The Perfect Warm-Up?

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When most people think of what a well-rounded, bullet proof program encompasses, many will undoubtedly think of optimal set/rep schemes, rest intervals, what exercises to include (and in what order), and, of course, how many days per week they should train given their goals.

Admittedly, all of the above components are important things to consider, and rightfully deserve their time under the program design microscope.  It’s interesting, though, that the last – and arguably the most important – thing to enter the discussion, is the first thing that most trainees tend to dismiss altogether:  the warm-up.

Yeah yeah yeah – I get it. You’re busy, and warming is up is about as exciting as watching NASCAR. Truth be told, we all know we should warm-up, but for most of us (namely, you), the warm-up is usually nothing more than an afterthought; or, something we half heartedly do because our 8th grade gym teacher told us we had to.

Even if you are one of the rare few who actually performs a warm-up, chances are it entails a few arm circles here, a couple of hamstring stretches there, a couple of minutes on the treadmill, maybe a fist pump, and you’re off to the bench press.  Sound familiar?

Yeah I Thought So

Much like you wouldn’t walk out to your car in the middle of winter and take it from 0-60 MPH on the highway and expect it to run optimally, the same can be said about your body.

Moreover, when’s the last time you actually felt good?  I mean reeeeally good?  Can you remember the last time your lower back didn’t feel stiff, or your knees didn’t ache every time you attempted a squat?

Better yet, when was the last time you consistently made appreciable progress in the gym?

The question, then, is what should a warm-up do, and more importantly, what should it look like?

While not an exhaustive list, a good warm-up will (or should) provide the following:

– Increased body temperature.

– Improve joint lubrication.

– Engage the nervous system to a greater degree.

– Improve extensibility/flexibility of muscles.

– Groove movement patterns.

– And, better prepare you for a back alley fight against a pack of ninjas.  You know, just in case.

More specifically, given that many of us spend an inordinate amount of time hunched over in front of a computer on a daily basis, the warm-up should target the areas of the body which tend to be most problematic:  namely, the glutes, hips, thoracic spine, shoulders, and core, to name a few.

Standing in one place, holding a stretch for 30 seconds does nothing in terms of preparing you for the more dynamic nature of what you’ll be doing in the weight room.

We need to take the warm up more seriously and view it not as a necessary evil, but something that will undoubtedly help you not only feel better, but lead to unparalleled performance in the gym.

Carry Your Ass Off

Giving full disclosure, I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. Dan John was the first to really bring carry variations into the limelight, and more to the point, utilizing them as part of an extended warm-up.

As far as bang-for-your-training-buck exercises are concerned, you’d be hard pressed to trump carries.

For those looking for proof, it’s in the pudding:

  • When performed unilaterally, they’re a fantastic way to train core stability – specifically anti-lateral flexion.  But even when performed bilaterally, they’re still an awesome “core” exercise.
  • They obviously help improve grip strength.  Taking it a step further, however, they do an amazing job of “activating” the rotator cuff through a process called irradiation.  In non-geek speak, all this means is that when you squeeze something with a death grip, the RC turns on, and as a result the shoulder “packs” itself.  In a sense, carry variations are a great exercise for those with chronic shoulder issues.
  • Farmer carries do an amazing job at challenging hip stability – especially when performed unilaterally (one arm at a time).
  • They condition the shit out of you. The next time someone asks you whether or not weight training has any cardiovascular benefit, have him or her do a few rounds of carries for 50-75 yds.
  • Without question, carries are also a great way to get a “yolked up” back.  For those dudes looking to build some traps, farmer carries can help.
  • And lets just state the obvious:  they do a superb job of increasing one’s overall sense of badassessey.

To that end, here’s the actual warm-up I’ve been following for the past few weeks.  After a thorough foam rolling session, I’ll head over to the turf and alternate between a carry variation paired with a specific dynamic drill.

A few things to note:

1. When performing ANY carry variation, it’s important to think to yourself, “spine tall, shoulders back.”  In addition, there should be as little deviation as possible in terms of leaning to one side or the other.  The objective is to stay in as much of a straight line as possible – if you compensate in any way, you’re using too heavy of a load.  Also, since this is part of a WARM-UP, you shouldn’t be too aggressive with the loading anyways.  Just focus on perfect technique.

2.  In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m wearing a t-shirt of a lumberjack punching a grizzly bear in the face in all of the carry videos.  I’m not going to go so far as to say that it’s the most awesome t-shirt in the history of the world. But, it pretty much is.

A1. Suitcase Carry (35-40 yds/per arm)

A2.  Wall Hip Flexor Mobilization (x8/leg)

B1. Racked Carry (35-40 yds/per arm)

B2. Half Kneeling Adductor Dips (x8/leg)

C1. Waiter Carry (35-40 yds/per arm)

Note:  be sure to maintain a neutral wrist position on this one, and to “set” the scapulae (you shouldn’t be shrugging the weight).

C2. Rocking SUMO Squat Mobilization (x10)

D1.  Crossbody Carry (35-40 yds/per side)

Note:  Hold the heavier KB (or DB) like a suitcase, and the lighter weight above your head.  Like the waiter walk above, be sure to maintain a neutral wrist position.

D2. Scapular Wall Slides (x10)

E1.  Goblet Carry (35-40 yds)

Note:  having the load anterior to the body really helps to activate the anterior core musculature which has both an anti-flexion, and anti-extension component.

Anti-extension in the sense that it’s really hard to OVER arch the lumbar spine with the anterior load.

E2.  Supine Bridge with Reach (x8/side)

Note:  be sure to maintain hip extension throughout, and yes, that’s Eric Cressey riding a foam roll horse across the screen.  HEE-HAW.

F1. Heartbeat Carry (35-40 yds)

F2. Yoga Push-Up Complex (x5/side)

And there you have it.  Is it really the perfect warm-up*?  Tough to say, but it’s a far step above what most people are doing. As I mentioned above, this is pretty much the exact warm-up I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks and I’m loving it. Try it out yourself and let me know your thoughts!

* = yes**

** = because I said so.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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