Prepping For An Optimal Training Session
I talk a lot about kettlebells, getting stronger, swings, getups, deadlifts, snatches, etc., etc. – all the fun stuff. I’ve had a few people ask me lately “what do you do before you start a training session?” So I thought I’d share my thoughts on what a warm-up should accomplish, what I like to do with my clients, and what I’ve found works best for just about everyone.
Where To Start?
I’m big on setting the tone for the session; creating a gap between what’s happening in your world outside your training session and narrowing your focus on what’s about to take place. You might call this “mental prep”, and it likely consists of different modalities for everyone, but the underlying theme is clear – create a divide, focus on what’s about to take place, and get after it.
I used to do this through various PRI drills. PRI has had a major influence on the way I approach lifts, movement, and life overall. The dramatic influence I learned that simply taking a few breaths has on the body, your movement capabilities, and more importantly the cognitive processes in your brain, lead me to my current “Movement Prep” portion of my daily warm-ups.
There are a TON of different ways you can warm-up before a training session. Some use the treadmill, some do dynamic movements, some use foam rollers, sticks, and lacrosse balls, some jump rope, etc. etc.
What you want to understand first is why you’re warming-up and what you’re prepping for.
I think of a warm-up as this:
Regardless of what you’re doing in your training session you’re likely going to do something that involves your:
- Legs, and
In fact I know you will because there’s no possible way you’re going to lift or move anything that doesn’t involve your entire body to do so. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing “leg day”, how do the weights get on the bar?
Because of this, my warm-up focuses on three primary areas where all movement originates:
- The Shoulders
- The Hips
- The Back
All movement comes from these 3 areas. In addition, you’ll want to do something that elevates the heart rate a little. This helps to create more focus and awareness of what’s about to take place.
To make this process easier, I simply start from the top of my head and work my way down to my toes. In 5-7 minutes I can fully prep my entire body for a successful training session. Here’s how I start.
Fast and Loose
Here’s what I love about “Fast and loose”; there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. Sure there are more effective ways than others, but the idea is this – move your body, shake out the tension, and become more aware of your environment.
While there are a number of different ways you can perform fast and loose, I like to make it as structured as possible (to a degree) to make it easier for my clients to remember.
Rather than go through each of these individually, think of fast and loose as a means of “shaking out” – literally. Get loose. Get flabby. Try to shake your muscle off your its bone. The more present and focused you are, the more loose you’ll become. Do this from head to toe. Once you’ve loosened up a bit, challenge yourself to get even looser. It’s a skill that takes practice. Here’s the order in which I’ll practice getting loose:
Head and Neck
These are more of rolls, nods, and turns versus “shaking” – for obvious reasons
Arms and Shoulders
I’ll start by making some elbow circles then transfer to an exercise called the Egyptian. Here’s an area where you can afford to shake things out a bit. Triceps, shoulders, traps, and hands are good areas to focus on.
Hips and Back, Knees and Ankles
I’ll typically work on circular motions isolating my hips with my feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Slowly search through your entire end-range of motion.
Step your feet in together, bend your knees and start making knee circles. The nature of the exercise also loosens up the ankles as well.
Back and Core
I like a drill called the prying cobra to strength the anterior core. Make sure you focus on cramping the glutes to protect the lower back
Calf Inhibition – Inchworm
I throw this one in last as a means to help retract your rib cage. Most people tend to walk around in a “state of inflation” or, a forward translated rib cage. This displaced your center of gravity and makes you prone to shifting your weight on your mid foot and toes. The end result are some rather tight calves, the inchworm is a great exercise to help inhibit those overactive muscles.
Once you’ve prepped your entire body, shaken out, and feel loose, I like to go into 3 specific kettlebell prep exercises that yet again tackle the areas everyone should focus on.
- Arm Bar – Bent Arm Bar
- Prying Goblet
- Belly Swing
Each of these exercises correlates to an aspect of the body that’s responsible for movement. Again, you don’t have to be training with kettlebells for these drills to be effective. In fact, I’d argue that those training with barbells would see greater improvements in their sessions by taking a page out of these kettlebell prep movements.
The arm bar is one of my all-time favorites. I tell my clients that I use arm bars as my medicine. They think I’m kidding but I couldn’t be more serious. The world feels like a better place after an arm bar. The idea is simple, stabilize a weight over your head by packing your shoulder and rolling away from the loaded shoulder.
The result is upper back and t-spine mobility, hip mobility, and shoulder stability. It transfers into so many other aspects of training and movement. If I were to only perform one warm-up exercise, the arm bar would be that one. Once you’re in position, relax and let your breath do the work for you. I usually tell my clients to hold for breaths rather than seconds to promote relaxation.
The prying goblet is a great hip opener. I cue my clients to pull themselves into position rather than simply dropping down into a squat. This “pulling” effect stabilizes the hips and helps prevent them from squatting below a safe position. Once they’re in position, I cue them to think of rooting a post out of the ground. Wedge, wiggle, and pump your hips and shoulders trying to root the post from the earth. In doing so you’ll wedge yourself deeper into your hips and sit taller in your squat. I have my clients go through 3-5 reps “rooting” at the bottom for 3-5 seconds.
I feel the belly swing is somewhat of an unfamiliar exercise for most people, yet has quickly become one of my favorites. Think of it as a kettlebell swing but with a bell flipped on it’s side and pressed hard into your stomach.
The tension the bell triggers at the stomach cues core activation. Pair that with a swing-like movement and you wind up with an exercise that loosens the hamstrings very effectively. I’ll cue lots of pressure into the stomach with the bell and pressure against the bell with the stomach. Then, swing away. I’ll typically have my clients go for 1-2 sets of 10 reps here. Finish with another 10 seconds of freestyle fast and loose and you’re good to go.
Following your kettlebell prep you’re officially all systems go!
Again, whether you’re training with kettlebells or not I would still have you do the same warm-up; movement prep (fast and loose) and the 3 kettlebell prep exercises mentioned above. The idea is to prep for what’s about to take place. No matter what you’re doing, you’re going to use your entire body to some degree, with the routine laid out in this article you will touch on everything that’s needed to move freely and in a controlled manner.
All in all this should take 10-15 minutes at the absolute most.
- 5-7 Min Movement Prep
- 5-7 Min KB Prep
It’s worth noting that when I have clients who need slight regressions that that’s exactly what I do – regress until they come up to speed with the rest of the group. The only progression I tend to give is from the arm bar to the bent arm bar, but aside from that everything stays the same – even once a client learns the bent arm bar, they’ll still perform the traditional arm bar before doing the bent version.
Achieve more by doing less. Don’t turn your warm-up into your training session. Your warm-up is designed to prep you for your training session – that’s all – nothing more, nothing less.