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How to Properly Warmup For Your Workout

How to properly warm up for exercise

One question that I get asked fairly often as a personal trainer is 'how should I warm up for a workout?' or 'is warming up really that important?' Warming up properly before exercise is extremely important for both keeping you safe, and maximizing your workout potential! A warmup should vary depending on the type of exercise or sport that you will be participating in. In this article I am going to break down the basic principles of warming up for exercise, as well as giving a few examples of good warmups.

The primary goals of your exercise warmup should be to...

• Raise body temperature by increasing blood flow

• Raising neural activation

• Engaging the muscles you’ll be using during your workout

• Mobilizing the joints you will be using during your workout session

• Gradually increasing the stress on your body to prepare for the upcoming stress of the workout.

To simplify these goals, let's learn about the R.A.M.P. principle. R.A.M.P. stands for raise, activate, mobilize, and potentiate. Let's break down each of those terms.

Proper Exercise Warmup - Following the RAMP Protocol


When preparing for a workout we want to raise our body temperature and our neural activation. To

raise our body temperature we want to get our blood flowing to the muscles that we will be

using during the workout by elevating our heart rate. To raise neural activation we are basically going to be participating in an activity of light to moderate intensity that gets our bodies in motion. I like to consider this the "wake up" phase of the warm up.

Raising the heart rate before a workout is important for the body

Example exercises of the "raise" phase of our warm up typically will include some light-moderate intensity cardio like a treadmill walk or jog, jumping rope, hopping on a stationary bike, or spending some time on an elliptical.


The activate phase of our workout is going to focus on engaging the muscles that will be used in the exercise session. Often times this phase of the warmup is accomplished through bodyweight movements or with light loads of resistance. If you've watched any swimming event you might have seen some of the swimmers slapping their muscles prior to their race. They do this with the intent of activating those muscles during the event.

There are a lot of ways to activate the muscles that you will be using during your workout. One example that I could give would be doing bodyweight squats or lunges prior to a lower body focused workout, or doing pushup variations prior to an upper body workout.

Another strategy for activating muscles is through dynamic stretches and movements. Things like arm slaps, shoulder shrugs and rolls, knee hugs, scoops, dynamic skips and lunge variations, etc.

One method that I have recently seen a lot of professional athletes and personal trainers implement is using a trigger point massage tool to activate muscles. I have seen conflicting research as to if this works well or not, however I have not seen any research suggesting that this diminishes workout performance.


Mobilizing the joints is important for exercise warmup

The next principle we will be implementing into our workout warmup is mobilizing the joints that will be used during our workout. For most workouts we will be primarily focused on mobilizing the hip and knee joints, but some sports and other activities might also require ankle and/or wrist mobilization as well.

There are a few different ways you can mobilize the joints. Some methods include bodyweight movements like squats and lunges, moving through some yoga positions, rotator cuff mobilization strategies, hip internal and external rotations, and joint flossing.


Potentiate is just a fancy word for gradually increasing the intensity of the exercise that you do prior to the actual workout. You want to gradually increase the stress on your body before the workout so that your body isn't shocked into an intensity that it's not ready for. Sprinter's never jump right into sprints when they workout or exercise. They typically do dynamic movements, jogs, build up sets, etc. and then they begin sprinting. This is an important step in injury prevention.

Potentiation primarily occurs during warm up sets, but it also occurs by gradually increasing the intensities of the other steps of the warmup as well.

Examples of good warmups before exercise

Justin is training to build some more muscle and get stronger. Today he is going to do a lower body focused workout. Prior to slapping some plates on a squat bar, Justin goes through a solid warmup to mitigate the risk of injury, and to maximize his workout potential. First, Justin hops on a stationary bike for 5 minutes just to get the blood flowing. After that, Justin goes through some hip external and internal rotation walks. Then, he does a few dynamic movements that include walking side lunges, and a few deep squats while also focusing on his squat form. Prior to lifting in his working sets with a 225 pound load, he performs one warmup set with 135 pound load, and another with a 185 pound load.

Let's check if Justin followed the RAMP protocol for warming up for exercise.

Raise: Stationary bike for 5 minutes

Activate: Dynamic bodyweight movements, bodyweight squats

Mobilize: Hip external and internal rotation walks, deep squats

Potentiate: Warmup sets prior to his working sets

Looks like a great warmup to me!

Let's see what Miranda's warmup looks like. Miranda is trying to lose 20 pounds within the next 6 months before her cruise to the Bahamas (that's such a well structured goal!). She has been killing it when it comes to eating healthy and making sure she is in a caloric deficit, and she knows that resistance training is important because it helps the body maintain a high metabolism while losing weight. Today she's doing a full body workout that is pretty high in intensity. She starts by moving through some yoga poses that mobilize the entire body. After that, she does some high knees, butt kicks, and arm swings. Then she hops on an elliptical and gradually increases the intensity over 10 minutes.

Let's see how she did!

Raise: Elliptical

Activate: Dynamic movements and yoga poses

Mobilize: Moving through yoga poses

Potentiate: Gradually increase intensity on elliptical

Another great warmup!

Start designing your workout warmups by using the RAMP principles to mitigate injury risk, and to maximize your workout potential!


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