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Ask a Trainer: How Should I Warm-Up for Strength Training?

Warming up for strength work can be effectively done in five minutes.

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Your schedule is already full with swimming, biking, and running, so when you have strength training days it’s easy to just jump right in and get it done. But by skipping your strength training warm-up, you are limiting the effectiveness of the workout and potentially setting yourself up for injury.

To get the most out of your strength training session and truly make it an effective use of time, it’s important to follow a solid dynamic warm-up protocol to prepare your body for work. This doesn’t have to take long–it can effectively be done in an efficient 5-7 minute routine.

Strength Training Warm-Up Goal 1: Increase the Heart Rate

One goal of our warm-up is to increase the heart rate and drive up core temperature by getting the blood flowing. Most likely there will be bouts of increased heart rate within the workout and we don’t want to go jump straight from 50 bpm to 170 bpm.

Strength Training Warm-Up Goal 2: Increase Mobility

Another goal of warm-up is to increase the mobility of our joints to allow a greater range of motion in the strength moves. By going through a greater range of motion, we are working the joints and muscles through their max range which equates to a higher quality and a more productive workout. If you can get into a deeper squat during strength training, you will be able to maximize the effectiveness with increased muscle recruitment.

Strength Training Warm-Up Goal 3: Increase Elasticity

Our final goal of a warm-up is to increase the elasticity of the muscles and tendons to prevent any acute strains or sprains of the soft tissue. A proper warm-up creates more pliability within the muscles as they lengthen and shorten many times throughout movement. Without going through a proper dynamic warm-up, you predispose your muscles to the possibility of tears or even muscle/tendon rupture.

Here are some of the basic moves we use as part of our dynamic warm-ups. If you’re looking for a complete routine, check out the video at the bottom.

Strength Training Warm-Up Moves

1. Knee to chest

While standing, pull your knee to your chest, stretching out the hamstring and gluteal muscles in the back of the leg while increasing hip mobility.

Strength Training Warm-Up
Knee to chest. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

2. Quad stretch

While standing grab your foot behind you while flexing the knee. This will stretch the quadriceps and hip flexors in the front of the leg.

Strength Training Warm-Up
Quad stretch. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

3. Lunge with overhead reach and rotation

Lunge forward with the right leg while taking your arms up overhead. As you deepen the lunge, then rotate your upper body to the right for some thoracic/lumbar mobility all while stretching the hip flexor on the left leg.

Strength Training Warm-Up
Lunge with overhead reach and rotation. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

4. Wide stance shift

With legs in a wide stance position, shift your body weight from left to right while keeping your hips low. This will stretch the adductor on the opposing leg while improving hip mobility on the working side.

Wide stance shift. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

5. Arm flys

While standing upright, swing both arms in front across each other while returning them to an arms wide open position. This repetitive movement will open up the chest and upper back muscles while improving mobility of the entire should complex.

Arm flys. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

6. High knees, butt kicks, jumping jacks

It is always good to mix in 20-40 seconds of cardio movement in the warm-up to help increase the heart rate.

Be sure to include a little cardio. Photo: Jeff Quihuis-Bell / Triplex Training

A Complete Strength Training Warm-Up

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1. Knee to chest
2. Quad stretch
3. HS stretch
4. Hip ER
5. Adductor
6. Lunge w rotation
7. Lunge to OH
8. High knees
9. Butt kicks
10. Hip openers
11. Arm flys
12. Arm swings

Kyle Herrig is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Triplex Training in Chandler, Ariz. Triplex offers in-person daily functional workouts as well as full sessions online you can do from anywhere.