What does an effective warm-up look like?

by Trevor Aung Than on September 20, 2012

In follow-up to my last post on our body as a tensegrity structure, this post will discuss the principles I use when planning and implementing warm-up drills. To warm-up and move the body efficiently and effectively we have to take into account the structure of what we are: we’re not made of concrete or mortar, we are viscoelastic, 3-D living tissue. Phil Earnhardt of Floating Bones has an excellent post on how we are viscoelastic beings.

Bruce Lee famously said ‘Be like water’ and what he was implying is very relevant, not only in a martial arts context, but for human movement in general. We do want to be like water as water is fluid, viscous and relaxed; we want to be like this if we might trip or fall as this will help prevent injury (if we are too stiff, we are likely to break something). But we also need to be hard, rigid and elastic; we might see this in a sprinter ready at the blocks as Phil mentions in his post. Effective warm-ups are a blend of this – hardness and softness. Yin and yang. Male and female.

If we look at our structure and we now know how important our fascia is to both movement and dysfunction, we have to also take this into account when planning a program. Tom Myers’ 8 things to remember to train the fascia effectively are;

1. Use whole body movements – multiple-joints going through an appeciable range of motion i.e sprinting, dynamic lunges.

2. Use long chain movements.

3. Use movements including a dynamic pre-stretch with proximal initiation – use the muscles of the trunk and hips to initiate the movement.

4. Incorporate vector variation – changes in force and direction.

5. Use movements that incorporate elastic rebound – this consists of cylic motions of a certain speed (for instance, cycling wouldn’t count).

6. Create a rich proprioceptive environment – dynamic and unexpected movements.

7. Incorporate pauses/rest to optimize hydration status.

8. Be persistent, but gentle (prominent changes can take 18-24 months)


Our warm-ups (naturally) begin the class and usually take the form of a game of some sort. I’ve previously blogged about the benefits of using games in training programs, if you’re not incorporating them into your program already, I suggest you try it. Our warm-up games might take the form of;

  • ball games – downball, dodgeball, throwing drills
  • tag
  • balloon games
  • mini-versions of soccer, football, etc

What the game actually is is irrelevant.  But they should incorporate some of the 8 tips mentioned above.  We would play the game for 5-10 minutes at the top of a session to engage the body, elevate HR, produce a light sheen of sweat and all those things a warm-up should do.

From there we would perform a series of mobilizers or mobility drills to further open the body and prepare it for the actual work-out.  The 3 big areas we focus on are;

  • thoracic mobility
  • hip mobility
  • ankle mobility

Focusing on these 3 key areas will open the spots in most people that require opening! Think thoracic spine = shoulders/neck and low back; hip = low back; ankle = knees. Incorporating some or all of these principles will help produce programs that are easily accessible, fun and something out of the box. Try it and let me know how you go!

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