Oh, hello, readers. I didn’t see you come in. It’s funny, though. I was just thinking about something I wanted to tell you.

Something about warm-ups.

Hmmmm. I can tell from the way you rolled your eyes that you may have heard this lecture before. Perhaps you even heard it from me. In any case, nothing drives a message home like a firm-voiced ear beating, so I invite you to take it in once more.

If we’re being honest, I’m not a huge fan of the term “warm-up”. Sorry to flip flop on you immediately like that. I just think we need to be open with one another. No, I find “warm-up” a bit lacking in intent, myself.

“Movement preparation”, on the other hand, is a fine term. Can you feel it? I’m certain you can. But just in case, allow me to show my work.

The issue I take with warm-ups is that they seem to invite half-assery. The goal, implied by the feeble term, is to achieve nothing more than a little sweaty warmness. In fact, I’ve heard it promoted as just that on more than one occasion. What’s interesting, however, is that many practitioners of the warm-up fail to achieve even this basic level of readiness as they stand around performing careless arm swings or five-second quadriceps stretches.

It is much more useful to treat your warm-up movement prep as calibration for your training session.

Since I am not (yet) as supple a leopard as I would like, I find I quite like to begin with isolated joint movements. You know, some ankle circles or scapular rolls to get me in the mood. From there, I progress into larger movements, and try to cover all the “general” bases. Some overhead reaching, some squatting (maybe lunging), things like that which represent the larger building blocks of “real” movement.

As a second stage, think about the major movements you plan on training and work up to them by exploring more basic iterations – the ones with which you are already proficient. (This phase of calibration is what is typically termed the “specific warm-up”.) For example, working your way up from hollow body holds through partial kick-ups could be a good way to prepare for a handstand practice session. Or perhaps you have a couple drills that address your weakest components of your running stride. You could use these to help prepare for a more efficient bout of running. This type of preparation also shows up as the classic “warm-up sets” used before a heavy lift. You don’t go after your target training load right away, do you? DO YOU?

(You shouldn’t. Not as a general rule. Perhaps you should be able to, but that’s another story, and it’s not appropriate for the great majority of your training time.)

If everything you read in this post seemed obvious, then reach around and give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back. Be cautioned, however, that sometimes the concepts will seem obvious even when you are not really applying them in your own practice (or not applying them to their full extent). Also, keep in mind that the components of your prep will look different depending on how advanced you are. I have to calibrate a lot of basic movements before I train, as I am but a humble novice; but someone more advanced might be able to effectively prep with combinations of those basic movements (e.g. squat + overhead reach = overhead squat).

My big point is that what you do to “warm-up” is still a part of your practice, and if you take it seriously you have a chance to significantly improve the quality of your training. Don’t half-ass the prep.

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog

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