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For as many ways as there are to challenge the body in a workout, how many ways do we think about approaching our warm-up routine? How well prepared are our bodies for the stresses of the approaching workout?

Stephen Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” wrote on the habits practiced by highly productive people every day. It’s the second habit of “begin with the end in mind” that is all too often missed when it comes to a workout, and especially the warm-up.

As a fitness voyeur, I tend to watch how people workout, especially their exercise selection and technique. And if the timing is right and I see them enter the gym, I watch how they prepare for the workout. Here are some of my observations and suggestions on how to tweak the elements for better results.

Step 1: What’s the Goal?

Beginning with the end in mind is a concept often lost when it comes to warm-up routines. As the workout itself is the primary focus, we sometimes give little thought on how prepared the body needs to be for the loads, speed and the positions it will be in during the session. Even early on in my own personal trainer role, I’d fallen into the pattern where I had “warm-up” cards with preset routines that clients could follow to prep for their workout. Not much thought or attention was given to what the goal was for that training day. It was just a matter of picking the card or routine.

Even though there is much to be said for getting someone to warm-up and feel better, this does not do much for goal-specific workouts. If the workout plan for the session is an upper body biased routine, the approach needs to address movement enhancement that is also biased towards the upper body. If we take, for example, a strength endurance (OPT phase 2) resistance training workout with an emphasis on the upper body, the warm-up and movement preparation routine might look like this.

  • Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
    • Lats: Foam Roll with PNF Pattern
    • Pectoralis Major: Targeted Massage Ball (e.g., TriggerPoint MB1)
    • Thoracic Extension: Foam Roll
  • Active Stretching (8-10 repetitions)
    • Quadruped Ball Reach
    • Pectoral Wall Stretch
  • Core (8-12 repetitions)
    • Seated Reverse Wall Presses
    • Ball Shoulder Combination 1
    • Push-up Position Reach and Pull
  • Balance and Integration (8-12 repetitions)
    • Single-leg Squat to Overhead Press
    • Side Lunge with ViPR™ Lateral Shift

The SMR around the shoulder complex allows for greater freedom of movement typically restricted by screen-based postures, (i.e., computer, tablet, phone). Once released, these areas can experience better movement as they go through active stretches.

The activation of the muscles is mission critical. Here in this example it’s the shoulder, rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers that need to be “turned on” or up regulated to be available to dynamically stabilize the region for the upcoming load and speed of the workout. Since this warm-up is more about the movement preparation portion of the workout, consider that the upper body strength endurance routine may include movements like:

Strength Stability
Dumbbell Press Single-leg Cable Chest Press
Bench Press Core-Tex® Push-up
Pull-up Ball Cobra
Lat Pulldown Cable High Row
Shoulder Press Kettlebell “Bottoms Up” Press
Lateral Raises Standing Scaptions

These listed exercises offer different demands on the shoulder with varied angles, directions of applied resistance, and stability and stabilization demands. Movement preparation must prepare the region for everything planned in the workout.

This level of thought and consideration can be translated to other regions as well as levels of intensities. A general lower body session with the goal of power would have a different make up than a rotation-centric workout in a power phase.

Step 2: What’s available?

Environments will give different levels of access to equipment and space for the warm-up.

Open Field / Outdoor Conditioning

When doing a workout on court, competitive field or park, you may not have access to very much equipment. The warm-up may be relegated to body-weight movements or to whatever equipment you are able to bring.

Body-Weight Prep Movements Lite Equipment Prep Movements
Standing Hip Flexor Stretches Lateral Tube Walking
Palm and Forearm Presses Band Resisted Floor Bridge
Floor Scaptions Partner Assisted Resistance Band Cobras
Single-leg Balance and Reach


The open space also offers some “yardage” for walking exercise variations, taking active patterns and making them a more dynamic pattern. For example, take a standing quadriceps stretch, hold and balance, then step forward and perform the same stretch pattern on the opposite leg. Perform this for 10 yards, space permitting. This same technique can be done with a knee hug, toe grab, etc.

Traditional Fitness Facilities

Most gyms and training facilities are outfitted with foam rollers and other tension release tools. Physioballs and other multifaceted tools like the TRX® Suspension Trainer or Core-Tex offer limitless options for mobility and activation.

Step 3: “Elevator, Going Up”

Most fitness professionals and exercisers don’t give much thought to the sequencing of their warm-up movements. As you prepare the body for optimal movement you want to consider the gradual escalation of the demands of the body. Here are some continuums to consider:

  • Prone on floor to standing
  • No movement to dynamic
  • Light to heavy
  • Local to global

As mobility is increased and muscular regions are activated, better coordination and recruitment can be achieved. An example of a non-ideal sequence might be starting with a Box Step Up to Balance to a Floor Bridge and then an Active Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch. True, you are getting all the movements in and checking off the boxes, but what is being highlighted here is that there are more efficient and progressive ways to achieve the desired warm-up results. How would you adjust the sequence to make it more ideal? Sharing space and equipment may affect what is available and an occasional detour in planning can be expected in these environments.

Lets revisit the habit (of highly effective people) mentioned at the start of this blog, begin with the end in mind. Taking this habit of keeping the workout goal in mind first and applying it to movement preparation will do two things;

  • Streamline the warm-up by eliminating redundant or unnecessary movements, and
  • Enhance movement patterning

When these two things are accomplished you will have a well-managed and time efficient training session for yourself or personal training client and also have prepared the body for what’s coming its way.