If you’re just getting started on your strength training journey, your warmup is probably one of the last things on your to-do list. But by skipping your strength warmup, you’re limiting the effectiveness of your workout and increasing your risk of injury.
To get the most out of your strength workouts, it’s important to follow a proper warmup routine to prime your body for the hard work ahead.
If you’re ready to have your best strength workout yet, below I’ve included everything you need from top benefits, tips, exercises, and even a full warmup workout you can follow along to at home!
Benefits of Warming Up Before Your Workout
Raise Body Temperature
One of the most important benefits of completing a warmup is it raises your core body temperature. Warm, pliable muscles can contract more forcefully, and relax more quickly as well - enhancing your strength and speed.
Increase Heart Rate
During a strength workout, there will most likely be many moments where your heart rate spikes. The goal of a warmup is to increase your heart rate to avoid the jump from 70 BPM up to 180 BPM in a matter of seconds. With a proper warm-up, your heart rate is elevated, so your body is prepared to push your heart rate higher.
Increase Blood Flow
As you increase your heart rate, your heart helps to pump oxygen and nutrients to your muscles as you work. An increase in blood flow means an increase in those needed nutrients to help you push your body and muscles even harder.
A key goal of your warmup should be to increase mobility to improve your overall range of motion during your strength workouts. Working through a higher range of motion means higher quality movement with increased muscle recruitment. For example, a deeper squat equates to increased effectiveness and muscle recruitment during each rep. This is where dynamic stretching comes into play!
A proper strength warmup can also help to activate the muscles you want to use during your workout. Activating muscles is the process of connecting your mind to your body to be intentional about using muscles that may be weak that we want to rely on during an exercise.
For example, our glutes tend to be weak or underactive, but they’re the biggest muscle in our body and one we want to use during squats, deadlifts, and more. We can ‘wake up’ the glutes by doing an activation exercise, like a glute bridge, focused on mindfully connecting with the glutes and using them intentionally.
Decrease Risk of Injury
Last but not least, warm muscles help to reduce the risk of injury. When your muscles are warm, pliable, and mobile they move more efficiently and effectively, and they’re also prepared to do so safely.
Strength Training Warmup Tips
Get Your Heart Rate Up
First and foremost, get your heart rate up. If you have time to start your warmup with at least 5 minutes of light cardio. I recommend it!
This is something you can easily achieve at the gym. When you first get in, hop on the treadmill, bike, or elliptical for 5 minutes. If you’re at home - use what you have available to you.
Focus on keeping your movement light and easy. This should be an enjoyable, conversational movement. If you’re with a workout partner, trainer, or class this can be a fun time to catch up and make a game plan for your strength workout ahead.
Make it Full Body
Regardless of if you have a full body workout planned or a leg or upper body day, your warmup should be full body focused.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can easily achieve this by selecting a handful of compound exercises focused on using a variety of your muscles at once such as inchworms, squats, or forward lunges with a twist.
I also love to throw in a few exercises that are related to the exercises I plan to do during my workout.
For example, if I plan to do heavy deadlifts during my workout, I might warm up by doing good mornings with a PVC pipe or just the bar to practice my hip hinge. Or, if I plan to do heavy squats during my workout, I might choose to do a bodyweight squat or overhead squat with a PVC pipe or just the bar to prepare.
Focus on Mobility
Remember mobility is essential to open your range of motion so you can complete better, high-quality movements throughout your workout.
Once you’re feeling warm, take your body through a series of dynamic stretches that include lengthening your muscles, and shortening them several times. By completing reps of dynamic stretches you’re preparing your body to move.
Examples of dynamic stretches include walking lunges, walking quad pulls, cat-cow, and thread the needle - to name a few of my favorites.
Strength Training Warmup Routine
Cat cow is a great exercise for increasing spine flexibility and opening tight upper body muscles. Take your time as you shift through the end range of each motion, letting your body gently shift and work through any points of tension.
How To: First, get into a quadruped position, with your hands planted directly below your shoulders, and knees directly below your hips. Arch your back letting your chest and belly drop towards the floor, holding a few seconds here. Then reverse the movement by pushing through your shoulder blades and pressing your spine towards the sky. Spend a few seconds here and repeat.
Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
T Spine mobility is important for opening the chest, shoulders, and neck which are generally tight from the poor posture you use to carry yourself throughout the day. You don’t want to bring that poor posture into your workout, so get started with this T Spine rotation.
How To: Get into a quadruped position, with your hands planted directly below your shoulders, and knees directly below your hips. Keeping your tight, spine and hips neutral reach one arm up towards the sky. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Beast is a great exercise to wake up the core and connect your entire body, working together as you fight to find stability. In this version, we encourage you to hold your beast for just a few seconds at a time.
How To: Get into a quadruped position, with your hands planted directly below your shoulders, and knees directly below your hips. Keep core and hips stable, and push into the ground with your toes to bring your knees just 1-2 inches off the ground. Hold here, and gently release back down to the ground. Repeat.
Inchworm Plank Shoulder Tap
Inchworms are a great exercise to wake up the entire body as you stretch your posterior chain - the glutes and hamstrings while waking up your upper body as you walk forward with your hands. With shoulder taps at the top, we get a bonus of intentional shoulder and core activation.
How To: Start standing, bend to reach your hands toward the floor - trying to keep your spine neutral and core activated, a slight bend in the knees is okay if you have trouble reaching. Walk your hands out to a plank position, with hands directly under your shoulders, shoulders pinched together, core and glutes activated, and heels pressed towards the wall behind you. Lift the right foot off the ground, reaching your knee towards the opposite elbow. Repeat with the left foot. Walk hands back towards your feet and return to standing, repeat.
Side Plank Thread the Needle
As noted above, threading the needle is great for opening your posture. Here is a slightly different variation in a side plank position, encouraging shoulder stability, and a little oblique action.
How To: Lay on your side, with your elbow directly below your shoulder, and forearm resting on the ground for support. Elevate into a side plank by keeping your body in one straight line from the tip of your head down to your heels, the side of your foot supporting your body as you plank. Lift your top arm to reach up towards the sky, then stretch it down across your body, threading your hand in between your body and the floor. Repeat.
Above, I touched on the importance of activating weak or underactive muscles before your strength workout. Glute bridges are a great way to activate your glutes.
How To: Lay on your back with feet pressed firmly into the ground and placed just below your butt. You can place your hands directly on your sides for support but try to focus the work on your glutes rather than pressing with your arms. Drive your hips up into the air, squeezing your glutes. Raise just enough to lift off the ground, being careful not to hyperextend your back. Return to the ground, repeat.
Ready to wake up that upper body? Pushups are a great add in to warm up your chest and triceps and particularly to prepare for a chest exercise like a heavy bench press.
How To: Start in a plank position with hands directly under your shoulders, shoulders pinched together, core and glutes activated, and heels pressed towards the wall behind you. Dip down towards the ground, bending at the elbows, keeping elbows tucked in at your sides. Lower yourself to the ground, being careful not to collapse at the spine. Release your hands by lifting off the ground, return your hands and then press through the ground back up to your plank position.
Squats are a great compound exercise that is perfect for warming up your lower body, increasing your heart rate, and feeling out your mobility before your workout. As you warm-up, try to get a little deeper into your bodyweight squat. Don’t forget bodyweight squats are a great way to get your body ready for weighted squats you may be doing during your workout.
How To: Start standing your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed straight forward or slightly out. Keeping your chest up and core activated, sit back with your hips as if you’re sitting in a chair. Once you’ve reached 90 degrees, pause at the bottom, then press through your heels to drive back up to starting position. Repeat.
Squat with Knee Hug
This squat with added knee hug has a few benefits. Not only are you getting in some solid squat reps, but the knee hug gives a nice stretch to the glutes and hips, and you also get that single-sided stability work on the planted leg as you hug that knee up to your chest.
How To: Start standing your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed straight forward or slightly out. Keeping your chest up and core activated, sit back with your hips as if you’re sitting in a chair. Once you’ve reached 90 degrees, pause at the bottom, then press through your heels to drive back up to starting position. Shift the balance to one foot and drive the knee of the other leg up to chest level, grab with your hands to pull the knee up, and give it a stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Lunge - Forward, Reverse, Lateral
3-way lunges are a great way to warm up your lower body in different planes of motion. In this variation, we work forward, laterally, and back. This combination can help with opening the hips and increasing coordination and stability with some great unilateral work before you hop into your workout.
How To: Complete lunges in 3 directions. Starting with a forwarding lunge, you’ll step forward with the right leg, keeping the knee behind the toe, and bending down until both your front leg and back leg form a 90-degree angle, and your back knee is hovering just above the ground. Return to center. Now lunge to the side, by stepping out to your side, keeping your chest tall, and pushing back with the hips into a side lunge. Return to center. Finally, step back into a back lunge, keeping your left (front) knee behind the front toe, and lunging to a depth where both your front leg and back leg form a 90-degree angle, and your back knee is hovering just above the ground. Return to the center and repeat on the other side.
Single-Leg Hinge with Reach
Hip-hinging movements are an important, foundational movement that is used for a variety of exercises from good mornings to deadlifts. Practice your hip hinge here and get in some single-sided stability work.
How To: Gather your balance as you shift all your weight into your left foot, hinge at the hips while simultaneously letting your right leg reach behind you, an arm's reach forward in front of you. Return to standing, and switch sides.
Shoulder Circles - Forward, Reverse
Shoulder mobility is forever important. We tend to hold a lot of stress from the day in our neck and shoulders - give them some extra love and open everything up with some shoulder circles, forward and back.
How To: Stand with core tight and chest proud. Start by circling your shoulders forward, making circles as big as you can. When you’ve completed about 10 reps or so, reverse directions now, rotating your shoulders back.
I hope this article helps you get started not just on your strength training journey, but also on creating a strength training routine that is safe, effective, and enjoyable!
By adding a warmup to the beginning of your strength workout, your body will be primed for better performance, and reduce your risk for injury.
If you’re looking for a strength workout to complete after your warmup, be sure to check out Sunny’s free workout collection for inspiration.