This post is meant to provide a simple, yet comprehensive breakdown of how to create a good warmup routine for any workout. And by any, I mean ANY. Doing a warmup adhering to these principles and progressions will ensure you are well prepared for your training sessions, whether you are squatting 400 pounds or are going for a light, easy run.

Before we get into the specifics of constructing a warmup, I want to quickly go over the concepts of postural ontogenesis and developmental kinesiology, and how they apply to designing not only warmup routines, but also training programs in general.

When we are born, we are born with preprogrammed reflexes and developmental stages of motor learning. As we grow and mature physically as infants, we begin our progression through these stages, learning how to properly stabilize our bodies, and get motion through the joints in specific sequences in order to eventually gain the ability to walk upright and perform complex, athletic maneuvers. If your brain learns good movement by progressing through these stages, then why shouldn't we get ready to train by progressing through these same stages?

The benefits of warming up this way are two-fold:

  1. Whether you are a professional athlete or a staggering motor-control disaster, going through these progressions provides us with a great screen prior to an intense training session. If we are having trouble finding stability or are experiencing pain during any of the movements, it allows us to intervene and further assess the issue, before we load up 300 pounds on a barbell and run into trouble.
  2. Barring no difficulty moving or pain during the warmup, it provides a great reflexive priming for your central nervous system to groove the patterns we are working and helps our tissues to be ready to accommodate the stress we are about to place it under, not to mention it greatly helps our nervous system to learn more effectively.

Well if utilizing these stages of motor learning is so great, what ARE the postural progressions of movement? How do we use exercises to utilize these positions effectively?

This is how we progress through our developmental stages of motor learning.

This is how we progress through our developmental stages of motor learning.

Now for the breakdown:

Supine (lying on your back) - This is kind of our ground zero position. From here, we respond to different stimulus and begin to interact with the world around us. Eye movements guide our attention, leading to turning of the head utilizing neck musculature. From this position we also begin to learn to stabilize through the core to allow movement of the limbs.

Favorite exercises in this position: Rolling patterns, Deadbugs

Prone/“Sphinx” (lying on your stomach) - Once we have gained the ability to roll over from on our back to on our belly, we begin to have to use our extensor muscles a lot more. The first thing we need to do is lift our heads and use our arms to prop ourselves up. This propped-up-on-elbows, head-up position is where we start to develop shoulder stability. Believe it or not, our first weight bearing joint is the shoulder!

Favorite exercises in this position: Sphinx reaches, Elbow crawling

Quadruped (on your hands and knees) - Somewhere along the way, we gain the ability to get our hips flexed and our legs underneath us, landing us in the quadruped or “crawl” position. This is where we really start to develop our cross-patterning and oblique slings that are so vital to our gait patterns (walking and running).

Favorite exercises in this position: quadruped rocking, crawling variations, birddogs, etc.

Kneeling (upright on one or both knees) - There are actually quite a few different variations of positions that we sift through in this stage. I tend to focus mostly on tall kneeling and half-kneeling. This is where really begin to develop hip stability, particularly in extension.  Even in my most advanced training programs, I love to sprinkle in copious amounts of kneeling presses and rows. 

Favorite exercises in this position: chop variations, presses, pulls, isometric stability drills, etc.

Split-Stance (upright on both feet - staggered stance) - This may not typically be a developmental stage included in everyone’s list, but I like to utilize it for helping clients learn to stabilize the hips in opposition, much like in half kneeling, only standing instead.

Favorite exercise in this position: split-squats, split-stance cable rows, split-stance

Standing/Gait (upright on both feet) - This is our end-goal in regards to basic locomotion. All the previous stages we progress through are meant to get us to the point where we can stand, walk, run, and ultimately be stable doing those things. Since there are too many exercises to count that are done while standing, I’m going to refrain from listing some of my “favorite” exercises.

Now that we understand the positions a bit better, let’s put together a sample warmup routine.

Rolling Patterns 1 x 5/limb

 

Deadbugs 1 x 20

 

Sphinx Reaches 1 x 10/side

Quadruped Rocking 1 x 20

Baby Crawling 1 x 20

Half-Kneeling Cable Chop 1x 8/side

Alternating Lateral Lunge Walk 1 x 10/side

Pardon all the random videos, but I don't have my own video database finished, so bear with me for now.

Although I seldom deviate from this format, depending on an individual client’s specific issues, we may spend more time in one position than another, or avoid certain positions altogether. We may also include tissue work and mobility drills if necessary. Always design your programs and warmup routines based on a comprehensive assessment. 

Hopefully this provides some helpful insight in regards to not only creating a good warmup routine, but also of how the human body functions. These same positions and progressions need to be accounted for in any training program. If you have any further questions, feel free to let me know!

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