Your Warm-Up: Healthy or Injured?


Warm-ups for your workout shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes – unless you’re hurt. Once an injury comes into play the game changes.

There are a few questions that need to be answered before you decide on what your warm-up routine should be.

In the rest of this article you’ll use three main questions to decide on your warm-up approach and how to warm up in all the resulting scenarios.

Take these lessons to heart and it will improve the quality of your workouts immediately.

The only three questions you need to ask are:

  1. Does anything hurt?
  2. Is it chronic or acute?
  3. Are you injured?

Ask them in this order and answer only with yes or no. “Kind of” doesn’t tell you anything and won’t help you choose a course of action.

Does it hurt? Yes. Ok, I can’t use a healthy warm-up routine.

Is the pain chronic or acute? Chronic pain can be worked through in most cases if you know what you’re doing. Acute pain is a sign of injury.

Are you injured? Unless you just stubbed your toe and you know it’s nothing, make a doctor’s appointment so they can diagnose the cause and prescribe a solution. Then actually follow through on their prescription.

Be brutally honest with yourself as you answer these questions and err on the side of caution. 

Then use the warm-up strategies below to find the right way to prep for your workout.

If you’re healthy, all you need is 6-10 minutes for an easy 6 step warm up that prepares you for the specific work ahead. 

Step 1: Self Myofascial Release
Use a lacrosse ball or foam roller to roll 1 or 2 places that are always knotted or tight. Quads and pecs are 2 common examples. 30 seconds at each site should be plenty for pre-workout.

Step 2: Dynamic Stretching
Spend 30 seconds on gently stretching the muscles that are often tight for you. For a lower body day, your psoas/hip flexors are a great example. Kneeling and gently leaning in and out of a hip stretch should do the trick.

Step 3: Activation
Fire up your chronically underactive muscles. Glutes, core, lower traps – all examples of muscles that are typically underactive and need 1 set of 15-20 reps to wake them up and feel the mind-muscle connection.

Step 4: Corrective Exercise
1 set of an exercise that addresses a weak point. Lateral band walks for weak abductors and band external rotation for a weak rotator cuff are frequently needed these days. Pick one exercise that will help with that day’s workout and do 12-20 reps.

Step 5: Movement Prep
Use a compound movement like the World’s Greatest Stretch or a Walking Lunge with an Overhead Reach. Do 1-2 sets of 3-6 reps and get blood flow throughout your body and synovial fluid in your joints for smoother joint movement.

Step 6 (*optional): Central Nervous System Prep
If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter and your workout has a power exercise of maximal strength training you’ll need to prime your CNS. 2 set of 4-6 reps of an exercise that mimics your heavy lift of the day will do the trick. For example, if you’re deadlifting heavy weight, do 2 sets of 4 broad jumps. This is a power movement that uses your whole body but emphasizes the hinge pattern you’ll use for the deadlift.

*If you’re not on a max strength or power phase of your program, you can skip Step 6.

If you have chronic pain or discomfort, but no acute injury, this is you. 

Follow the same 6 step warm up, but take twice as long on every step and don’t do Step 6. Repeat your corrective exercise during your workout for 3 sets of 10-15 reps. You’ll need to modify some common exercises so they don’t aggravate your painful muscles.

My strong advice is to find a corrective exercise specialist to help customize your program. This coach will be able to help discover the source of your problem and eradicate your pain while improving the other factors of your health.

Folks who try to program their own corrective program usually end up hurting themselves more. Google and YouTube will not be able to accurately assess your needs. It’s the same logic as an un-handy person trying to fix their own sink. You’re gonna make it worse and have to hire a plumber anyway.

If you think you may be injured see a doctor and/or physical therapist and complete any rehab and homework. Your trainer is not equipped to handle this as it is now a medical issue.

When you’ve been cleared to return to regular activity, your warm-up should be much longer and include a lot of specific movement preparations for your injury. In most cases you’ll still have limited use of the injured site. Emphasize your warm-up, correctives, and cool down. You’ll make progress much faster.

If you have acute pain that you know is from a specific incident that will clear up in a day or so (like stubbed toes or bumping into something) just avoid the injured site for a day and reassess the next day. If the acute pain continues, make a doctor’s appointment before exercising.

Exercise selection for your warm-up and corrective exercises will depend on the goals for your workout, the split you’re using, and the aches/pains/injuries you’re trying to overcome. It would be impossible, irresponsible, and downright dangerous for any trainer to try to assign specific exercises without performing movement assessments and walking you through a physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q). 

If you’d like input on your warm-up or continued injury rehab, I want to help. Email me and we can set up a time to do an in-person or video movement screen and a PAR-Q.