How to: Ultimate Upper Body Warm-Up - The How's and Why's Explained

How to: Ultimate Upper Body Warm-Up – The How’s and Why’s Explained

If you read my training journal at all you know I throw around the words “prehab”, “static stretching” and “dynamic warmup” quite frequently.   A lot of people have asked me what the hell that means and really its tough to describe the exercises I use.   Here’s my best effort of an explanation:

  • The term prehab (prehabilitation) or preventative refers to exercises that help keep your joints and muscles healthy.
  • Static Stretching refers to holding stretches for extended periods of time.
  • A Dynamic Warmup consists of exercises that help prepare the body, joints and muscles for the upcoming workout.  The term dynamic just means that the exercises all require movement, as opposed to static stretching.

This part of your training session is pivotal to the health of your joints and your performance.  If you’re anything like me you want to get stronger and leave the gym with two shoulder joints that don’t feel like they’ve been ravaged by gorillas after doing an upper body training session.

Upper Body Stretches:  I started each session with static stretching.   Hold these stretches for 1-2 minutes each and use techniques such as Contract/Relax to get better stretching of these muscles.  Static stretching before strength training is a bit of a controversial topic as I explain in an earlier post HERE but I honestly believe that any reduction in strength from the stretching is made up by improved mobility.  Better mobility = better technique (When reinforced!) = less injury.  I’m reading Gray Cook’s movement right now and he makes an excellent point.  Make sure that once you achieve your new found mobility from stretching you end up using that mobility to improve your exercise technique.  I explain this a bit better further down this post.

  • Thoracic Spine Crunches 3 x 5
  • Band Stretches – Pecs, Lats, Mid Back, Cross Body, Internal Rotation

Upper Body Prehab:

  • Band Pullapart 2 x 10
  • Band “W” 2 x 10
  • Band Hug 2 x 15
  • Ring Recline Row 2 x 10

This warmup focuses on several things:

  • Shoulder mobility – To ensure exercises can be performed properly without mobility limitations.  Trying to throw weight overhead (push jerk, snatch, handstands) without having the required shoulder flexibility is a recipe for disaster.
  • Eliminating common shoulder flexibility problems.  GIRD (gleno-humeral internal rotation deficit) is a common problem among overhead athletes and predisposes us to shoulder injury.  The crossbody and internal rotation stretches address this area.  Adequate internal rotation is also needed for safe performance of olympic lifts and dips.
  • Shoulder Stability – To ensure that the joints are strong and stabile during upper body exercises.
  • Postural Correction – We’re hitting the shoulder retractors, external rotators, lower trapezius and anterior serratus.  These are several muscles that are pivotal in shoulder health but are often ignored.  Hitting these muscles can also help correct poor posture.

If you don’t feel adequately warmed up at this point your can work on pushup and rowing variations, arm swings etc.

A backflip or two into your warm-up may be beneficial as well.

Remember to really stress perfect technique during your warm-up sets of a given exercise.  As we alluded to earlier, your body develops something called a motor pattern for certain movements.  This means that your body learns how to perform certain movements based on how you’ve habitually practiced those exercises over time.  Just because you’ve gotten more flexible in your warm-up doesn’t mean that your body will automatically use that flexibility.  Chances are it will go right back to what its used to, your old motor pattern(poor technique) which was developed with limited flexibility.   Practice perfecting your technique with every rep of every set.  You’ll get stronger and be safer.

Practice makes permanent.  Please don’t make poor technique permanent.  Perfect practice makes perfect technique. 

I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about my warm-ups and have wanted to make an article to explain my thought process behind it all for some time now.  Some times I feel like warm-ups contain no thought but if they’re used properly they can greatly aid in performance and injury prevention.   If you guys have anything interesting to add or a favorite warm-up exercise please respond in the comments below.  I’d love to hear about it.

Happy Training,

Dan Pope

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