Warming Up for Working Out: the basic essentials

Warming Up for Working Out: the basic essentials

“Warming up is the best!”

— no one ever

I don’t know about you, but I find warming up to be pretty boring sometimes. I just want to get to the good stuff and the warm up feels like it’s getting in the way. That is until I really learned the reasons why warming up is so important. A few times in my past, I’ve gotten into the squat rack and by the 2nd or 3rd set a little hamstring/adductor twinge happens. On each time I know I rushed through my warm up, despite knowing the benefits. Time is definitely a huge issue when allocating time to workout – usually we don’t have enough of it and try to rush the things that just aren’t fun.

This isn’t a post about fun warmups, rather one on efficiency and necessities. Here’s a short list on what I usually include in my warmup, and it’s pretty specific to my body (read: hypermobile shoulders, L shoulder recovering injury, tighter hips and t-spine):

  • General core temp warm up
  • T-Spine (aka Thoracic Spine) mobilization
  • Transverse abdominal activation
  • Hip Opening mobilizations + occasional glute firing moves
  • Dynamic warm up
  • Shoulder activation

If you’re someone with the opposite, say tight shoulders and flexible hips add in more hip activation and less mobilization. The best thing about warming up is that I change up the specific moves all the time if I need to – this just happens to be what’s working right now.

A little more detail

General core temperature warm up is exactly that – brisk walking, jogging, biking, rowing. Anything that is going to get your heart rate elevated and get the insides a little warmer. This is really important! How are your limbs going to move if your insides are cold?! You’re increasing your heart and respiratory rate; this gets your blood pumping out to the muscles that will do the work and signals to your heart and lungs that more work is coming. More blood = more oxygen –> muscles need oxygen to do work.

Once my body is warm, I want to open up my t-spine. I like to think of a t-spine warm up as telling my body to talk to my muscles properly as well as making sure those joints are moving as they should. (If you’re not sure how to do this, I’m going in depth about my whole warmup in an email I’m sending out this week, so be sure to sign up!)

Quadruped Thoracic Mobilization
Quadruped Thoracic Mobilization

A new move to my warm-up routine is a transverse abdominal (TVA) activation. This muscle acts like a girdle around your midsection and is the big muscle that Pilates talks about when you’re doing The Hundred – have you heard of it?

A quick way to feel your TVA: put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blow out trying to make a “TSSSS” sound. You should feel a muscle all through your midsection tighten.

Because it acts like a girdle, it helps you stay upright and keep everything super tight throughout your core. When you’re properly able to activate this muscle, you’ll notice a significant difference in the way your spine is organized in movements like the squat and deadlift…and pretty much every other movement too.

For my body and because I squat pretty much every workout, I do a decent amount of hip opening. There’s not much to say here, other than I simply need to do mobilizations to feel good in the deep squat. I can still squat without this, but it just doesn’t feel as good. Occasionally, I’ll in some glute activators here just to ensure my butt is firing right.

Now I’m ready to move a little bit more and include things like squats, lunges, lateral lunges, jumps, bear crawls, and leg swings for a more dynamic warm-up. If you’re in a time crunch, make your dynamic warm-up your core temp warm up, starting slowly with movement and moving into things jumping and moving across distances. At times I’ll add in handstands or cartwheels, and definitely at this point I do some shoulder stability work that my physical therapist recommends for my specific issue.

Finally, before I get into any kind of lifting overhead I’ll do some more shoulder activation drills. This just tells my shoulders that they’re going to be lifting heavier things in a bit and asks them to make sure they keep my scapula organized and moving properly.

A signal you’re warm: you’re sweating and if someone told you to do a bunch of burpees, you might groan and ask why, but you’d be able to get on it.

But, I’m on a time crunch

Ok, ok, so the three must haves:

  1. Core temp/dynamic combo warmup
  2. T-spine mobilization
  3. Shoulder activation

Bottom line

You are literally going to increase your muscles’ ability to contract. What more can I say? Ok, one more thing: it helps your mind get ready to move. I usually workout in the morning and without a warm up I’d be lying in the squat rack still feeling like I’m in bed.

If you’re looking for more info, sign up for my newsletter. This week I’m going to feature pictures, links and all. the. things. about my warm up routine. Link is here.


So get to it – and fill me in your favorite warmup move.


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