How to Structure a Warm Up

Hopefully if you’re used to reading my material you understand that a warm up is not just doing a few minutes of running on the spot or on a cross trainer.

Whilst there is some demonstrable value in elevating body temperature and increasing peripheral blood flow prior to strenuous exercise.  There is so much more to it than just that.



With all of my private clients I have actually completely done away with the term ‘warm up’ on their session plans, and replaced it with ‘movement prep’.  Mentally I want this to not be an optional thing to do before the real session begins –  something to skip past if you’re short on time.  This should absolutely be considered part of the workout,  and the elements to it given just as much thought and consideration as the rest; there is an expression within strength and conditioning circles that if you can’t explain the purpose of an exercise in a training program, take it out.  The same should apply to the warm up or the movement prep – each element should be chosen and sequenced to fulfil a purpose, and that purpose should fit the needs of  the client or athlete in front of you.


Whilst I not have a set sequence of movements that all of my clients or athletes follow,  I do have a framework –  or a template.  A structure that allows me to create a movement prep that will tick all of the necessary boxes to get that person in to the best possible physical and mental state to get the most out of the workout to come.   And that, should always be the goal.

The individual parts of a warm up should each serve a purpose, which would be to get the client in to the best possible position and state to exercise.


The structure that I follow is the four R’s:






Release: This must always come first, this is where activities like foam rolling or any other form of soft tissue work are performed.   I will also include adapted PRI positional breathing drills here  – essentially this first part of our session is to aim to as much as possible reduce protective tension and encourage more of a parasympathetic state.  Create some form of delineation between the outside world and the training session.

Reposition: Position dictates function.  Function dictates both the risk and also the reward of any movement.  What I mean by this is that however our structures are organised underneath a load, will vastly change the effect that load has on us.

Getting ourselves or our clients into the best available position before we start moving them with intent and purpose will both greatly increase the effectiveness and the efficiency of the workout, but also reduce the risk of injury.

Broadly speaking this part of a warm up is where I will try to bring a person as close as possible from a scissor position, to a canister position and so will most often involve activation of the anterior core and glutes (although not always – although scissor position is a common trait, there are some people who walk around in too much flexion, in which case the task will be to open them up!)


Re-establishing canister position should be the goal of the Reposition part of any movement prep


Readiness:  Here is when we start to pay attention to the demand of the session that’s about to happen. We look to both activate muscles that are about to be worked hard, but also move the major joints through all available planes of motion.  This section of the warm up is where dynamic mobility drills will fit in nicely, they should be chosen both to fit the needs of the client (address any limitations they have), but also with consideration to the movements of the session (if the session requires sideways movement, the warm up should not be all front-back!).  Mobility work pre-workout should always be dynamic,  flowing into and out of positions,  if we get this right then flowing between activation and mobility exercises will also serve the purpose of raising body temperature and increasing peripheral blood flow (and makes a lot more sense to perform than 10 mins on an elliptical trainer)

React: An often overlooked part of a movement prep is the preparation of the nervous system.  If you watch sprinters line up at the start of a 100m they have absolutely warmed up, but how many of them are standing still?

What you will see is sporadic jumping, skipping and other signs of being alert or ‘on’.

So whilst this may look like nervousness, (and in a sense it is, in that it is nervous system driven)  what these athletes are doing is priming their systems to work in an explosive manner with purpose and intent.

The same principles apply to an every day workout or training session – if we understand how to ‘prime’ ourselves or our clients before the hard work starts , the work can be harder, safer, more effective and more efficient.


Whilst the specific activities that go into each of these ‘buckets’ will vary enormously depending upon the needs of the individual,  every training session with every client will have something in all of them.

Take a look at this video for an overview on how to work out what goes where, and a demonstration of a typical bang for your buck movement prep.




2020-07-08T09:55:02+00:00July 8th, 2020|0 Comments

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