Updated: Jul 6
Let's talk about the elephant in the room; not everybody warms up effectively... or ... at all. Depending on your age and strength sport experience, you may find warm-ups completely unnecessary for your training session. A few reps under the empty barbell and you're good to go. Some people even wait until their first injury to question whether or not they should implement a warm-up regimen into their gym routine. The answer? Yes. You should definitely be warming up! When it comes to warm-ups, you only need to remember THREE simple letters. M - A - P Mobility. Activation. Prevention. These are the three elements that make a good warm-up for powerlifters. MAP. Let's dissect each element and look at a few examples.
Mobility is often confused with flexibility but these two are not completely synonymous. While flexibility is strictly related to the ability of muscles to stretch and contract, mobility is the range of motion through which a joint can move. Think about it like this. If I can touch my toes, I have flexible hamstrings/calves AND mobile hip/pelvic/spinal facet joints.
Humans are born with natural mobility and flexibility. As we grow older and establish our daily habits and routines, we may maintain this mobility or we may begin to stiffen due to disuse, poor posture, low physical activity, and many other potential causes too numerous to list here. When we begin strength training, we additionally build muscle around those joints which further stiffen their mobility. Mobility is KEY to optimizing the Big Three. If your bench arch is garbage, you'll have to work a lot harder to get the barbell to your chest and back to lockout. If your ankle dorsiflexion isn't on point, you could miss depth or knock your bar out of the groove pretty easily. Sumo deadlifters need open hips to optimize bar distance off the ground. Mobility work can be simple. Dynamic PVC stretches, standing PVC twists, leg/arm swings, toe touches, unweighted tempo squats in multiple orientations, scap retraction exercises are just a few common drills you can add in at the beginning of your session that take <5m to complete and greatly improve your performance under load.
Muscle activation is a too-often-skipped facet of warming up. As a beginner athlete, you may not yet be thinking about which muscles need to fire up to perform a clean lift with good technique, speed, and under weight. As you become more familiar with each lift and learn about your own weaknesses, you will begin to notice weak areas that don't "fire up," so to speak, as easily as others.
To combat this, we add 1 or 2 exercises into our warm-up before approaching the barbell that will flip the power on for these muscle groups.
Example: Hip abductors. This collection of muscles are one of the laziest yet MOST important muscle groups in the human body located along the outer hip joint. This group includes the gluteus medius, the gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lata. These are our balancing muscles. Hip abductors are important for preventing valgus knees in the squat, making the overall lift on a sumo deadlift, and assisting in leg drive on the bench press. Activation exercises for hip abduction include banded squats (resistance band or slingshot band work well around mid-thighs), standing hip abduction with your band anchored to the bottom of the rack and around low shin, and sumo squat with external hip rotation (sit low in a sumo squat and activate your glutes to
press your knees open), or banded clamshells. These are basic activation examples that need minimal equipment and take <2m to complete.
Let's be honest and agree that injuries suck, no matter the severity. Anything that takes us out of the gym for a prolonged period of time inhibits the natural lifestyle of a powerlifter and we get grumpy without our usual outlet. Injuries are difficult to overcome; more so for the ego and psyche than for the physical body. In a perfect world, we would know how to prevent all injuries. This, however, isn't how the world works in powerlifting. That being said, we DO have a pretty good idea of common injuries in, for example, powerlifting. This study found that the shoulder, lower back, and knee are the most common locations for injuries and the most common types of injury are chronic tendinitis and acute muscle strains. Knowing that, we can surmise that it would be a good idea to work on these areas for injury prevention -- that could mean additional mobility work, rehabilitative exercises, and/or activation drills. This is where your GHD comes in handy for some lightly weighted back extensions to warm up the lumbar region, lightly weighted core work to protect the spine when bracing, resistance band work (scap re/protraction, impingement rehab/prehab), your lacrosse ball against the wall for shoulder internal/external rotation. There will be some crossover between MAP exercises, for instance, an activation drill may also be considered injury prevention, and that's okay -- make sure you are including the exercises, drills, and dynamic stretches that make the MOST sense for preparing your body for the session you are about to complete . You do not need to do the same warm-up every time you enter the gym -- tailor it to the session you're doing THAT day. CONCLUSION
The final thing to remember about warm-ups is to make sure you're doing just that -- warming the internal temperature of your body. If you find your MAP content isn't quite strenuous enough to increase your body temperature, consider adding 3-5" of light cardio (gasp?! Did she say cardio?!) before hitting your MAP warm-up plan. I'm not talking MetCon cardio, I'm talking about a brisk walk or jog around the block, a few minutes of jump rope or jumping jacks, or my favorite, kettlebell long swings. To conclude, warm-ups don't need to be an intimidating or long portion of the training session and they serve multiple purposes. Limit your warm-ups to 10-15 minutes total -- you don't need to foam-roll your whole body before getting under the bar -- or you may dread starting your training sessions because the warm-ups take so long. When you're choosing your warm-ups, be sure they apply to your own personal lifting needs and aren't someone else's routine you found on the internet -- they should be specific to your body.
Ready to design your warm-up routine? Try using this basic template to organize your warm-up exercises around your main lift for that day (or if you're performing multiple comp lifts, you can do both tabs of warm-ups -- remember to keep it short!). Use the tabs along the bottom of the template to change which lift you're focused on. Please always feel free to email me with questions about the best warm-ups for your needs.