Getting ready to move your body doesn’t have to be this complicated hour-long ritual that you do before you start exercising.
In fact, if it takes you more than 10 minutes to get ready to exercise one of three things is occurring:
1 - You are a high-level competitive (and dedicated), athlete
2 - You are rehabbing an injury.
3 - You are wasting valuable training time
Learn the quick and easy no-nonsense way to get ready for exercising below.
We are all busy and have to make the time to stay fit.
Unfortunately most of the fitness industry makes the assumption that we all want to be athletes. When you are a serious competitor trying to maximize your performance to beat the competition how you get warmed up for your training is a critical part of your physical and mental preparation to perform at your best.
It might take 30 minutes, an hour, or the entire first half of the day to get ready to compete.
If you go see a trainer that specializes in movement you start getting exercises to “fire” individual muscles with names so obscure you need to be proficient in Latin to pronounce them.
“First we need to make sure your posterior tibialis is firing to stabilize your foot, then the gluteus medius needs to be activated because it is suffering from amnesia…”
I know, I used to be one of the trainers, and that type of warming up works.
Except for the fact that before you know it you have a list of 20 exercises for the person to do before they even start the workout. This can get so overwhelming that they just skip the warm-up or worse skip the entire workout.
Nothing you don’t do will work, ever.
In a rehabilitative situation with the help of a qualified medical professional, this might be appropriate. Getting you out of pain is a different ball game than getting you fit. And often in this situation, the warm-up is the entire workout.
But your normal exercise sessions should give you all the movement you need to keep your muscles, bones, and joints functioning properly. If all you want to be is healthier and lose a little bit of weight then you are wasting your time hunting for “optimal function.”
Yes, with elite athletes it is a different story. One of the things that makes them elite is their dedication and drive. Michael Phelps took 2 hours to warm up before each competition, a routine that involved: (1)
- 30 minutes of stretching, starting with his arms and working his way to his ankles
- 45 minutes of swimming 800m-600m-400m-200m, drills, and 25m sprints
- 20 minutes of squeezing into a competition swimsuit
- Music and other mental prep exercises
Oh, and he found the time to practice this every single day.
But if you are not a pro athlete whose job is to win and instead you have a job, a family, friends, and a happy life we are lucky to get you 30 minutes of total workout time, not just stretching.
One of the hugest mistakes I see people make in the gym and their training is spending too much time preparing for a workout and not enough time working out. What is the cut-off?
If you spend more than 10 minutes warming up, you are probably wasting your time.
In 10 minutes we can improve your flexibility, stability, and mobility greatly. We can also get your core to function better. All these things will help prevent injury and help you to perform better.
That is, if we focus on the correct things.
The most effective way I have found to date to do this is something called the Neurodevelopmental Sequence. If you want to know more about it I suggest this article which goes more in-depth.
But all you need to know to implement it is 5 movements that will prepare your entire body.
1 - Diaphragmatic breathing
2 - Head control
3 - Rocking
4 - Rolling
5 - Contralateral movements
How do we make these into a warm-up?
While there are an infinite amount of ways to implement them, here is a template that I have found effective with many of my clients:
Breathing - 3 minutes
Head control - 2 minutes (1 min each of two types)
Rocking - 1 minute
Rolling - 1 minute
Contralateral movement - 1 minute
Wild Card - 1 minute
Wild Card - 1 minute
Total - 10 minutes
The Wild Card serves one of three functions.
Function one is letting you get both sides of an asymmetrical movement.
For example, say we are doing a rolling movement such as a rib pull. Since you aren’t alternating sides during the movement it is easier to do 1 minute on the left and then 1 minute on the right instead of trying to fit both sides into 1 minute and losing time to the transition.
Function two is getting more training time in a movement you are working on.
For example, say you find that hip rocking helps you a lot. (This is common with people who are working on their ability to squat). Then instead of 1-minute hip rocking, you could do 2 minutes and use one of your wild card minutes.
Function three is variety.
For example, say you want to work on upper body segmental rolling and lower body segmental rolling. You could do 1 minute of upper body as your rolling and use 1 of your wild card minutes to do lower body for 1 minute.
For you type A personalities who don’t want to spend 10 minutes warming up, you could skip the wild cards and make this an 8-minute warm-up.
But cutting corners is not the best path to success. Find the extra two minutes. I promise it will make a difference over the long run.
Diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing is the most important part of this type of warm-up. Which is why it gets the most time. This is the part that will give you the most benefit over the long haul so don’t skip it.
The critical piece is that you are using a position that helps you breathe deep into your belly. Often I tell people that you should be trying to breathe into your hips.
The position your body is in has an effect as to how difficult this is. As a general rule of thumb the longer you make your spine while making the rest of your body shorter the easier it is. But everyone is different so pay attention to your body and find a position where you can feel the breath in your belly/hips.
Two easy variations are:
- Supine breathing legs bent
- Supine squat breathing with hand support
We can make it more difficult (for most people) by straightening the legs and getting to
A more advanced variation takes your hands overhead in something like
Supine breathing with arms overhead
But you can also make the arms overhead easier by shortening the legs with
Supine knees bent arm overhead breathing
In fact, there are endless combinations and positions. The only thing that matters is that you can breathe deep into your belly. These are just a few ideas.
Head control means stimulating your vestibular system. This is the system that controls your balance and is tied into every muscle of your body. It is in your head (more specifically your inner ear) and helps you know where you are in space.
If you are confused about what that means take a smartphone and make sure the auto-rotate function is on. Turn it sideways and notice how the screen flips. The phone knows that it has been turned. It’s not magic–it is a sensor inside the phone. Your vestibular system is a similar sensor in your head.(2)
Just like we move your phone sideways to activate that sensor, we move your head to activate your vestibular system. Unlike your phone, your body can get stronger with stress. By challenging your vestibular system we make all your muscles (especially your core) stronger and function more effectively.
The two ways we do this are generally side to side and up and down. Just like breathing, there are an infinite amount of positions that we could use. I often start people with this position:
Sphinx head - nodding up down
Sphinx head - nodding side to side
Because this position helps counteract all the sitting that we do so much of.
As a bonus, these exercises will help with neck pain and stiffness.
Sometimes we will add a third direction and tilt the head as well as in the standing
3 plane neck movement
Rocking is moving forward and backward in space. It is the precursor to all squatting and hinging movements.
The most common way we do this is on all fours (meaning hands and knees) and shifting the weight forward (to your hands) and backward (to your knees) in a smooth rhythmic fashion such as the
But it can also be done with one hand removed from the ground or one leg removed from the ground or in a variety of different positions.
Again the options are infinite.
Rolling is moving from the belly to the back. This is the foundation for all rotational movements. So if you want to get better at throwing something (like a baseball), swinging something (like a golf club), or just looking behind you (like when you are backing your car up) this is where you should start.
The baseline movements for these are moving from your back to front (and vice versa) using just your upper body or lower body (called segmental rolling)
Upper body segmental rolling
Lower body segmental rolling
But it is not uncommon for these to be too advanced for people. If you can’t do them without relaxed breathing or not using (or tensing) the half of the body you aren’t using then they are too advanced for you
The goal is not to roll front to back any way possible. The goal is to be able to use natural authentic patterns to demonstrate mobility in your spine and stability in your core muscles.
In that case, we simplify it by not rolling all the way and just practicing the movement as far as you are able. Such as:
Partial upper body rolling
Partial lower body rolling
While you probably haven’t put much thought into it, contralateral movements are the foundation of walking and running.
This is why when you step forward with your left leg your right arm swings forward. The same happens when you run.
Walking, marching, jogging, sprinting, skipping–they all fall into this category.
But so does crawling. There are also movements we use to build core strength in the category like:
Anything where the opposite side upper limbs and lower limbs are moving in sync. This helps tie together your “X” which is the pattern that makes gait possible.
When to change it up
Once you have picked your exercises the next question is how often to change them.
The answer is: it depends.
Once people are more advanced I often let them change the movements every workout.
When people are just starting out I usually have them practice the same sequence for 4-6 weeks. This allows them to learn and own the types we are practicing.
Once they have enough variations that they own and understand how they affect their body they can have the freedom to choose which ones are good for them on any given day.
But in the beginning, getting comfortable with the movements and learning how they affect you is the most important thing. And that takes practice over an extended period of time.
This template is a simple, easy, and effective way to build a warm-up that you can easily fit into your workout routine.
Just pick something from each of the 5 categories.
Follow the template, plug and play the variations that are appropriate for you, and make modifications as necessary.
If you still need some help feel free to shoot me an email: David@magenfitness.com.
Ideally even days you don’t work out you can find 10 minutes to do this routine and guess what? You still found the time to workout!
And if things get really crazy…just make 2-5 minutes for the diaphragmatic breathing. I promise it will make your day better and help the long term adaptations to your body.
1 - https://www.sportsrec.com/9865916/what-does-michael-phelps-do-before-a-race
2 - Your vestibular system is much more complicated and does many more things but that is beyond the scope of this article.