Is Your Warm Up Actually Helping Your Workout?

warmup stretching mobility work

What do you do when you first walk into the gym? If you’re like a lot of people, your first stop is the cardio area for a warm-up.

What does your warm-up look like? Again, if you’re like a lot of people, you probably hop on a machine — usually the treadmill or elliptical — and do 10-15 minutes of steady state cardio before you begin your workout.

Is there anything wrong with this? No, not exactly. But, is it the most beneficial way to start your workout? No, not exactly.

Here’s the deal. Pre-workout cardio is what we refer to as a general warm-up. As the name suggests, it generally warms up the body, increases the core temperature, and improves your range of motion a little bit.

None of these are bad things. But, they’re not super beneficial for getting you prepared for your workout, which is the whole goal behind a warm-up, right?

What if, instead of doing 10-15 minutes of steady state cardio, you started your workout with 10-15 minutes of mobility work? Oh, what a difference it would make to your workout!

Mobility work does the same thing as cardio in terms of increasing your core body temperature, but it far outshines cardio when it comes to improving range of motion and getting you ready for your workout.

Here are some specific benefits you get from doing a mobility-focused warm-up instead of a general warm-up before your workout:

Prepares Your Body for Specific Exercises

First, doing mobility work before your workout helps to prepare your body for the specific exercises in that workout. How well does 10 minutes of treadmill walk translate to your squats or deadlifts? Not very well. How well does a few rounds of 90/90 hip switches or kneeling ankle stretches translate to your squats or deadlifts? Quite a bit.

Mobility work is especially important if you have specific muscle imbalances, which is the case for almost everyone. Treadmill walking or any kind of preworkout cardio doesn’t really do anything to address these imbalances, which could be holding you back and increasing your injury risk during a workout. Mobility, on the other hand, helps to improve your range of motion and gets you ready, both physically and psychologically, for the workout you’re about to do.

Improves Mind-Muscle Connection

Speaking of getting psychologically ready, let’s talk about the mind-muscle connection. This is, in essence, your brain’s ability to connect to a muscle and feel it working during an exercise.

What do you typically do during your ten-minute treadmill warm-up? Probably watch YouTube videos, text, check emails, listen to music or podcasts, or generally zone out.

This might help you get prepared for your workout, but it’s probably not getting as mentally prepared as 10 minutes of mobility work would.

Mobility work, in most cases, helps you become more mindful and allows you to tune into your body, figure out what areas need extra attention, and make sure you’re fully prepared for your workout.

Improves Workout Performance

What do you get when you combine a properly primed body with a clear, tuned-in mind and a stronger mind-muscle connection? A much better workout, that’s what.

Think about how much more you’ll be able to accomplish when you’ve thoroughly warmed up doing exercises that mimic those you’re about to do in your workout and are better connected to the muscles you’re getting ready to target!

Why would you warm up any other way?

Are There Downsides to Mobility Work?

The short answer to this question is, “no, not really.”

Some people might complain that it takes more time for them to do mobility work. If you have a lot of muscle imbalances, this might be true.

After doing a mobility-focused warm-up a few times, though, you’ll probably find that you can spend just as much time — if not less — working on your mobility before diving into your workout. It just might feel like a longer warm-up because you have to be actively engaged and can’t zone out on the treadmill.

It also takes some additional planning to put together a mobility-focused warm-up.

Again, this isn’t really a negative — after all, your additional planning is going to yield a better workout. But, I get that it can be annoying to have to figure out which movements you need to do before you begin exercising.

After you’ve done a few mobility-focused warm-ups, though, you’ll know what you need to do to get ready for specific lifts and the extra prep work likely won’t be necessary.

Clearly, the perceived downsides of mobility work are far outshined by the benefits that come with making it a pre-workout priority.

How Do I Know Which Moves to do?

Now, it’s time for the fun part. Figuring out which mobility exercises to do before your workout? I highly recommend planning out your warm-up before you go into the gym. That way, you don’t have to waste any time and can get right to work.

Think About the Exercises in Your Workout

If you’re not sure what areas of the body to focus on during your warm-up, start by thinking about the main exercises you’re going to be doing during your workout. Are you going to deadlifts? Squats? Overhead presses?

Once you know what exercises you’re going to be doing, you can plan your warm-up to be centered around movements that prime your body for those exercises.

For example, if you’re going to be deadlifting, movements like a bodyweight hip hinge, single-leg toe touches, or even good mornings with very light weight are good options.

If you’re going to be squatting, on the other hand, you might want to focus on movements like 90/90 hip switches and bodyweight squats.

Think About Your Muscle Imbalances

In addition to thinking about the exercises you’re going to do, think about any specific muscle imbalances you know you have.

For example, do your heels come off the floor when you squat? This is an indicator, in many cases, of poor ankle mobility and a sign that you ought to warm up your ankles thoroughly before you begin your workout.

Do you have a hard time fully extending your arms when doing an overhead press? If so, then you likely need to work on your shoulder mobility.

Time to Change Up Your Warm-up

As you can see, there are a lot of ways you can enhance your warm-up to make it more effective.

If you need more help figuring out what movements to do during your warm-up, check out my Instagram feed, this blog post, or this blog post.

I’ll be creating more posts in the future on identifying and correcting specific muscle imbalances, too.

Do you do mobility work before exercising? If so, what are your favorite mobility exercises? Let me know in the comments below!

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