What Makes An Effective Pre-Workout Warm Up?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training


I like getting your core temperature elevated first. You can do this with 3-5 minutes of jumping rope. If you have any specific areas that are really locked up you’d probably want to spend a few minutes working them with a lacrosse ball or Rumble Roller.

After that go through the muscles you’re training that day and get some blood in there and lubricate the joints around them.

One thing that people should take note of before I continue is that if you have to warm up for thirty minutes or so before doing a particular exercise you probably shouldn’t be doing that exercise.

Squats are a perfect example. I know a lot of people who can’t squat down more than a foot when cold. Then, if they warm up, foam roll, PNF stretch and put 185 on the bar they can finally get down to an inch or so above parallel 45 minutes later.

I’m no brain surgeon but something tells me they’d be better served skipping the squats for a while and focusing on improving their ankle and hip mobility and fixing whatever else they have going on.

A warm up is nice and should help boost performance. But it certainly won’t bulletproof you from injuries. So don’t use it as an excuse to do risky stuff in the gym. Fix yourself first then the risky stuff won’t be so risky.

As far as specifics go I like hitting the shoulder girdle with stuff like:

  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Band pull aparts
  • Scap pushups
  • Scapular wall slides
  • Hindu pushups
  • And some cool drills from sphinx position that Dr. Mark Cheng has been showing me (they require a video, which we’ll try to get soon)


For the hips and low back I like:

  • Cat camels
  • Bird dogs
  • Glute bridges
  • Clamshells
  • Lateral and monster walks with a band around the knees (my buddy and neighbor, Chad Waterbury has some videos of this HERE)
  • Plank variations
  • Glute ham raises or slide leg curl variations (if squatting)
  • Lunge variations
  • Cossack squats
  • Thai sits and other cool drills Dr. Mark Cheng has been showing me


Throw in some ankle mobility stuff and you should be good to go.

Now, that’s just a small list and there are literally hundreds of great warm up exercises. But I’m a huge believer in simplicity, minimalism and quality. Focus on doing fewer things better. There’s no need to do 99 warm up drills per workout.

As far as flexibility goes, if you can’t reach full depth in a squat try activating your hips/glutes before you spend an hour stretching. The length of your quad is the length of your quad. It goes from your hip to your knee. It doesn’t shorten up and you suddenly go from 5’10” to 5’5”.

So while it may feel tight and stretching might seem like the right thing to do that’s not always the case. There’s probably just something inhibiting it. By activating and strengthening certain muscles the “tightness” often goes away.


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7 Responses to What Makes An Effective Pre-Workout Warm Up?

  1. Thomas January 15, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    What exactly do you mean by “activatings hips and glutes”? What exersices do you use for that?

  2. Eddie January 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Good Post Jay!

    I notice that a good warm up + build up sets allows me to squat properly.

    Can you post some vids to show how to

    Loosen hip flexors
    Loosen Hamstrings
    Power the glute

    Strengthen core (abs + Back)
    Power up the upper back (big difference for me, allows me to arch properly)


  3. Daniel Aipa January 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Solid write up Coach. Simple and straight to the point. I’ve been making it a point to work on my hips lately. I definitely got lazy with the warming up but I’ve been experiencing great results by just doing a few of the exercises you mentioned. Again Mahalo and Aloha.

  4. Fat loss tea January 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    When going for a workout should always be ready. Your mind and body must be alert and active so that you’ll have the motivation to get fit and keep stronger and healthier.

  5. Lindsay January 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    What are some good ankle mobility drills you would recommend?

  6. Ryan O'Shea January 24, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Here’s a kick ass warm up I’ve been doing that just seems to turn everything on like nothing else I’ve tried
    1: Halos with a plate or kettle bell: midsection stability, thoracic extension, shoulder mobility and resilience – I hold the plate behind my head and lean my chest forward like in a jerk
    2: Stiff leg DL with a plate and kettle bell: releases the hammies and drills the hip hinge movement
    3: Goblet squats: ..you should do squats…
    4: Pump/Cobra: gets some extension in the spine which is beneficial if you sit a lot plus you get thoracic mobility in a closed chain position
    5: kneeling hip flexor stretch: opens the hips and begins to turn on the flutes
    6: Get up to a high bridge position: turns on the glutes and shoulder stabilisers while opening the hips and thoracic.

    I do this before training and in the mornings and it only takes about 6 minutes and I guarantee you’ll feel straighter after doing this, I find adding a little extra resistance to mobility work really helps create long lasting mobility more than lighter,
    easier drills – my 2 c

  7. Susan Lozano February 20, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    Great tips. I am a fan of getting the core warmed up too, from jogging to jump ropes, or even burpees. Yes, the inevitable burpee! It’s good to know that top trainers like yourself practice what they preach — AND share their insight to safe and effective pre-workout training.