By Christie Carlson


When you get to the gym, once you’ve stashed your bag, donned your favorite sweatband, and hit the free weight pit, you probably get started with a warm up.

If you don’t, here’s your first tip: start doing one. By going through a good warm up, including dynamic stretches, muscular activation, and workout specific movements, you increase your body temperature, activate your nervous system, and prime your body to get the most out of your workout.

Unfortunately, many common warm up strategies, such as static stretching and working to fatigue during the warm up, may hamper your performance and slow down your progress.

Don’t: Start Your Workout Cold

Maybe you have a limited amount of time to get your workout done, or perhaps you’re anxious to get going on today’s weight lifting program. Either way, skipping a warm up won’t save you more than five or ten minutes and may cause significant damage to both your progress and your body.

Spending ten minutes on dynamic stretches and bringing your body temperature up can decrease your chances of injury by improving the pliability of your muscles and the range of motion of your joints. You will also give your body an opportunity to activate the muscles you plan on using that day, thereby increasing your opportunity to improve performance.

Another added bonus: your chances of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is decreased, allowing you further opportunity to work hard for the rest of the week.

Do: Dynamic Stretches

Stretching is one of the most commonly used forms of warming up. Many people make the mistake of holding each stretch for 20 seconds or more. This however, sets up your muscles to react slowly and decreases the amount of tension and force they are able to produce. Also, as discussed in this study by Yamaguchi & Ishii, performing dynamic stretches prior to resistance training may increase muscular power output. Here are some stretches to get you started:

  • Leg swings, forward/backward and side to side.
  • Elbow to instep stretch ( assume a long lunge position, place one hand on the ground and bring the elbow on the same side as your front foot as close as you can to the inside of that foot without bending your back knee. Hold for a count of 1, switch sides).
  • Knee hug (grab your knee, pull it up toward your chest, take a step forward and perform on the other leg).
  • Supine Iron Cross. (Lying face up, arms stretched out to each side, kick your right leg across your body toward your left hand, and switch sides).
  • Body weight squats.
  • Body weight lunges.

Don’t: Warm Up To The Point Of Fatigue

While you should feel your body temperature rise during your warm up, with a slight sweat forming, be wary of expending so much energy that you have nothing left in the tank for your workout. There’s no need to get a heart-pounding, burning in the lungs, workout started before you begin the days training program. You’re in the gym to get better, and pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion during your warm up will rob you of your ability to reach your full potential during your workout.

A couple of rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • You should feel warm at the end of your warm up, but not exhausted.
  • If you feel like you need to recover before getting into your training, you’re likely doing too much.
  • If your muscles feel shaky or wobbly, you’ve moved beyond a simple warm up routine into a workout before your workout, so to speak.

Do: Muscular Activation

One goal of a warm up is to activate the nervous system and muscles. A good way to accomplish this is to perform unweighted glute bridges. If you’re a beginner, start with two feet, press the heels into the ground, and squeeze the glutes to lift the hips from the ground. No need to do too many, a set or two of ten should suffice. Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to doing them with one leg at a time.

Another great way to improve your neuromuscular warm up is to perform mini band drills. With a mini band around your thighs, just above the knees, stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Take ten steps to the right, then ten steps to the left. This activates the supporting muscles in the hips. Once you’ve mastered lateral steps, you can work on moving forward and backward. The trick is to return to that starting position after each step.
Performing a warm up is an important part of your training. Think of it as the first part of your workout, rather than what you do before your workout. Not only can a proper warm up decrease your chances of injury and improve performance, as pointed out in this study by Ayala, Calderon-Lopez, et al, but you will feel better in general. You may even stave off some muscle soreness.

Christie Carlson
Christie Carlson

About the Author:

Christie Carlson is a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer in Portland, Oregon. She has been coaching for 10 years and writing online content for five years. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology – Human Emphasis, and a Master of Science in Kinesiology – Biophysical Emphasis, both from Boise State University.