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The 6 Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up

Written on December 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm, by Eric Cressey

The dynamic warm-up is an extremely important component of a strength and conditioning program.  In addition to reducing the risk of injury while enhancing subsequent performance in a variety of contexts, it’s also a great place to implement corrective exercise drills to address underlying muscle imbalances.

With that in mind, to get the most out of your dynamic warm-up, keep in mind these six characteristics of an effective pre-training program.

1. A good dynamic warm-up should be preceded by soft tissue work.

Every one of our clients at Cressey Performance goes through the following foam rolling series (at the very least) prior to their first warm-up drills.

For a bit more on the rationale behind foam rolling, check out this post of mine from a few months ago.  Needless to say, it’s important – and will make your dynamic warm-up far more productive.

2. A good dynamic warm-up should progress from ground-based to standing.

When I write a warm-up, I want athletes to do all their ground-based activation and mobility drills first, rather than mix them in with standing exercises.  This works not only for the sake of convenience, but also in terms of facility logistics: traffic throughout the gym is more predictable.  As an example, I might use a wall hip flexor mobilization to improve hip extension range of motion before I’d get an athlete up to do lunge variations in the standing position.

I like to see things progress from ground-based, to standing in-place (e.g., scapular wall slides, bowler squats), to standing and moving.

3. A good dynamic warm-up should progress from single-joint to multi-joint movements.

We might do a rocking ankle mobilization or quadruped extension-rotation early in the warm-up to work purely on ankle mobility and thoracic spine mobility, respectively, but once the warm-up progresses and one becomes upright, all the joints need to be working together in an appropriate balance of mobility and stability.  Just count how many different pieces are in place on this drill:

4. A good dynamic warm-up addresses mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine.

Even if people just worked on these three areas (to the exclusion of everything else) and then moved on to the rest of their strength training programs, the world would be a much healthier and high-performance place.  Throw on restrictive footwear and sit hunched over a desk all day, and these are the areas that will suffer the most – so make sure you’ve got drills for each in the warm-up.  Keep in mind that while one drill each for the ankle and thoracic spine mobility will be sufficient for most, it’ll likely take several to take care of the hips, as they need to be moved in all three planes of motion.

5. A good dynamic warm-up should take into account joint laxity.

This is something I have to keep in mind all the time, as many of our baseball pitchers have considerable congenital joint laxity.  Their joint ranges of motion are already so good that we don’t need to do much (if at all) in terms of mobility work.  Rather, we do substantially more low-level activation drills during the warm-up period to teach them how to stabilize joints prior to more intense exercise.  Conversely, if you have someone who is as tight as a drum, chances are that you can be more aggressive with mobility drills, knowing the subsequent stability will come more easily to them.

6. A good dynamic warm-up should actually increase body temperature.

I see a lot of people who drag their heels going through a warm-up, thinking too much or simply wasting time along the way.  You don’t need to do 20 different drills, but rather select 8-10 drills and do them at a pace that allows you to get your body temperature and joint range of motion up sufficiently to be prepared for a more specific warm-up (e.g., light deadlifts).  If you take it too slowly, it just won’t have the same effect.  While everyone is different when it comes to perspiration, I like to see athletes sweating a little bit by the end of the warm-up.

These are just a few quick and easy guidelines I like to keep in mind when writing the dynamic warm-ups in our strength and conditioning programs.  Of course, each client has unique needs – from actual physical limitations to space/equipment limitations – that one must take into account as well.

To learn more, I’d encourage you to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.  This two-DVD set provides 27 assessments and 78 corrective exercises that can serve as the foundation for effective dynamic warm-ups in your strength and conditioning programs.

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21 Responses to “The 6 Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Great post Eric,

    It’s funny when I see people at the gym doing the basic 5 minute eliptical/ treadmill warm up. Or even worse static stretching for the tricep’s, shoulder’s chest and boom there into their workout.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Great info., Eric! Just out of curiosity, but does it really matter if an individual executes a hip mobility drill as a filler while he/she is performing a ground-based main lift-i.e: deadlifts with half-kneeling ADd dips or quadruped rockbacks? Or would you rather see no money drill or wall slides in b/t the lift?

  3. Adrian Crowe Says:

    This is a well timed, excellent post. As I look to iron out my warm up sequence in the new year these is a great guideline to follow. I’ve based my warm ups for the past few years on MM and the Ultimate Upper Body warm up along with SMR drills, Tuminello’s warm up system, Parisi’s warm up method, but it’s come to the point I need to create my own system that works for my clientele. Thanks again for yet another helpful post!

  4. Mark Says:

    Great post, Eric!

  5. Anthony J. Yeung Says:

    Excellent article on dynamic warm-ups. I also like to do a dynamic warm-up circuit a few consecutive times on off-days to get some light “cardio”.

  6. Steve Says:

    I noticed you didn’t foam roll the low back. Is there a reason for that? I’m a desk jockey and I get particularly tight through my low back and hips.

  7. Walt Says:

    Great post!

    Getting rationale behind what I’m applying in Show & Go is great. Could you further explain the mobility drills you require your athletes to do for hip mobility? You stated these drills need to address all three planes of motion, but there is no description of which drills are most effective.

    Thanks!

  8. James Cipriani Says:

    Excellent post, Eric. I had to pass this one along to my FB crowd!

  9. José Says:

    This reminds me of that stuff I know I should do but don’t…the first video is a great primer – plus the quote “like a monkey humping a football” makes this much easier to remember!

  10. Bill Says:

    Great stuff as always and happy holidays. One question:Do you have your guys roll first thing ? I always thought foam rolling was about improving tissue quality. We have found that rolling a slightly warmed muscle gets a better result. Especially since we have teenage guys working out after having rolled out of bed in Jan-Feb in New England.We have our guys go through a get moving pre warmup- then roll -then go to the dyanamic warmup as outlined in your piece above..

  11. Lynn Montoya Says:

    Excellent read! Especially at a time when people will be gearing up for the fitness goals for the new year. I would say a majority of people do not know how to warm-up before a workout. I would also say that a majority of people do not know the importance and benefits of warming up properly. Great post! Definitely a read everyone should take a look at when making their fitness goals for 2012!

  12. Clement Says:

    Hi Eric, this material was absolutely educational in my structuring o an effective dynamic warm-up!

    I’ve been using DeFranco’s Agile 8 for the past year and haven’t seen much adverse effects from it. What are your opinions of it?

  13. John Bauer Says:

    Wow, great content on this blog today. Thanks for sharing Eric. Applicable for any exerciser. I will be frontloading my workouts with more of this activity. Great injury prevention.

  14. Rob Says:

    Thanks, Eric. Always look forward to incorporating new techniques into my workouts. You have top rate suggestions explained expertly, bro. Many thanks.

  15. Mick Says:

    Great advice, thanks for all your efforts!

  16. chris Says:

    Gonna definitely add that foam roller warmup into my own training, some good quality movements that I haven’t came across. I too would like to know if there’s a reason you didn’t foam roll the lower back?

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Chris,

    We usually stay away from the lower back because there just isn’t too much muscle mass down there to protect the spine from direct pressure. Stay higher up on the erectors, rhomboids, traps, etc.

  18. Victor Says:

    Great Videos! Everything is right to the point and very clear and cut. Thank you for addressing the importance of dynamic warm ups and stretching.

  19. Matt Carlson Says:

    This is a very helpful post! Thanks Eric and for these great videos! I stopped teaching tennis 25 years ago due to a major illness. 3 years ago I got back on the tennis court for pleasure and to get back in shape… In 2012 after totally changing my diet (I eat Paleo + do twice a week cross-fit + use a number of your exercises) I won my 1st A level singles tournament in years + with my team (+45′s) the Championships of Provence 1st Division… It’s not over of course, I’m still working hard to strengthen core and flexibility, will continue & never stop now. My doctor says that men over 50 lose muscle mass even after only one week of not exercising! But also my story shows too that with aging (I’m 53) we can continue to improve our bodies and health with good eating habits and proper exercise. Thanks again. Matt

  20. Eric Cressey Says:

    Good stuff, Matt! Keep up the great work.

  21. Kristofer Klith Says:

    For those who were asking why you do not foam roll the lower back. It is the same reason you don’t foam roll over joints as it can hurt the joints with the amount of pressure of the targeted area. The spine is made up of several joints and the lower back does not have much protection for the spine. if you are tight in the erector spinae, etc. Have someone massage each side of your spine where the muscle is as it will give the same affect if not better then what a foam roller will.

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