Over the past six weeks, I have worked out on the "down low" at my local Santa Barbara fitness studio. While working out, I have washed my hands after the successful completion of each exercise using Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day hand soap and followed strict social distancing protocols according to the CDC's controversial new handbook "Six Feet Apart or Six Feet Under."
The global pandemic gives me the unique opportunity to spend more quality time at the gym reevaluating the effectiveness of my own workouts. It also gave me time to listen to random music on Spotify that I never would have listened to before the pandemic (thank you Lil Mosey!). This forced hiatus away from all typical gym distractions helped me glean some bits of workout insight that might help you guys as you spend some time trying to improve your level of fitness.
Let's start at the beginning with the most important part of your workout - the warm-up.
Why should I waste my valuable time on the stupid warm-up? Time is money and I'm paying you by the hour.
1. The warm-up lets you slowly increase blood flow throughout the body and increase internal body temperature before you run over to the bench press. You'll need to make sure the blood is flowing into those huge muscles when you decide to load up the bar on that first rep out of the gate.
2. Gives you a chance to stretch out any muscles that may feel tight or restricted. You'll be less likely to pull something when you start lifting heavier weights. A loose and flexible body won't give you as many back and hip problems when you end up sitting at your desk for 8 hours straight.
3. Allows you to work on improving the mobility in all your joints. I've seen plenty of you guys in the gym and we all have our issues with mobility. With me, it's my extremely tight hips, which leads to my lousy-looking squat. With other people, it could be limited shoulder mobility caused by hours and hours of computer work and crappy posture. Doesn't really matter where your problem area is, the warm-up is your time to work on improving things.
4. Gets your mind in the game. The warm-up is a safe way to slowly get your focus off your kids, spouse, job, car problems or family pet before your start having to pay attention to lifting with proper form. Don't waste this opportunity to really connect with your body and feel what's going on.
Take your time. A solid warm-up will take 20-30 minutes.
Don't fall into the trap of skimping on your warm-up. Walking aimlessly on a treadmill or pedaling on a recumbent bicycle for 5 to 10 minutes is not an effective warm-up. The job of the warm-up is to get your entire body ready to work, but it's also your opportunity to work on improving the flexibility of tight muscles and mobility of your joints. Here's what I've been doing for my warm-up over the past 6 weeks. You'll need a straight bar and a yoga brick:
The Standing Series: Obviously, these exercises are all done while standing. These are good exercises to get your heart rate elevated, your muscles warmed up and your joints loosened up. You will eventually transition down to your hands and knees for the second half of the warm-up.
Toe touch to back bend. Start with the toe touch to stretch the hamstrings. Slowly work yourself up from the bent-over position to standing. You may get light-headed if you rush back up. Keep your arms in line with your ears before you start that backbend. Feel the stretch in your stomach and continue to breathe through the bend. Hold for a 3-count. 4 complete repetitions.
Shoulder rotations. Using a straight bar (a PVC pipe or broomstick), start with the bar in front of you and slowly bring it over head and then behind you. Keep your arms straight by allowing your grip to widen as much as possible as you go over your head with the bar. Take your time. You want the motion to be slow and smooth. Feel the stretch in the front of your shoulders as you bring the bar behind you. 8 complete rotations.
Standing side bends. Keeping the bar over your head with your arms straight, slowly bend sideways from your waist until you feel a stretch through the opposite side of your body. Hold for a two-count. Slowly rise back up to the overhead position and repeat on the opposite side. Try not to rotate during the bend. 4 repetitions per side.
Bent-over upper body rotations. Start in a bent-over position with your back straight and eyes slightly looking forward. Keep the bar against both shoulder blades as you rotate the upper body from floor to ceiling. Hold for a two-count. Allow the back knee to bend, which will give you more rotation. 4 repetitions per side.
Single-leg deadlifts. Stand on both feet with the bar in both hands, shoulder-width apart, in front of you. Slowly raise one foot off the floor toward the ceiling while balancing on the opposite leg. Let the planted leg's knee bend for better balance. Try to keep the back leg straight and the hips squared to the floor. Slowly rise back to standing. Feel how hard your ankle's are working to keep you balanced. 4 repetitions per side.
Knee-to-wall ankle mobility. We all squat and move better with ankles that are mobile. Place your yoga brick against the wall. Put one toe against the front of the block. Slowly try to bring the same knee to touch the wall in front of you while keeping your heel flat against the floor. Your knee may not make it to the wall. That's okay. Pause and feel the stretch in your achilles tendon before returning to the starting position. 8 repetitions per side.
Standing quadricep stretch. Find something to hold on to. Bring one foot behind you toward you butt and grab it with the same hand. Push your hips forward, which should increase the stretch in the front of your leg. Pause for a 3-count. Lower your foot back to the floor and repeat on the opposite side. 4 repetitions per side.
Overhead squat. Place the bar over your head. Your hands should be wider than a shoulder-widths distance. Keep your shoulder blades retracted. From this position, try to sit back into your heels and lower your hips toward the floor until they are as close to parallel as possible. Keep the bar over your head, not out in front of you. Hold for a two-count. Slowly rise back up to the starting position. 8 repetitions.
Lateral lunge. Start with your hands in prayer position in front of your chest. Take one big step out sideways, keep your lead foot pointed straight out in front of you and allow your trailing leg to straighten and slightly rotate open. Lower you lead hip as close to the floor as possible. Pause and feel that stretch in the trailing leg. Push back up to the starting position. 8 repetitions per side.
Standing walk-outs. Start in a standing position and slowly bend forward so that your fingers or fingertips can touch the tops of your feet (if you can't touch your toes, then bend down and allow your knees to bend until you can touch your toes). Keeping your legs as straight as possible, slowly walk your body forward until you get to a full push-up position with you butt tight and hips in line with your upper body. Pause. Walk yourself back up to standing position one hand step at a time. Try to drive the heels into the floor and keep your legs straight as you walk yourself back up.
This is just the first part of my warm-up routine. Start with and master the Standing Series first, then I'll add the Floor Series to it. The Standing Series should take you a good 10-15 minutes to complete. This warm-up is a great way to 1) start your morning after you've had some coffee, 2) prepare for your kick-ass workout or 3) end your day to release some stress. Solid warm-up routines can do so much more than just get us ready for working out. We can really use them everyday just to get us functioning better as human beings.