The Perfect WarmUp

By Andrew Heffernan |

You first heard it from your gym teacher. Then from your softball coach. Then from your personal trainer: Don’t skip the warm-up. Each time, you listened patiently and nodded earnestly, all good intentions. And then, three days later, you went back to skipping the warm-up.

That temptation is understandable. Compared with a rousing cardio session or circuit workout, warming up can seem about as entertaining as watching somebody else on a treadmill. Besides, most preworkout drills just don’t feel like they’re doing any good. All of which can lead one to wonder: Can’t I just skip the preamble and jump right to the serious stuff?

It’s a reasonable question. But a focused, intelligent warm-up routine has a long list of benefits that make it eminently worthwhile:

  1. Your mind becomes focused and clear, making it more likely that you’ll attack a pending workout with purpose and intensity.

If these happy side effects aren’t enough to persuade you, the additional perks listed on the following pages likely will. But there’s another factor that makes a good preworkout warm-up especially important: Most of us spend a lot of our day sitting. And while perching behind a desk may not sound like high-risk behavior, research shows that just 20 minutes in your favorite desk chair causes key ligaments in your spine to overstretch, leaving you stuck in a closed-off position, or “flexion,” that can take up to two days to fully undo.

“Lots of people come into the gym looking like a giant ball of flexion,” says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, co-owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass.

Working out in this condition is like driving with the brakes on. Which is why one goal of a good warm-up is to open up the front of the body and undo some of the damage long-term sitting causes.

Drills like the Supine Bridge With Reach and the Quadruped Extension/Rotation (the first two moves in our warm-up) lengthen the muscles on the front of your body while firing up muscles in the hips, back and shoulders that become inactive after hours in a sitting position.

Finally, unlike your average toe-touch or treadmill plod, the following routine offers a wide variety of movements, all of which help remind your body that it’s capable of a lot more than propping you up to stare at a computer screen.

Squatting, lunging, turning and other athletic moves feel much easier and more fluid. You’ll lift more weight, get more air and react faster (on the tennis court, the track or the hardwood) than you would if you’d jumped into your workout cold.

“Once people get the hang of warming up correctly, most of them feel so good they never go back to skipping their warm-ups again,” Gentilcore says.

The All-Purpose Warm-Up

Perform the following routine — which requires only a single dumbbell or kettlebell — before any cardio session, strength-training workout, game or competition. Also use it on your days off from formal exercise to loosen up and improve posture. Unless otherwise noted, hold the stretched position in each movement for a two-count, return to the starting position, and repeat as indicated.

1. Supine Bridge With Reach


  1. Return your arm to the starting position and repeat using your left arm, keeping your hips bridged throughout the entire set.

Eight per side (alternating). Shoulders, upper back, hip joints, glutes, lower back.

2. Quadruped Extension/Rotation


  1. Lift your right elbow back and up as far as is comfortably possible, turning your head as if to look at the ceiling over your right shoulder.

10 per side. Upper spine, shoulders, neck. Don’t rock your hips back or forward as you rotate; keep your hip joints over your knees.

3. Wall Hip-Flexor Mobilization


  1. Pause, then rock back to the starting position.

Eight on each side. Hip flexors, glutes. Keep your hips and shoulders square and your head and neck aligned with your spine throughout the movement.

4. Rocking Sumo Squat Mobilization


  1. Pause and return slowly to the starting position.

10 Hips, hamstrings, ankles, upper back. If you find this move difficult, do the same exercise holding on to a squat rack, suspension trainer or something solid.

5. One-Arm Farmer’s Walk

  1. Switch the weight to your dominant hand and walk back to the starting point.

30 to 40 steps in either direction. Shoulders, core. “Minimize leaning to either side on this exercise,” says Gentilcore. “And don’t use too heavy a weight. Remember, you’re still warming up.”

6. One-Arm Waiter’s Carry

  1. Switch the weight to your dominant hand and walk back to the starting point.

30 to 40 steps per side. Core, shoulders.

7. Power Skip


  1. Step forward with your descending right foot and immediately repeat the move on your opposite leg.

10 to 15 steps per leg. Hips, ankles, calves, core, and full-body explosive force. As the name suggests, this is a normal skipping movement performed with extra speed and power.

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