The concept of a warm up is an integral component of traditional personal training programs. As trainers, we are instructed to start our clients’ workouts with a warm up for several reasons, such as increasing blood flow to the joints, ligaments and tendons, which helps them to get ready to endure the stress of the exercise program by being more elastic and pliable. Warming up elevates body temperature and helps fire up the neuromuscular system, preparing for movements along various planes and angles. Walk into a gym, and you will see many people on a treadmill, bicycle or elliptical machine enduring a five minute warm up before they meet their trainers.
That all sounds great, but let’s revisit some traditional thoughts related to warm ups. For example, is a five to 10 minute warm up on a piece of cardio equipment absolutely critical?
If your client comes into the gym at 6:00am after just getting up, a warm up is more important than when working out later in the day. If your client has a fairly active day and is not literally sitting for hours before driving a car to the gym, it is reasonable to begin the workout with lower intensity movements that mimic the workout you have planned for him.
What about the whole concept of a cardio warm up in the first place? Wouldn’t a warm up of various movement patterns along different planes perhaps be a better choice than sitting on a bike in poor posture watching TV? The longer I work in fitness, the more I think that some traditional recommendations are just that - recommendations. We need to take the information we have learned in our certification programs, apply what makes sense and change what doesn’t.
A warm up can have several different purposes and take on various forms. Maybe a warm up mimics the movements you are doing during the workout as mentioned above. This would be great if you are asking your client to do some specific skill related activities like jumping or agility patterns or even serious power lifting. A warm up could also be used to counter balance the demands you are going to be stressing during the workout. For example, if the workout is going to be focusing on weight lifting on machines because your client wants a little hypertrophy (yes, all you functionalists - people still want that!), then you could challenge the core in the warm up since you’ll be focusing more on pure weight lifting on equipment supplying stabilization during the workout. You will see how this is designed with the core warm up described below.
Warming up in a way that is physically and mentally stimulating as opposed to mindless cardio is also valuable because it gets your client’s mind ready to focus on the workout ahead. What exercises are you going to do today? Is any exercise particularly challenging and will demand your utmost concentration? It can give you the opportunity to take inventory of how your client feels and to prepare him for what you are going to ask him to do. As your client goes through the movements in these warm ups, you can determine any potential joint issues he might be feeling, enabling you to make some last minute changes if necessary.
The four different warm ups in this article will give you more flexibility in your program design and make the workout more enjoyable for your client and for you.
The first one is based on squats and different movement patterns with your arms while holding a medicine ball. This is a basic, solid warm up for any workout. The second warm up is a core warm up, meaning that the exercises put more demand on the ability of your core muscles to stay engaged. The third one is a body weight warm up, meaning no additional props are used; it’s just you moving your body in different patterns. The fourth warm up is with a stability ball. It’s a good one to use if you want an additional challenge for balance and stability or if you just love using the ball!
Besides being great choices for a warm up, your client can use one or all of these together as an actual workout that can be done at home, outside or at the gym.
Warm Up #1: Squat Moves With Medicine Ball
You can start by using a water bottle and work up to using a medicine ball. The ball should weigh up to about five percent of the client’s body weight. Make sure it doesn’t feel too heavy. It should simply give him the feeling of resistance, and holding it out in front of him will help him to feel his core muscles more. Do this entire sequence two to three times.
- Stand with feet hip width apart, holding the ball in front at about midsection height. Arms should be relatively straight, with the elbows soft. Squat down, bringing the ball with you. Then stand up, bringing the ball overhead as you stand. You can change the demand by changing the speed of movement, maintaining control as you do so. You can also pretend that you are going to throw the ball overhead as you stand up. If you have the space around you, you could actually do the throwing. PTN Exercise Library: Extension/Flexion with MB. Do this movement without the plantar flexion first.
- After eight of these repetitions, change the angle of the movement pattern. Squat down towards your left foot, bringing the ball towards the floor. Stand up, bringing your arms and the ball along a diagonal line, above and in front of your right shoulder. Let your left heel lift up and your whole left leg rotate inwards a little as you move through this pattern. You can make this more challenging by pretending that you are going to throw the ball over your shoulder as you stand up. You will immediately notice how your abs and entire core has to work in decelerating and controlling the movement. Perform eight of these reps and switch sides, going from the right foot up and in front of the left shoulder. PTN Exercise Library: Rotation PNF with MB
- The last direction is along the horizontal or transverse plane. Rotate your entire body from side to side with the med ball in front of you at midsection height. Again, you can increase the speed of movement or pretend you are throwing the ball from side to side. Perform eight to each side. PTN Exercise Library: MB Patterns
This warm up will get your heart rate going. Your legs and arms will warm up with the many squat repetitions. The diagonal patterns across your body will get your nervous system fired up for the workout to come.
Warm Up #2: Core Focus
This warm up focuses on the muscles of your core. It also challenges the rest of your body. This is a great “make up” routine if your client missed a Pilates class! Your core is wired neurologically, so it works in transferring forces between your upper and lower body. This warm up is a great choice if you are going to do a workout with relatively heavy weights, especially with isolated movements since your core helps you stay stable from the inside out, making it easier to lift the weight. Do the entire sequence two to three times.
- Start with a basic core integrity exercise on the floor. Lie supine, with both knees bent and feet on the floor. Engage the core muscles and maintain that while breathing. Slide one leg away from the body, maintaining the core integrity the entire time. Look for compensations that show your client is not staying strong in the core (i.e., the abdomen protruding, the cervical/thoracic spine flexing or straining). Perform 15 on each side. PTN Exercise Library: Abdominal Draw Leg Slide
- Switch to a rotation exercise. Have the client sit on the floor, with knees bent, feet on the floor and arms held straight in front of the midsection. Maintain neutral spine as you rotate trunk from side to side. PTN Exercise Library: V Sit on Dome w/ Trunk Rotations. Start on the floor and then progress to core board or Bosu ball. Perform 15 to each side.
- Now go back to an exercise where you are not moving at the spine. Face down, on the forearms. You can do this on the knees or with the legs straight and on the toes. Make sure you maintain neutral cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Hold for up to 20 seconds or until you see gentle shaking through the core. PTN Exercise Library: Iso Abs - Prone
- Do the same exercise but in the side lying position instead of prone. Lie on the side, with the legs straight or the knees bent, with feet behind you. Make sure the shoulder is down, away from the ear. Prop yourself up on your forearm. Hold for up to 20 seconds or until you see gentle shaking through the core. PTN Exercise Library: Iso Abs - Side Lying
- Switch to a prone position but with movement at the spine. Lie with arms at the sides and keep them externally rotated with palms down. Face the floor to keep the cervical spine neutral. Lift upper body off the floor, hold and lower. Perform 15 reps. PTN Exercise Library: Cobra - Floor
- Repeat the Iso Abs exercise, but do it on the hands with the arms straight instead of on the forearms. Elbows can be straight but should not be hyper extended. Hold up to 20 seconds.
- Repeat the Iso Abs-Side Lying exercise, but do it on the hand with the arm straight instead of on the forearm. Elbow can be straight but should not be hyper extended. Hold up to 20 seconds.
- Repeat the Cobra - Floor exercise, except lift both legs at the same time as you lift the upper body.
This warm up will make you feel warm from the inside out. You can tell your client it will make him feel taller because his core muscles will be “on.”
Warm Up #3: Bodyweight Challenge
This workout has several purposes, so if you want a little of everything, you will like this choice. You will move your whole body along the three planes of motion. This is great to get your neuromuscular system going because your brain has to work a little harder than when just moving forward or back or doing a traditional warm up on a bicycle, for example. Do the entire sequence two to three times.
- Single leg balance with arm reach. Stand on the right leg. Lift up either one or both arms. Move arm(s) in different directions around body. PTN Exercise Library: 1 Leg Balance w/Arm Drives
- Lunge with lateral flexion. Stand with feet hip width apart, holding right arm up. Lunge forward with left leg, and at the same time, laterally flex to the left with your trunk. Do five and then switch sides, lunging with right leg, laterally flexing to the right with your left arm up. PTN Exercise Library: Sagittal Lunge w/Sideways Flex and Opposite Arm Reach
- Clock lunges. Pretend you are standing in the middle of a clock. With your right leg, you will lunge to one o’clock (anterior-lateral), then do a lateral lunge to 3 o’clock and then a rotation lunge to 5 o’clock. With your left leg, step to 7 o’clock, then to 9 and 11 o’clock. Do two sets clockwise and two sets counterclockwise. You can limit the range of motion to where you don’t go as deep as you would once you are warmed up. PTN Exercise Library: Lunge - 45 Degree Front, Lateral Lunge (SI Joint), Transverse Lunge w/Reach (SI Joint)
- Walking push ups. Do a standard push up with a more shallow range of motion than during the actual workout. Move your right hand two to five inches to the right, then your left hand two to five inches to the right and do another push up. Move your left hand two to five inches to the left, then your right hand and do another push up. Perform 10 total push ups. PTN Exercise Library: Traveling Push Ups (Do these on the floor, without the BOSU for this warm up.)
- Opposite arm/leg reach. Start in a quadruped position, with the hands directly under the shoulders and the knees directly under the hips and a neutral spine. Lengthen the right arm and the left leg at the same time. Hold for one to two seconds and then return to the starting position. Switch arm and leg. You should see no movement at the pelvis. Perform five to eight on each side. PTN Exercise Library: Opposite Arm/Leg Raise (Perform this exercise without the use of a stability ball.)
- Quadruped rotation. In the quadruped position described above, put right hand behind head. Rotate up to the right, thinking of bringing your right elbow up towards the ceiling. Let the eyes follow the movement in order to keep the cervical spine neutral. You should feel the effort at your thoracic spine. There should be no movement at your hips. Perform 15 to each side.
- Bridges. Lie supine on the floor, with legs hip width apart, knees bent and feet on the floor. Maintaining neutral spine, lift hips up so there is a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lower hips and lift again. Perform 15 to 20 reps.
Besides being a good, full body warm up, this routine can be a great workout for the beginner client.
Warm Up #4: Full Body with Stability Ball
This is a good warm up if you want to challenge your core muscles, your balance and stability (i.e., your neuromuscular system). This warm up is also a great choice if you are going to have your client lift heavy weight with machines. Doing this warm up where you deliberately have to challenge yourself regarding stability is a great way to balance the upcoming routine that doesn’t require as much internal stability. Do entire sequence two to there times.
- Bridges with lower body on ball. Lie supine on the floor with legs straight and on the ball. The more of your legs that are on the ball, the easier it will be. Keep hands out to the sides to start and then try to bring them closer to your body. Maintaining neutral spine, lift hips up so that you have a straight line from your legs to your shoulders. Lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps. PTN Exercise Library: Bridge Reverse - Supine w/Feet on SB
- Bridges with upper body on ball. Start by sitting on stability ball. Walk feet forward, and at the same time, lie down on the ball so that your head and shoulders are on the ball. Your neck should be neutral. Keep hands in front of body, or on hips. Maintaining neutral spine, lower hips towards floor, then lift up again. Repeat for 10 reps. PTN Exercise Library: Bridge - On SB Lower Hips
- Lat rollouts. Start by kneeling right in front of stability ball. Place forearms on the ball, keeping arms relatively straight. Hinge forward from the knees, moving forward with the ball. Push down into the ball as you come back to the starting position. You can start by keeping your butt back a little and then progress to moving your whole body at the same time. Perform eight to 10 reps. PTN Exercise Library: Lat Pull - Rolling on SB
- Push ups with legs on ball. Start by kneeling right in front of stability ball. Lean over ball, putting hands on the floor. Walk out with hands, until your knees or shins are on top of the ball. The farther you go, the harder the exercise becomes. Repeat for 12 reps. PTN Exercise Library: Push Up - Feet on SB
- Ts, Us, Ws with upper body on the ball. This exercise is great for your upper middle back/posture muscles. Lie prone or face down on the ball, with your upper body on the ball and either on your knees or toes. Maintain good posture (i.e., do not curl forward but keep your chest up). Hold your arms out to the side and turned out. This simulates a letter “T”. Move your arms up and down. Then hold your arms next to your head, simulating a letter “U”. Lift them up and down. Lastly, bring your hands next to your head with your elbows bent, simulating the letter “W.” Lift your arms up and down. PTN Exercise Library: Back Extension - On SB Knees Off Floor. This is the starting position for the exercises described above.
- Crunches on the ball. Start by sitting on the ball, then walk forward, allowing your body to lie down on the ball until you get the ball against your low back area. Start with hands across chest and then progress to holding them close to or above your head. Exhale as you curl up. Perform 15 to 20 reps.
In conclusion, remember the purpose of everything you include into your personal training program. From the warm up to the last exercise, we need to make sure we are giving the best effort to the client and to the program. These warm ups are effective, offer variety and are great fun.