Lower Body Warm-Up - 10 Minutes to Better Performance!

Lower Body Warm-Up - 10 Minutes to Better Performance!

In my last article, Upper Body Warm-Up, I provided you with battle-tested upper body warm-up concepts that ensure maximal performance both in the gym and in competition.

In this article, I’m going to show you exactly what you need to do to better prepare for your lower body workout days. These Lower Body Warm-up techniques are guaranteed to maximize strength, improve motor unit (muscle) recruitment, and help prevent injury.

However, before I get into the practical exercises, I’m going to start with a few more gems of knowledge that are sure to help you get more out of the valuable training information contained in this article.

Warm-Up vs. Workout

This should be obvious, but based on my experience, many coaches ignore this one simple principle: your warm-up should NOT be the workout!

In other words, the optimal warm-up should be low enough in intensity that it gradually prepares you mentally, technically, and physically to better perform the primary activity to follow.  However, a proper warm-up should NOT be so high in intensity that it makes you tired and interferes with performance of the activity that you are preparing for.

The warm-up I describe below will not get you tired. It will get you worked up into a light sweat and feeling mentally and physically ready to set new PRs every time you train!

Why Are You Using Track Drills?

I see many coaches these days approach the lower body weightlifting warm-up using track/sprinter style drills such as butt kickers, high knees, and skips. Don’t get me wrong…these are great drills to do, but they don’t have much carryover to typical strength-based lifts like squats, lunges, and deadlifts.

If you are going to do track drills as part of your warm-up, perform them toward the beginning of the warm-up and gradually progress through other warm-up exercises that have more carryover to stationary lower-body strength exercises like the exercises I’ve provided below.

3 Key Points to an Effective Warm-up

Now that I’ve clarified some issues related to the warm-up by telling you what not to do, I can help you get the most out of your warm-ups by teaching you some important concepts that every athlete should do when warming up.

I’ve put together a list of three key points to designing an effective warm-up. These key points will help you understand why the Performance U approach to the warm-up is so effective. Plus, this list will empower you with the knowledge to make the most out of each and every warm-up session!

Key Point #1 – Use Unilateral Movements

As I’ve developed more knowledge and experience, I’ve come to realize the massive importance of using unilateral movements. Unilateral training is important for athletes because sprinting, cutting, swinging, punching, and just about every other action in sports is usually one-side dominant.

For bodybuilders, muscle symmetry is everything, so unilateral training is useful for them as well.

Additionally, from an injury prevention standpoint, muscle balance is necessary to move optimally and stay healthy. For instance, if your hamstrings are tighter on one side than on the other, this is likely to cause unnecessary torque in your hips and lumbar spine when you lift anything from the floor. This applies to deadlifts as well as Oly lifts.

The solution to achieving this balance is to use your warm-up as an assessment as to which parts of your body are feeling tighter and/or more restricted on that day. Performing unilateral movement warm-up exercises allows you to make this distinction and address it with more mobility work on the most restricted areas.

Key Point #2 – Do stuff you wouldn’t normally do!

A warm-up is great opportunity to incorporate movements and activities you wouldn’t normally do within your primary training session. For instance, we all know the importance of mobility work, but I never see folks working on mobility between sets of bench presses or deadlifts. Most people also are well aware of the importance of optimal posture, but rarely do I see guys in the gym working on activating the small muscles in the shoulders that can improve posture and maintain shoulder health by balancing out the stress created from heavy pressing movements.

Put simply, if you know something is important but you’re unlikely to do it during in your session, make it part of your warm-up. This way, you are sure to get it done each workout!

The movements I describe below focus on areas that I’ve found to be commonly weak and often overlooked. This is why I feel they are so important to do first.

Key Point #3 - Use your warm-up as an assessment!

I’ve already alluded to this in key point #1. Each day, your body can change based on how you feel that day, so use your warm-up as an opportunity to listen to what your body is telling you about its functional ability (or lack thereof) on that particular day.

If you feel like crap during your warm-up, it may not be the best day to try to set a new max weight squat. However, if during your warm-up you feel like a caged lion that can’t wait to pick up some heavy stuff, THAT is the day you hit it hard!

The Lower Body Warm-Up

Consistent with how the Upper Body Warm-Up was designed in Part 1, the Lower Body Warm-Up featured below consists of four stages:

Stage #1 - Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
Stage #2 - Dynamic Mobility
Stage #3 - Muscle Activation
Stage #4 - CNS Activation

Each stage consists of a few exercises described in step-by-step fashion below.

For a detailed description of why each of these phases is important, please see Part 1

Now, here’s how you get your lower body prepped and ready, Performance U style!

Stage 1 - Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)

Grab yourself a massage stick, foam roller, or medicine ball and perform these following self-myofascial release exercises for 30 seconds on each side.  Cover the entire area of the muscle.

Find the tender spots in the targeted muscle group and focus on those for the allotted time frame.

SMR Exercise #1 - Hips and Glutes

SMR Exercise #2 - Hamstrings

You will notice that the rest of the SMR pictures below show the athlete using a massage stick. If your gym does not have one, I highly recommend purchasing one for yourself.

Foam rollers are great, but the massage stick allows you to control the pressure, speed, and angle more accurately while performing SMR. The value of the results provided by using the stick far outweighs its dollar cost!

That said, all of the SMR techniques can be effectively performed using a foam roller.

SMR Exercise #3 - Quads and Hip Flexors (A)

SMR Exercise #4 - Quads and Hip Flexors (B)

SMR Exercise #5 - Calves

Lower Body Warm-Up Stage 2 - Dynamic Mobility

This stage of the warm-up uses exercises that improve both joint mobility and muscle flexibility in an active/dynamic fashion.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #1 – Four Count Squats

If you have trouble getting down deep (below parallel) when squatting, this exercise is a must for you! For most folks, this drill will instantly have you squatting deeper. Don’t believe me? Try for yourself and find out!

Perform 8-10 reps

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #2 – Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug

As the name describes, step back into a reverse lunge, dropping your rear knee to the floor. As you descend into the lunge, reach your arms behind you to stretch the front portion of your body as shown below.

As you bring your rear leg forward, drive your knee up toward your chest and hug your leg tight to your body for 1 sec before switching sides.

Repeat this for 8-10 reps on each side.

This a great hip flexor stretch and a fantastic way to reverse the tension created from sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #3 – Lateral Lunge

As shown in the video below, be sure to keep your trailing leg straight and keep both feet parallel and flat on the floor.

Perform 8-10 reps each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #4 – Yoga Plex

Put simply, this is one the best mobility sequences you can do!  Think of it as yoga in fast forward.

Perform 4-8 reps on each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #5 – Arm Crossover Stretch

Yes, you did also see this very same stretch in the Upper Body Warm-Up article! The truth is, it also makes a great lower back and hip mobility drill.  I personally feel this exercise should be done every day that you train, regardless of the goal!

Perform 8-10 reps on each side.

Lower Body Warm Up Stage 3 - Muscle Activation

The Muscle Activation stage utilizes exercises that improve the mind - muscle connection and ensures that all of the important stabilizer muscles are maximally turned on and functioning properly.

Muscle Activation Exercise #1 – 1 Leg/Hip Bridges

This is a simple, yet very effective exercise for improving the function of the ever-so-important glutes!

In the video, we have Alli’s shoulders elevated above her hips because recent EMG research by my good friend and colleague, Bret (the Glute Guy) Contreras, has shown that this significantly improves glute muscle recruitment.

Perform 10-20 reps on each leg.

Muscle Activation Exercise #2 – Side Lying Adduction

Guys may look at this exercise as something women do in an attempt to “tone up” their inner thighs. First off, we know that’s just unrealistic and ridiculous. However, this exercise is a fantastic way to improve the function and strength of the adductor musculature.

Strong adductors will help you squat heavier weight and maintain better knee alignment, which translates into injury prevention. Plus, strong adductors can help prevent nasty groin pulls.

Be sure to keep your working leg in line with the rest of your body throughout the exercise.

Perform 10-20 reps on each side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #3 – Quadruped Hip Circuit

This is another protocol that is 1) often performed wrong, and 2) commonly miscategorized by hardcore lifters as a “girly” exercise.

The video below addresses the proper way to perform this protocol and describes how to use the quadruped hip circuit to improve both core stability and increase mobility at the hip joint. This in turn will help you perform all of your lower body training exercises more effectively.

Perform 10-15 reps per exercise, per side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #4 – Slow Motion Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a great exercise for developing core stability, hip flexor strength, and hip mobility…that is, if the exercise is performed correctly, without allowing the hips to lift or the back to round.

Begin in push-up position with optimal spinal alignment, as shown below.

Now, in a controlled fashion, drive one knee toward your chest without allowing any change to the spinal alignment that you began with. Do not allow your elevated foot to touch the ground.

Hold the above position for 1-2 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Perform 6-8 reps on each side.

It’s all About the Hips!!!

Before I move on to the next stage of the warm-up, I want to mention something very important about the exercises that you just learned in Stage 3.

Put simply, to be a strong lifter, powerful athlete, or healthy injury-free individual, you need good hips. As they say in most sports, “it’s all in the hips”.

The above warm-up exercises cover all four major actions of the hip – extension, adduction, abduction, and flexion.

Don’t skip any of the moves because each is important in its own way.

Okay, moving on to Stage 4…

Upper Body Warm-Up Stage 4 - CNS Activation

In the CNS Activation stage, we utilize fast explosive movements. These types of activities are heavily CNS-dominant and therefore ensure that your CNS is primed and ready for the more intense lifts to follow.

CNS Activation Exercise #1 – Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift

This exercise was actually featured in my Big Legs with Bad Knees Article. This exercise also makes for a great way to warm up your lower body in a manner that will demand optimal timing, rhythm, balance, and coordination.

To get maximal nervous system activation, perform this exercise for speed.

Perform with bodyweight for 12-20 reps for speed.

CNS Activation Exercise #2 – Pogo Hops

Pogo hops are a fantastic way to fire up your CNS and improve both core tension and lower leg/ankle stiffness. All thee qualities are needed in order to explode out from the bottom of a heavy squat, to jump high, and to make quick changes in direction while playing sports.

Be sure to stay tall throughout the exercise and move as fast as possible.

Perform 30-50 reps for speed x2 sets with 20 seconds rest.

CNS Activation Exercise #3 – Box Jumps or Squat Jumps

Both of these exercises are standard moves that I don’t feel need much description. That said, be sure to perform either jump variation with optimal knee and back alignment. Land as quietly as possible on each jump.

Perform 5-8 jumps for sets with 30 seconds rest.

Lower Body Warm-Up Overview

For your training purposes, here’s an overview of how this warm-up should look on paper. Feel free to print this out and take it to the gym with you. At first glance, this list may appear as if it would take longer than it actually does. In actuality, this entire warm-up should take you about 10-15 minutes total.

Remember, this is a dynamic warm-up. You should perform each exercise in a dynamic fashion, spending no more than 1-2 seconds per rep. Therefore, 10 reps will only take 10-20 seconds.

Pre - Warmup

  • Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) for the upper body – 5 min
  • Hips and Glutes - 30 sec each side
  • Quads and Hip Flexors - 30 sec each side
  • Hamstrings - 30 sec each side
  • Calves - 30 sec each side

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug x8-10 each side
  • Lateral Lunge x8-10 each side
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side
  • Arm Crossover Stretch 8-10 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Supine 1 Leg Hip Bridge x10-20 each side
  • Side Lying Hip Adduction x10-20
  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets
  • Box Jumps or Squat Jumps 2x 5-8 reps, rest 30 seconds between sets

Express Warm-Up!

I realize that sometimes you may be short on time or you just want to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. If so, here is a shorter express lower body warm-up.

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets

Conclusion

This article has described a comprehensive lower body warm-up that is guaranteed to help you get bigger, get stronger, and outperform the competition.

Once you get the hang of it, this entire warm up should take you roughly 10-15 minutes. If it takes longer, you are moving too slow!

Although I’ve given you a multitude of exercises, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the warm-ups I use here at Performance U.  If you are interested in learning more about the Performance U approach to the warm-up and preparation, please check out my Warm Up Progressions DVDs which can be purchased through my website - NickTumminello.com

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website NickTumminello.com to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

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