Warm-up? You mean those five minutes before you start working out where you “get the blood flowing?” Or do you mean those 10 minutes you spend on a treadmill, or the extra 15 minutes you spend on a foam roller?
As a society we have some typical definitions when we think of what a warm-up should be. When we talk to high school athletes they mostly roll their eyes from the hours spent ‘touching their toes’ in line. For adults they skip it, don’t believe in it or consider it time that they need to ‘get going’ and break a sweat.
As someone who spent far too long in this train of thought I can completely understand where both sides are coming from. To be honest, it isn’t really there fault. As fitness professionals it is our job to educate others so that they can be better prepared for sport, life and fitness.
With that being said, here are five tremendous exercises to add to your warm-up sequence. They are quick, super effective and each one specially targets an area that needs to be activated before a training session.
- Band Pull Aparts
One of our favorites here at Driven! We sit throughout most of the day and as such we need to make sure that we are doing exercises that can ‘reverse’ this posture. The number one way to improve posture is to be more cognizant of it throughout your day. Once you are paying closer attention you can make sure that you’re not rounded in your upper back and have good extension when you sit and stand.
The band pull apart is a great exercise to strengthen the upper back muscles to help increase your posture and bring up nagging muscle groups. Many times people spend more time in the gym training muscles that they see versus the muscles that they do not see. Because of that we leave out muscles that are critical for improving posture.
Here is the set-up for the band pull apart:
- Brace your core and glutes to avoid excessive extension in the lower back
- Grab the band in a location that makes it feasible to spread apart and bring to your chest
- As you drive your hands apart pop your chest out
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together and drive your scapulae (shoulder blades) together
- Come back slow and never all the way because it releases all tension from the band
- Repeat for 12-20 repetitions
2. Bird Dogs
We are connected from hip to the opposite shoulder through a very big muscle called our lats and our thoracolumbar fascia (tissue that connects the opposite sides). We also transfer force from opposite sides (think of running and walking) so this concept is an extremely functional one to apply to your training and warm-ups.
Enter the bird dog. A diagonal core activation exercise that is much tougher than it looks and challenges you to get engaged and stay that way throughout the exercise. What makes the bird dog so effective is that you are activating all the musculature of the core while also engaging your glutes without rounding your back (going into flexion).
Here’s how to do it:
- Get into a quadruped (all four position) with a neutral spine
- Reach through your fingers and drive through your opposite leg heel as far as you can
- Do not extend your low-back
- Bring arm and leg back into starting position
- Maintain constant tension throughout movement
- Repeat 8 each side
3. RKC Plank
The RKC Plank is the Russian version of the traditional plank exercise. The difference in the RKC plank is that it applies extreme tension to force optimal activation.
We are used to just hanging out on our planks, maybe squeezing our abs, maybe squeezing our glutes but rarely are we told to get as tight as we can from our legs, glutes, core and arms and THEN hold the plank.
This activation of full body tension creates a much more immediate and significant reflexive kick to our entire core musculature. While many think they can hold a plank for minutes on end, try this version on for size and you will notice that 30 seconds is more than enough.
Here’s how to do it:
- Get onto your elbows and toes with a neutral spine position
- Squeeze your glutes, core and legs as hard as you can
- Keep your arms straight and actively try to drive your elbows to your toes
- Take full and complete breathes through the nose and out through the mouth
- Maintain position for 30 seconds
4. Mini-Band Lateral Walks
We love the mini-band walks because of how quickly you feel it working when done properly. There are not many exercises as good as engaging our lateral hip muscles than this one!
Our lateral hip musculature is extremely important because of its ability to prevent low-back pain. Because we sit so much our glutes and hips become disengaged in walking, training and a lot of areas of life. If we disregard this fact and do not take the time to adequately warm them up than we can predispose ourselves to injury while not getting an optimal training experience.
We use the mini-band lateral walk to engage the muscles of the hips so that we can take tension off of our low-back, activate our posterior chain during exercise and go into our training sessions feeling strong.
Here’s how you do it:
- Put the mini-band just above your knees
- Sink your hips back into a hip-hinge position
- Drive your knees out against the band
- Step with the lead leg with your knees over your toes… do not let the back leg cave in
- Step with the trail leg while the band is still being pushed out by the knees
- Repeat side to side for 30-60 seconds
5. Wall Slides
While we love band pull a-parts for activating the back musculature that engaged in shoulder retraction and protraction we must appreciate that the shoulder moves in many different directions. To activate the muscles that allow the shoulder to upwardly rotate (get your arms overhead) we implement the wall slide.
The wall slide is an exercise that activates the lower and upper trapezius, which is a primary muscle of shoulder upward rotation. Upward rotation is the movement that keeps the shoulder blade and socket together throughout the range of motion. Without upward rotation, the ball and socket lose congruency and can predispose the shoulder for an injury.
With all the attention that overhead exercises get in fitness these days it is critical that we engage the muscles that properly help the shoulder go through full ranges of motion in all directions.
Here’s how you do it:
- Stand staggered stance against the wall with your glutes and core engaged
- Keep your arms parallel with your elbows just below a 90 degree angle
- Drive your arms up on the wall by engaging the muscles at the bottom of your shoulder blade
- Do not shrug your shoulders to the top
- Come down slowly and repeat 8-10 times
While training hard looks good on video we have to take care of our bodies if we want to train hard for a long time and see the results of our effort. These exercises, while they may seem insignificant or easy are much more than meets the eye. Give them a try, add them to your program and you will experience more readiness for your session, better execution, better recovery and healthy joints and muscles. If we want to stay the course for our health, fitness and performance than these exercises are a MUST. Enjoy!