-up, you’re not making your best effort.
The old-school model of warming up included a few minutes of bike riding and a few static stretches prior to activity. It’s a little outdated, and relatively contrived: Have you ever seen a wild animal break into a static stretch? It just doesn’t happen. Spend some time watching your dog or cat, or even better, a baby in your family. They’ll take a deep breath, move through their full range of motion, spend a few movements stretching, then repeat the process; they move dynamically. If you’re hesitant to start stretching your hip flexors (or foam rolling them) because you’re too ‘cool for that, you’re missing out. Your cat does it the right way!
A proper warm-up should be suited to your specific needs. All of our bodies are different: I might need to work on my hip mobility more than you, while you might need to work on your shoulder mobility. In reality, you need to address your own movement limitations and improve your movement quality. That being said, there are some moves that tend to ‘hit it all’, and address a wide array of movement issues you might have. For now, I’ll include a few bang-for-your-buck movements that address the most common mobility deficiencies we tend to have in our society. I’d put money on you have tight hip flexors and internal/external rotators, tight pecs, and tight lats. Let’s figure out how to stretch you out and get you ready for some exercise, shall we?
Your workout should start with foam rolling. A foam roller costs $10, so you don’t really have an excuse for not having one. Your gym should have one; if not, complain until they buy one, and buy you’re own. Why? Well, you’ll start to love it so much that you start foam rolling every chance you get; it’s basically like getting a massage! Foam rolling isn’t going to be the same as getting a massage from an experienced clinician, but it feels pretty damn good. There are numerous videos floating around the interwebz, but you can’t beat the quality of commentary on Eric Cressey’s clip. It goes by fast, but remember to spend some more time really working out any of the knots and kinks that have developed through your body. When it feels kinda funky, spend some time putting pressure on those painful spots and letting the muscle relax. Then as Jay-Z says, it’s on to the next one.
After you’ve foam rolled, you’re going to feel great. Take advantage of your newly relaxed and knot-free muscles and go through some mobility drills. Mike Boyle wrote an awesome article for T-Nation where he outlines The Essential 8 Mobility Drills. I’d highly suggest that you read the article and incorporate some of those movements into your workouts.
For the visually inclined, I’ve included a few videos of exercises that are efficient for helping to loosen up the body. The videos I’ve included are of Nick Tumminello’s Yoga Plex and 3D Lunge Matrix, Danny McLarty’s Walking Spiderman with Overhead Reach, and then two Indian Club videos. While dynamic warm-ups are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason, Indian Clubs still seem to be rather rare. Gray Cook recently released THIS Club Swinging Essentials DVD and Manual, and while I don’t own it, it’s definitely on my wish-list. The Indian Clubs allow you to move your shoulder through a full range of motion, and they’re really fun to use. I happened to find a pair at an elementary school I was observing at, and they’ve become a part of my daily warm-up.
At the very least, skipping a proper warm-up saves time and reduces the effectiveness of your workout. At the worst, you’ll be setting yourself up for an acute or chronic injury. That doesn’t sound fun, does it? I highly suggest you take the time to address your tissue quality and mobility before this happens, so that you can exercise pain/injury free until you have a beard as grand as Dumbledore’s.
Now without further ado, you can watch these videos and start loosening up your ankles, hips, T-spine, and shoulders, and warming up the right way. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss preparing for specific exercises, such as deadlifts or overhead presses. For now, here are your best bang-for-your-buck mobility drills. Enjoy!