Exercises You Should Be Doing: Inchworm Complex

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Last Friday I wrote a little sumthin sumthin about my visit to the Diesel Strength facility, and how I essentially felt like a kid in a candy store training alongside my boy Jim “Smitty” Smith.

Traveling to other facilities to see what various coaches are doing with their clients and athletes, as well as using that time to simply sit back, observe, and really absorb the knowledge that others have to offer is an invaluable use of time that far too many fitness professionals don’t exploit nearly enough.

As is the case from last week, I spoke about the warm-up – albeit briefly – that Smitty took Lisa and I through that really opened up my eyes as to how “archaic” my approach to warming up has been for the past few years.

Now, not to throw myself under the bus entirely, the warm-ups that we use at Cressey Performance do serve a purpose, and are without question a step above what most trainees encounter at their local globo-gym where doing a few hamstring stretches coupled with some arm circles is considered a “warm-up.”

That’s just lame, and woefully inefficient.

I mean, the whole purpose of a warm-up is to:

1.  Help increase core temperature.

2. Help stimulate the central nervous system (CNS), and in turn better prepare you for the more dynamic nature of the training demands placed upon the body during your training session.

3.  Improve tissue quality and target those areas of the body that tend to be “problematic.”  For most reading this would entail:  weak glutes, poor ankle dorsiflexion, hips that are stiffer than a steel beam, poor thoracic mobility, atrocious pec length, overactive upper traps, and a very weak anterior core, to name a few.

4.  Improve tissue length/extensibility.

5.  Provide ample opportunity to scope out the hot chicks. Obviously.

Too, and this is something that’s been on my mind lately:  the warm-up should be fun.  I mean, when you think about it, the warm-up sets the tone for the rest of the session.  Training, for 90% of the people reading, 90% of the time, should be fun (and practical). It should be specific to your goals, of course, but it should also get you excited to the point where come 2 o’clock, all you can think about is how you’re going to make people destroy the back of their pants when you crush your deadlifts later on in the day at the gym.

There’s a time a place to put your game face on, and get after it (1RM attempts come to mind), but for all intents and purposes, if training is fun and is something you look forward to, you’re more prone to stick with it.

Raise your hand if actually look forward to warming up.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In much the same way, the warm-up should follow the same parameters as your training.  It needs to serve a purpose, and there should be some semblance of individualization involved, but concurrently, it should also be fun.

As I noted above, this is where I feel I could step up my game a bit, as I feel many of the warm-ups I program are very “robotic” in nature.

Quadruped Extensions-Rotations

High Knee Walks

Reverse Lunge with Posterolateral Reach

Scapular Wall Slides

Put your left foot in, take your left foot out, do the Hokie Pokie, and turn yourself around………blahblidy blah blah. Boooooooooooooooring.

Sure it gets the job done, but the example above can be very uninspiring and feel more like a chore – kind of like doing the laundry – than anything else.

Which is why I LOVED the warm-up that Smitty had us do a few weeks ago, which had more of a “fluid” flow to it.  Rather than do one drill for “x” number of reps, and then moving to the other, Smitty prefers to COMBINE exercises and provide a little more value for your warm-up buck.

Not only does his approach still address many of the weaknesses and imbalances that most people possess, but it also takes a bit of the monotony out of the equation.

For example, lets take a look at the Inchworm Complex:

What Is It:  I just told you what it was – the Inchworm Complex.  GOSH!

What Does It Do:  holey moley where do I begin?  This badboy works a lot of stuff:

  • Serratus activation
  • Anterior core activation
  • Hamstring length
  • Ankle dorsiflexion
  • T-Spine mobility (specifically, extension)
  • Scapular mobility
  • Chin tuckification (meaning, one should tuck their chin, and therefore maintain more of a neutral spinal position throughout).
  • And I’m sure I neglecting to name a few more benefits

As you can see, this one drill combines several exercises which helps to target a lot of stuff at once, but is also shortens the warm-up time (perfect for those in a rush).

Key Coaching Cues:  try to have as little movement as possible in the torso.  If you have to, use a wide(er) stance to maintain more of a neutral spinal position (although, a teeny tiny bit of spinal flexion isn’t the end of the world……relax!).  Also of note, I’d be reticent to use this exercise first thing in the morning when the spinal column is fully “hydrated.” Doing so many compromise the spine and cause an ouchie.

Taking it a step further, we can add another element into the mix and perform the Inchworm Complex Plus.

Here we take all the benefits from above and add in some hip flexor/adductor length, in addition to some more thoracic spine mobility.

The possibilities are endless, really.

Try them out today, and let me know what you think.

I do want to stress that it’s still important to master the basics first, and that drills like the ones above aren’t what I would advocate for people who have the movement quality of a snail.   Having said that, I really feel taking more of a “progressive” approach to warming-up is exactly the kick in the ass most people need to make it a little more palatable to do.

Try it out and let me know what you think!

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Comments for This Entry

  • Sean Butler

    I really like those Tony, I will definitely be using them tomorrow with my adult fitness classes. I really like the flow of them, they seem pretty easy to understand. As an aside, I have those New Balance Cross Trainers too. How do you like em?

    December 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rozin

    Tony, what if you simply do not have the flexibility or mobility to maintain a neutral back? Would using a wider stance to accommodate be okay?

    December 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      1. Remember what I said. I wouldn't necessarily use this exercise straight away with beginners. They still need to work on the basics. 2. Wide(er) stance would be okay. And, if it's any consolation.....SOME spinal flexion IS okay.....SOMETIMES. How you like dem apples?

      December 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sirena Bernal

    I love this complex. I do something very similar with a yoga flair: Walk out into your inchworm, lower down slow and hover the chest off the ground, and pull through to an upward dog. Then press back into downdog, then walk the feet into the hands. Then, repeat! Good stuff :) Sirena

    December 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Sirena. I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize that many (if not all) of the dynamic warm drills I use have their base in some form of yoga. I know I've had my qualms with yoga in the past - and I still stand by my guns in that regard - but I do like it some of the time......;o)

      December 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Sirena Bernal

        Yep, I hear ya about yoga, and even though I'm a pilates instructor and love teaching it, I too have my qualms from it. I don't however mind stealing a few pilates exercises and cues and infusing them into my strength workouts. A little of this, a little of that. :)) Sirena

        December 14, 2011 at 9:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    Great post Tony! I love the inchworm and incorporate it into my own warm up and my clients' warm ups too. I include the push up with my warm up and travel across the room and back, reversing the inchworm and start with the feet. I think I will try combing the two, inchworm and spiderwalk, tonight. Thanks for the videos! Emily

    December 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mickey

    Tony, how many reps do you and/or Smitty recommend for each exercise in the complex?

    December 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Scott

    I will say I like the direction you're going with this blog. I'm currently doing show and go, and I love the program itself. However, the other day while foam rolling and doing the warm-up inside my house I suddenly realized it had been 30 minutes since I started. I found myself sitting on the ground watching a football game rather than doing the warm-up cause I was so bored.

    December 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tim Enfield

    Tony, the inchworm, much like Boyle's hatred of the scorpion always kind of felt wrong to me as a mobility exercise. I feel like people (i guess, depending on how well it's coached), and I'm sure you've thought about this, are grooving a lumbar flexion movement pattern, rather than sparing the spine and working on the hip hinge. I like the walkout, but only from a prone plank position. I know we're kind of splitting hairs here, and really it doesn't matter with respect to the unweighted condition, but it feels like the flow is a bit of "too much of a good thing" if you know what I mean. I think, particularly in cases like the aforementioned adult classes that Sean teaches, where the majority of the people sit in "computer guy" posture most of the day, you need to be more cognizant of coaching a proper hip hinge and an exercise like the inchworm may not be a good prescription for their needs. I'd prefer more of a rock back variation, stabilizing the spine and then plank, walkout lunge to instep, etc. We coach exercises like Sahrmann's rockback, listen to ramblings from Nick Tumminello about proper stretching of the piriformis and then turn to an exercise like a an inchworm for combined mobility and stability. That doesn't make sense to me. Short answer, it probably depends. T

    December 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      I get what you're saying Tim, and couldn't agree more. Like I said in the original post, though, this isn't an exercise that I'd just haphazardly program......I DO feel it's important for people to keep it simple and learn the basics first. I couldn't agree more that developing a proper hip hinge pattern is PARAMOUNT for most trainees out there, and I obviously wouldn't use this inchworm exercise with someone who couldn't demonstrate to me the ability to do it. Outside of that, I feel it's a nice change of pace to add another dimension to the warm-up. You're right: it depends.....;o)

      December 14, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply to this comment

      • Tim Enfield

        Thanks Tony. I figured we were on the same page with this.

        December 14, 2011 at 10:52 am | Reply to this comment

        • Smitty

          Just to add, I totally agree. Teaching the hinge, rock backs and ensuring optimal mobility for each movement is the foundation. These must be the program, until the program needs progression. As Tony stated, some flexion is acceptable and needed, obviously underloaded and not end range. We still must be able to demonstrate it unrestricted. Movement is not linear, but it can be restored initially with linear patterns.

          December 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jez

    Hi Tony, Love the article, I'm a big fan of Smittys programming too. One complex I use once people have got the basics sorted is as follows: Start in a standing position Lie on your back Hip bridge both feet flat Hip bridge rolling onto one shoulder then the other Stand up Repeat I have to be honest I'm a big fan of getting people better at getting up and down off the floor as part of their warm up, mainly because of all the motor patterns it uses as well as its carryover into day to day life. Anyway, thanks again for the post, Jez

    December 14, 2011 at 4:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Danielle

    what are you meaning by saying the spine is hydrated? From laying down all night? I usually do my heavy squatting within 1-2 hours of waking on saturday mornings. you think that isn't the greatest timing? i've been reading your blog posts for a few weeks now, they are my favorite and i am learning more and more! thank you!

    December 14, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Neel

    Hey Tony, I'm wondering what you think of isometric holds in mid-ROM for warmups (ie, holding the bottom of the pushup position for 6-10s). I find it really helps me turn on the lazy muscle groups during that exercise (ie, glutes for hip fixation, lower traps for scap stability).

    December 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      We use isometrics quite a bit at CP. People often forget that there's a 10-15 degree carryover (in both directions) when performing isometric holds. We also use isometric holds with pertubations. So, as an example, have someone perform an isometric push-up hold and then GENTLY shove them around a bit. Great way to build added stability.

      December 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Miles Morse

    Ohh snap! I invented the inchworm complex plus all on my own and I thought I was a genius at the time. Thanks for taking all the credit :( lol

    December 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply to this comment

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    […] Tony Gentilcore: Exercises You Should Be Doing: Inchworm Complex – … listen to ramblings from Nick Tumminello about proper stretching of the piriformis and then turn to an exercise like a an inchworm for combined mobility and stability. That doesn’t … and I obviously wouldn’t use this inchworm exercise with someone who couldn’t demonstrate to me the … […]

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