My Warmup – A Way to Stand Up Straight in a World That Sits
This is my warm up. It’s a warm up that I’ve put together and frequently use for most all my workouts. It’s a bunch of stuff that I’ve thrown together from my experience as a physical therapist, Crossfit coach, long time athlete and student of movement. I’ve learned a lot from some of the best practitioners and coaches in the world and use many of their ideas in this warmup. It takes into account many of the things I feel are important for to health, performance, & functional longevity.
It will be appropriate for most everyone and every sport but there may need to be supplemental work added to this warmup to address issues that need more attention. If you are having any pain or orthopedic issues with any of the movements then I highly suggest you seek out a good physical therapist, chiropractor or coach who has a good eye for movement and can help you address the issue.
It’s got a nice flow to it and isn’t too long, lasting about 8 minutes. There is no stagnation with one movement transitioning to the next which helps keep things timely and efficient.
I usually start with an easy 2 min row or 2 min ride on the Airdyne. An easy jog would work as well. It’s a good way to get some blood pumping in the system.
I starts by addressing the hips which are extremely tight in most people. The hips are also where the majority of force applied by the body is generated…so in terms of an athlete generating power it cannot be
Hip swings are good for opening up the hip capsule lightly without a load and getting the muscles around the hip ready for more aggressive and deep stretching. By going side to side and forward/back all the ligaments and tendons are getting primed for activity. It’s also a good way to stretch the groin, hamstring, IT band and hip flexors…some of the larger & primary movers on the legs. It involves the linear patterns of flexion/extension/adduction/and abduction. Rotation will come later. Just keep nice and relaxed hips and progressively increase the intensity of the swing.
Hip openers get more aggressive and targets a deeper stretch within the hip capsule. Keep both hands on the inside of the foot and lined up evenly. Make big circles with the knee and let your hips drop towards the floor and really relax around the hip region. By moving the knee in circles and relaxing the hip you can feel the joint being mobilized where you may have restrictions. Use your breath to go into the restrictions/tightness. Breath into the tightness and exhale allowing your muscles to release. This is an excellent stretch to prepare for anything with deep squatting like front squats & overhead squats….but really shouldn’t all squats be deep? The answer is yes my friends (barring you have no orthopedic issues)…the answer is yes:)
Hamstring stretch. It’s extremely important for everyone to stretch their hamstrings! I don’t care who you are…unless perhaps you’re a 100m sprinter who benefits from the rebound effect of tight hamstrings. I’m guessing you are not. Most people have tight hamstrings because they get molded in a shortened position from sitting so much. This will begin to excessively pull the pelvis into posterior rotation thereby making it more likely for the lumbar spine to lose its natural lordotic curve. If you see someone squatting and you see that little “butt wink” (where the pelvis and tailbone is tucked under causing the low back to lose its natural curve) you can make a pretty good bet that the hamstrings are tight. If it’s not tight hamstrings then you mostly have a weak back or a back that doesn’t know how to fire its muscles. It could also be tight hip flexors but generally it”s all of these. Keep the chest on the thigh and come up on the heel. Really pull the hip up and back by flexing the leg straight. You’ll be able to feel the proximal attachment of the hamstring stretching. The reason this stretch works so well is because you’ll be actively contracting the quadriceps which will relax the hamstrings (opposing muscles) and allow for a deeper stretch.
Womb squat. This is one of the most important positions for humans to get in. It’s fantastic for opening up the pelvic floor, hips and aiding digestion. Yes….it’s the position our ancestors used to poo in :). We talk about it more in our blog post on optimizing digestion HERE. It’s also a good way to improve ankle mobility, especially dorsiflexion with a good stretch to the achilles. If someone is unable to keep the heels down, they more than likely lack dorsiflexion and need to spend more time and attention opening the ankles. It’s important to find the right angle of “toe out” which will be different for everyone based on hip angle. The feet should be just wider than the hips but that may be different for some people as well based on anatomy. Feel it out! Use the elbows to press the knees out and really open up the pelvic region. Keep the knees tracking OUT over the toes. If that is not happening then the feet may need to be a bit closer. Check and make sure knee caps are lined up with the center of the foot…very important. Try to lengthen the spine in this position every so often in order to get the posterior chain used to activating in this position. This is great for those who have a problem coming out of the bottom position & tend to collapse.
Upper thoracic extension. This will encourage active range of motion of the upper thoracic spine in rotation, which is a fantastic way restore an overly kyphotic spine (hunched over and rigid upper back ) that isn’t moving too well. If you are like most people living in our culture you are always flexing and bending over something whether that be a computer, steering wheel or dinner table. It is imperative that the thoracic spine be moved into extension in order to compensate for the flexion based society that we live in. Really try to rotate to end range and feel those muscles around the spine turn on! Work on getting the arm pointed all the way up towards the ceiling. If you feel some pops in your spine then that’s o.k.! You’ve just moved through a restriction. If someone lacks the appropriate mobility in the thoracic spine then you will almost always see them have a difficult time with front squats, overhead squats and overhead presses. The last 10-15 degrees of shoulder flexion comes from thoracic extension mobility, so if it’s not moving you’ll more than likely start seeing shoulder or neck problems. As people with poor thoracic mobility age they will begin to have a hard time getting dressed, opening the top cupboard and reaching above their head. You could make a strong case why maintaining extension in the thoracic spine is the most important area for spinal mobility…if it’s bad (stuck in flexion) then you can expect to see a forward head, rounded shoulders and significantly increase your chance of neck and shoulder injuries/pain.
Turn and rotate with one arm down and raise hip. This is good for general mid range rotation throughout the spine but it’s also good for creating more of a relationship with the ground. This helps with proprioception which gives the body a better understanding of where it is in space. The active hip extension is going to really wake up a lot of the muscles around the spine and hip that aid the body in staying upright.
Plank to press up to downward dog. Similar to a yoga flow that I kind of made my own with little bounces and twists. The press up is critical in the same way that the thoracic spine needs to be extended and the hamstring stretched. I could write a book on why everyone in the world needs to do press ups but this all goes back to living in a flexion based society. We tend to surrender our lumbar spine too often with flexion and poor posture which will cause excessive pressure on the anterior side of our spine. This type of repetitive movement will push the nucleus of the intervertebral disc more posteriorly and possibly bulge out and eventually herniate. When that happens funny things may begin, like tingling in the legs, loss of sensation or weakness….and of course pain. Do press ups and do them often! Especially if you’re spending a lot time sitting or driving. It helps to inhale while you’re pressing up and then relax the hips/glutes at the top allowing you to go into further extension. Further is better! We use this a lot in the clinic to treat low back pain and disc issues and it works a good portion of the time….but we make people do it A LOT! Think of this as spinal hygiene in the same way you do with brushing your teeth….do it daily. With the downward dog... really press through the floor with your heels and try to rotate your hips forward as best you can. You should feel a good stretch from the hamstrings all the way down to the ankles so it’s a great way lengthen the muscles of the back of the leg and everything that has been shortened from poor body positions and sitting.
If you have neck pain or posture issues click here for the solution!
One of my goals here is to help you not end up like this guy…
…super nice guy…but this guy cannot scratch his head, or put things in the top shelf. He’s a constant fall risk simply because of his posture. He has many physical limitations that are a direct result not knowing or applying the proper movements to compensate a flexion based society. Let’s not end up like this guy! Let’s go for great!
Knee to nose & exhale and press. I don’t know what to call this but it’s bacically a cat/camel & downward dog yoga pose. It will give you a unilateral stretch to the hamstring and ankle (more dorsiflexion) and work some coordination. Breathe with the movements…inhale when the knee touches the nose, exhale as the leg kicks up and back. It feels good and it’s great for getting spinal muscles and muscles of respiration of wake up!
Ankle Circles. Simply put the ankle on the ground and rotate the foot in big circles. You can go both ways. Often times when we stretch the ankle we usually just do it in dorsi flexion along with a stretch to the calf muscles. But the ankle is a VERY complex joint with a lot of moving parts. It also moves in eversion and inversion so there is large ROM that needs to be opened up!
I can’t say enough how important it is to have adequate mobility in the feet. The reason is because your feet connect you with the ground. If there is an imbalance in that relationship with the ground then it will be compensated for somewhere up the chain. This would happen anywhere from the ankles to the neck. You could see squat off-balance where it looks like it’s coming from the hip or knee but it’s really a compensatory movement due to poor ankle mobility. Always check the feet!
Knee Circles. It’s hard to do this stretch without smiling:) It just kind of feels goofy but really cool and fun at the same time! While the dominate motions of the knee are flexion and extension (bending and straightening) there is a rotation component to it throughout that range. This is a good way to hydrate the menisci (shock absorbers of the knee) and warm up the medial and lateral ligaments of the knee.
Hip Circles. This is a good way to open up the hip joint and capsule using gentle circles. Put the hands behind the hips with fingers pointed down and make big circles with the hips. Go both ways and try to make bigger and bigger circles. This is also good for getting more movement in the ankles, knees and spine.
Wrist Circles. Much like the ankle the wrist is extremely complex with a bunch of small bones, ligaments and a lot of moving parts. Anyone that does any olympic lifting, gymnastics, or heavy lifting should ensure they really open up the wrist! This will also help warm up the muscles that move the wrist.
Elbow Circles. Yes…this is the circle portion of the warm up! So many people experience pain and injuries in the elbow but so few do anything to warm them up. This is a great way to get the ulna and radius moving and ready to train. The elbow moves in large range of motion flexion,extension, supination and pronation. Try to make the biggest possible circles with your wrist, allowing your elbow to fully flex and extend. This is a good way to take the elbow through its entire range…woot woot!
Shoulder Circles. Some people need to be careful here as it can be a fairly aggressive movement for some people with tight shoulders capsules. You may need to be gentle at first but once the motion is more comfortable swing the shoulders with increased speed and really get the whole shoulder girdle involved. This will be very helpful in getting ready for any upper body push or pull movements.
MORE Thoracic Rotation. Start by flexing at the hip and rotate side to side with long relaxed shoulders. Get more and more aggressive with the swings until you can FEEL your spine getting to it’s end range with rotation. You may hear some cracks and pops in your spine…no worries. You’re breaking through some restrictions in the facet joints of your spine. As you continue to rotate side to side, slowly come up from the hip. You’ll notice the stretch will open up different restrictions at different angles of the hip. Once you stand all the way up grasp the fingers together and pull, turn and look over your shoulder with high velocity rotations. The next step is to raise one arm, then taking the other arm go in a diagonal pattern from your pocket to crossing over the opposite shoulder. By raising the arm you create space in the spinal and rib joints and get the scapula out of the way to really allow for upward rotation and extension. Doing this stretch daily will help decrease you chances of ever having upper back pain. It’s also going to help tremendously with people who have trouble with front squats, overhead squats, high bar back squats and overhead presses. Again…I can’t say enough how important it is to have a mobile thoracic spine. This stretch is one of my favorites.
Cervical Retraction with Extension. Most people spend a lot of time with their heads in a protracted/forward position….perhaps your are doing it now? When this happens the vertebrae of the spine will move forward over the vertebrae below and the anatomically correct cervical spine will be compromised. This will put an INCREDIBLE amount of stress to the muscles at the base of the skull and neck as they will have to work really hard just to hold the head up against gravity. People will often experience headaches and upper back pain because of a forward head. It’s not an Advil that you need…you need to check your posture!
This chronic forward head position can also lead to bulging or herniated disc because the neck is no longer agreeing with the vertical force of gravity. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve had come in with neck pain, tell me their story…. and while doing so they sit with a poor puppy dog posture and have no clue why their neck hurts. We call this BODY AWARENESS!
The key with this stretch just like all the other spinal stretches is to get to end range! MID RANGE IS NO GOOD!! Keep your chin parallel ground and using one of your hands press back as far as you can, retracting the cervical spine. Once you are there then keep pressing, lifting the chin up and continue to press back. At the end range give the little “wiggle” looking left and right but you have to continue to PRESS BACK in order to properly mobilize the joints. You may feel a bit of a strain here and some more clicks and pops…thats fine as restrictions are being released! If you have acute pain with this movement do not continue and consult a professional.
As a side note…doing this stretch will help bring a lot of awareness to how you are positioning your head throughout the day. You may find that when you watch TV, sit in traffic or work in front of a computer you are always doing so with a forward head. You’ll then notice how inefficient a position this is and make the connection that this is contributing to your pain. While poor posture and frequency of flexion are two big culprits in spinal pain, I’d say that a lack of inner body awareness is just as guilty.
EVEN MORE Thoracic Extension. You should know the reasoning by now but if not go back and read again! Place the hands behind the head and point the elbows forward. This helps get the scapula out of the way and allow for increased range of motion in extension. ACTIVELY extend the thoracic spine and get to end range. You should be able to feel all the local muscles of the spine wake up! Squeeze at the end range and always go further! Try not to get too much movement in the lumbar spine, keep in neutral. Some people will be moving some things they have never moved before and it may take some getting used to. For those people it’s often helpful to do this on a chair and extend back and over the chair. A foam roll can also be helpful but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Three Way Hip Stretch
Hip Flexor/Psoas Stretch. This is an excellent stretch for both treating and preventing hip pain. It’s not only a great way to stretch the psoas muscle, but it’s also good for mobilizing the anterior hip capsule which can become very restricted due to prolonged sitting. If you noticed I’m not doing a static hold here but rather a repetitive bounce at the end range. It also helps to hold the arms overhead with hands locked together and lean to the opposite side. This will give a further stretch to the hip flexor. I can’t stress enough how vital it is to have adequate hip extension. People with poor mobility in their hips (specifically with extension) will have compensated movement somewhere else…probably their pelvis or low back. It will eventually lead to repetitive stress and cause pain or injury. Poor hip extension will also affect performance for every athlete. A tight hip capsule usually plays a part in all squats with a loss of a lumbar curve. More hip extension will result in more strength and power…everytime! You’ll have better leverage on every movement in all sports.
Pigeon Stretch. This will stretch the deeper muscles of the hip like the IT band, piriformis, and deep external rotators of the hip. It will also mobilize the posterior capsule and open up the hip in external rotation which is important for all running activities, quick turns, lunges or squats. Anytime you see knees tracking medially (knees turning in) with squats you can suspect either poor mobility in hip external rotation or poor muscle activation from the hip. For this stretch just place one knee in front of you and bent about 30 degrees. Place to other leg behind you and really try to lean over the middle of the hip. You will feel a huge stretch in the hip! If you want a deeper stretch, lengthen the spine while reaching up through the top of the head, flex more at the hip and bring your chest down. If I’m doing this before a workout I prefer to do a little more bouncing here with pressure on/pressure off. Static holds typically don’t do well before activity. You want to get the tissue ready for MOVEMENT!
90/90 Stretch. This stretch is similar to the pigeon stretch but will target a slightly different angle in the hip which is important since the hip is such a complex unit. Place one knee in front with the knee bent at 90 degrees with the opposite knee to the side and bent at 90 degrees. You’ll feel different areas of the hip being stretched depending on the angle that you flex the torso forward. Move around in different areas, find the restrictions and go after them with controlled bounces. This will help with external rotation and the IT band.
…and we’re done with stretching! Now it’s time to wake up the muscles!
My thinking here is fairly simple. Work every muscle group just a little bit and use good quality movements. I like to do some sort of squat, an upper body press, an upper body pull, some sort of hip flexion and some sort of hip extension. Then, I like to start revving up the engine a bit.
Airsquats. Feet placement here is very important. They should be just wider than the hips with the toes pointed out. How far apart they are and the degree of toe out will be different from everyone because we all have different angles of the hip joint. Some important points to make here are to ensure the knees stay OUT over the toes, the chest stays up, back stays tight and the weight is either back on the heels or the middle of the foot. If that is not happening then you are still too tight in the hamstrings or hip flexors…or the right stabilizing muscles aren’t firing in the right way. In this case I suggest either not going down as deep or using a box or chair to sit up from. Proper body mechanics and form is primary!
Standing Press. This is a great way to stabilize the spine and shoulder girdle and promotes good posture. Going overhead in a solid and stable position is very important for functional longevity. The key here is the finishing position. Make sure the bar goes all the way overhead and is over the middle of the feet. Get the head through the window of your arms into a complete neutral head but don’t protrude the neck in order to do this. This movement is going to wake up a lot of vertebral muscles that are crucial for spinal stability but it’s also good for getting the entire global system (large “mover” muscles like rhomboids, traps, etc) turned on. Pushups could also be used for an upper body push but I really like going over head because it really opens everything up. Many people will have problems with this movement because of mobility. You’ll typically see a lot of lumbar extension (leaning back) because there is such a signficant loss of mobility with thoracic extension and shoulder flexion. If this is the case continue to focus on mobility of the thoracic spine and use a PVC pipe or broom stick and hold that top position. Takes time but it’s very VERY important! You want to avoid using heavy weight over your head if you have a lock of mobility in the spine or shoulder, because you will be unable to perform the movement correctly and potentially injure yourself.
Pullups. Any upper body pull will work here…you just have to find something that is appropriate for you, whether it be ring rows, jumping pullups, theraband rows, etc…This will wake up the lats and muscles around the shoulder blade that retract. I typically don’t like to see kipping pullups before some static control has been established. I find it to be too much stress on the joints before the prime movers have been turned on.
Sit-ups. This is fairly simple…just a good way to quickly fire the hip flexors. What I’m doing here is a kipping type sit-up where I’m throwing the arms with the body. I like it because gets my body used to working as one unit as opposed to isolation. This wakes up a lot of muscles on the front of the body.
Prone extensions. This wakes up a lot of muscles on the posterior chain or back of the body. It’s pretty simple, quick and effective. Just ensure that the movement is initiated from spinal extension and not simply taking the arms and legs up with a loose back. You could accomplish the same task with kettle bell swings, GHD back extensions or light deadlifts. But is important to activate the posterior chain.
…and now its time to raise the heart rate
Knee raises/butt kicks. Move fast and aggressive with light feet.
Burpees. What would a warmup be without burpees? It’s only 3 but burpees are great for priming the engine!
Double unders. I made it a habit a long time ago to work on double unders every day. If you are not good at them then you simply need to practice. Double unders are great for that bouncing effect that improves proprioception and teaches the body to be light and efficient. If you don’t care to work on double unders then single unders (classic jump rope) is fine. Jumping jacks could also work as long as shoulder mobility is good.
…and that’s that. I’ll usally rest another 3-5 minutes. Then I get set up for the workout and practice a few reps of whatever movement the workout calls for. I’ll typically keep the load light and really FEEL the movement before I just jump right in.
Give it go. I hope this helps you!
Chad Walding, DPT
P.S. – If you are looking for a routine to correct your posture or rid yourself of posture problems, click here to check out our “Sitting Solution” product!