Part 2 for strategies to return to the gym this week consists of elements of your dynamic warm-up that you don’t want to skip. In part 1 of this series, I spoke about how we can approach our post-COVID gym routines in a smart way (momentarily decreasing intensity or frequency of our lifts, using the RPE scale, and measuring exercise volume to monitor potential injury risk). If the goal is to optimize your fitness and ensure a safe return to the gym, then implementing a dynamic warm-up for your exercise is an absolute must.
I’ve seen a lot of people in the gym perform a few static stretches prior to their lift just so they can get to the bulk of their workout that much faster. Unfortunately, we’ve all been guilty of it at some point. I know some people dislike a proper warm-up because subconsciously some of the movements don’t look as savvy or impressive as our main exercises. Or maybe you feel crunched for time and only have a certain amount of time to work out at the gym. Regardless of our biases or reasoning, implementing a dynamic warm-up before any bout of exercise is going to help us reduce the risk of injury and will actually improve the performance of our workout.
As a general starting point, we want our warm-up to be 10-20 minutes in length to adequately target the muscles and joints we’re working and to rev up our sympathetic nervous system properly (Haff & Triplett, 2016). Our nervous system is categorized into two main components, our sympathetic nervous system and our parasympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for elevating heart rate, increasing blood flow, and is coined to determine our “fight or flight” response. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our body to “rest and digest” and allows us to calm down.
Research has shown that holding static stretches for a prolonged period of time actually activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is not what we want at the start of a workout (Farinatti et al, 2011). So for our dynamic warm-up, it’s important to remember that we want dynamic stretching and dynamic movements to prepare our bodies for the main exercise. For example, if I plan on back squatting with a barbell as part of my workout, my warm-up should have some dynamic movements and lower-level squat patterns to prepare my nervous system for the work ahead.
Our goal is to mimic the movements we want to perform, add some variability to our warm-up (this wakes up the nervous system), and gradually expose our musculoskeletal system to multiple planes of motion to get our muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments ready to work.
When structuring a dynamic warm-up for yourself, you can approach it in a few ways depending on your access to equipment, your workout of choice, and your location. One strategy is to use the “RAMP method“, which consists of the following:
R – “Raise.” Up to/no more than 5 mins of low intensity jogging, walking, cycling, or low-level plyos to safely elevate your core body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and systemic blood flow.
AM – “Activate and Mobilize.” Can choose a handful of dynamic movements/stretches to activate certain muscle groups, mobilize your joints in in multiple planes, and mimic some of the main movements of your workout.
P – “Potentiate.” Increasing intensity of your warm-up to a point where the end of this phase allows you to smoothly transition into your workout. This may consist of gradually increasing sprint effort, a slightly higher level plyometric exercise, or even doing a few sets of lower weight on the barbell that gradually increases as you get closer to your normal workout intensity (Jeffreys, 2007).
Here’s an example of a “RAMP” style warm-up for a full body at-home workout:
|Raise||2-3 minute walk outside|
20 jumping jacks
10 Knee Pulls with jog each side
|Activate and Mobilize||World’s Greatest (5x each side)|
Bodyweight Squat (10x)
Inchworms to Pushup (5x)
Lateral Lunge with Reach (5x each side)
Quadruped hip circles and hip extension (5x fwd, 5x bwd, 10 hip extensions)
Down-dog foot pedals (10x each side)
|Potentiate||Stationary High Knees (20x)|
Split Squat Hops (8x each side)
Here’s an example of a “RAMP” style warm-up for an upper body day at the gym where you may plan on performing a barbell bench press. For this example, let’s say that you’re planning on benching around 80% of your 1 rep max for your main lift, which for this session is 135 lbs total (barbell and one 45 lb plate on each side):
|Raise||5 min stationary bike (low-intensity)|
|Activate and Mobilize||Push-Up with alternating shoulder taps (10x)|
Pull-up bar hangs (30 seconds)
Hip hinge W’s (thumb’s up) with 3s scap squeeze (10x)
Standing Cross-Body T’s (5 x each side with 3 sec hold) ***2rounds***
|Potentiate||1×10 barbell only (45lbs)|
1×10 @95 lbs (barbell and one 25 lb plate on each side) =~60% 1RM
1×10 @115 lbs (barbell and 35 lbs on each side)
As you can see, your warm-ups may vary based on your environment, your individual movement literacy, your exercise knowledge, and your personal training goals. I’ve even seen some quality warm-ups where an individual picks 8-10 low-intensity movements and performs each movement for one minute with a 10-15 second rest in between each movement. As long as the warm-up is safe, contains some variability, and prepares your body properly for the main workout in a dynamic fashion, you should be good to go.
To summarize, here are some key points to consider for your dynamic warm-up:
- 10-20 minutes in length
- Include dynamic movements to engage your sympathetic nervous system
- Recommended that some movements of your warm-up mimic movements you’ll be performing for your main workout
- Gradually build intensity throughout your warm-up
- Not all warm-ups need to be the same; your nervous system likes variability
- By taking the time to warm up, you greatly reduce your risk of injury and improve performance.
Farinatti, P; Brandao, C; Soares, P; Duarte, A. Acute Effects of Stretching Exercise on the Heart Rate Variability in Subjects with Low Flexibility Levels. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(6):1579-85.
Haff G, Triplett T. (2016) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association. 4th edition, pp 318-320.
Jeffreys, Ian. (2007) Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warmups. Professional Strength and Conditioning. (6) 12-18.