How to Pre-Game Your Workouts
Making time for a workout can be a challenge for all of us, and because the amount of time we can dedicate is usually short, it’s tempting to dive right into that day’s lifts, sprints, or circuits. But any good trainer or pro athlete will tell you never begin a session cold. Asking your body to go from calm to full-tilt is how injuries happen. I often see guys at the gym struggle with what to do to warm up – going through halfhearted stretches, a couple of toe touches, maybe a few jumping jacks.
A solid warm-up should have dynamic movements that prime every major muscle group, as opposed to static, tension-releasing stretches that you might do post-workout. The key is functionality: They should mimic what we do in everyday life – rotating, pushing, lunging. While pros might spend 30 to 40 minutes on warm-up drills, you can fire muscle fibers and target your entire body in less than 10 minutes with these five simple moves. Spend at least a minute doing each.
Neck and Shoulder Rolls
The best way to begin a warm-up is to work from the head down. We hold a lot of stress in our necks and shoulders, and addressing it by getting blood moving to those muscles and letting them release will immediately cue the rest of your body to loosen up. So stand upright with your hands at your sides, and begin slowly rolling your neck in a clockwise circle. Do three rotations, and repeat in the opposite direction. Then take three big shoulder rolls backward, then forward.
This yoga-like move is a great way to activate the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and upper back. Start in a Downward Dog position, hands and feet shoulder-width apart and hips raised. In one fluid arc motion, bend your elbows to lower into a triceps push-up, then immediately sweep your chest forward as you straighten your arms and end in an Upward Dog pose with your hips close to the ground. Reverse the motion to return to your starting position, and repeat.
Bridging into a backbend – or being able to slowly extend backward into one from a standing position – efficiently warms up your entire spine and opens your chest. It can be an intimidating move, but you can easily modify it with a wall, or by propping your hands on a block or medicine ball, until you become more limber. At first, try it by standing with your back to a wall – a few feet away, your hands above your head with your palms flat against the surface. Slowly walk your hands down the wall, tilting your head back, as far as you can go. Once that feels easy, lie faceup on the ground with your knees bent and your hands on a ball or block behind your head. Press up slowly to raise into a backbend, then lower back down.
Men often have tight hips from too much sitting, and that tightness can cause knee injuries, among other types, over time. Doing walking lunges – forward and backward – will help release your hip flexors while you warm them up. Do 10 lunges forward, then 10 backward, sinking low and keeping your torso upright.
This is one of the best moves for warming up the hamstrings. It can seem easy, but doing it correctly – keeping your legs as straight as possible without locking your knees – is tough. Place your hands on the ground a few feet in front of you, butt in the air. Straighten your legs. Try to keep your heels down as you slowly walk your hands and feet forward.
– Laird Hamilton
Credit: Photograph by Peter Bohler