What Makes a Good Warm-Up?

Last week we talked about how a good warm-up can increase performance and the risks associated with not warming up properly. If you missed it, click here to check it out.

Remember: Essentially, a good warm-up should: prime an athlete's body for optimal performance and lower the risk of injury. On the other hand, a bad warm-up can hinder an athlete's ability to perform, and increase the athlete's chance of injury.

"But coach, I've never seen a lion stretch before he hunts"

Well, you're not made of 420 lbs of pure muscle, so let's go a little further than "stretching."

So let's get on to what a good warm-up looks like, and how we program warm-ups for our athletes at Summit.

The basic warm-up outline can be broken down into the acronym of "RAMP," as designed by Dr. Ian Jeffreys.

The warm-up should:

  • Raise vitals (heart rate, core body temperature. Your car runs better once it warms up a bit. Your body does too)
  • Activate the muscles associated with following exercise
  • Mobilize the joints associated with following exercise
  • Potentiate

*Remember: These steps can overlap (one exercise can do two of the four principles)... And that's okay! Killing two birds with one stone makes for time efficiency. *

Following these guidelines allows for a good direction in warming up, but allows for tons of room for creativity of the specific exercises used. So let's discuss each step a bit more before we create a specific warm-up.

*Keep in mind: The training session that follows will help dictate what exercises should be included.*


Raising the vitals should not be a fatiguing warm-up, but a gentle one! A mile jog is certainly overkill, for a baseball player but may be optimal for a cross country runner. Remember it is all relative to the type of training that follows!

  • Let's look at two options.
    • A two minute jog at a moderate pace, or
    • 1 x 25 jumping jacks, 1x 25 jump rope, and 10 yds of cariocas

Both have the same positive effect on the vitals: increased blood flow, increased heart rate, increased body temperature, all good. The dynamic exercises as opposed to the jog, however, also combine in some activation of the calves and thoracic spine mobility. The latter gives you more bang for your buck (time efficiency)

*Note: The "activate" and "mobilize phases" don't have to be in sequential order, they can interchange and overlap*


  • This is the stage that most would identify with stretching, but keep reading, there's an important twist.
  • The goal of this stage is to lengthen certain tissues (in a healthy manner), improve ROM of specific joints, and allow the athlete to operate in an increased ROM during the sport activity.
    • Therefore, mobilization should be specific to the training that will ensue.
      • Example: If the athlete is warming up for a lower body workout (let's say squats), then focus on the lower body, hips and spine. We don't have to worry about the arms as much. However, if an athlete is going to team practice, we should mobilize it all.
    • Mobilization should also be athlete specific - if athlete A has phenomenal hip mobility, there's not a real need to spend excess time of mobilizing his hips. However, athlete B, who has poor ROM in his hips, should definitely invest some time mobilizing his hips before training.
    • Also, dynamic stretches are more effective than static exercises (don't hold a stretch for 30 seconds). Dynamic stretches typically involve moving into end range of mobility several times, not getting there and holding it.
      • For example: an inchworm would be preferred to a seated hamstring stretch


  • Next, we should activate our muscles; this means getting them used to contracting. This helps ensure all muscles are ready to do their job, and helps make sure we're using the maximum number of muscle fibers in each muscle. Time to wake those puppies up!
  • Try exercises that use large muscle groups, in order to be time efficient
    • In a warm up for baseball practice, try using body weight squats, SL RDL, reverse lunge to get the legs activated, several muscle groups at a time.
      • *Note: Practicing foundational movements as well such as hip hinge will also help promote good patterning in the swing and throw during training*
  • Training Specific Muscle Groups - again, we should focus on the systems that will be used in the training session.
    • Don't have to do a lot of upper body activation for a squat day.
    • However, probably should activate it all for baseball
  • Don't forget to activate your core!
  • Your true, anatomical core is everything that attaches your arms and legs to the middle of your body. Your core helps transfer the energy you create in your legs up into your torso and arms. This is essential to sport movements such as throwing and hitting. The core allows you to use your legs and put that force generated into the ball you're throwing.


  • Potentiation is the last step in the warm up. It is the process of gradually getting your body ready to work at full capacity in your specific sport movement, now that our body is hot and ready to start working.
  • Most of us potentiate every time we work out, but don't realize it. Here's what potentiation looks like:
    • If we know today we're going to bench 225 for 3 sets of 5, we don't walk up to the rack, throw 225 on the bar and start benching. First, we do 10 reps of 135. Then 5 of 175. Then 3 of 200. Then we start our working sets. This is potentiation. We are getting accustomed to the specific movement we're about to do, starting and a lower intensity, then building up.
    • Here's the cool part: potentiation is the same at our sport practice! We don't show up to the field, walk straight onto the mound and throw at 100% effort. We start tossing at 15 feet first, and then gradually work out to a longer distance before getting on the bump.
  • You can also think of potentiation as getting our central nervous system to fire at full speed. And when we think of the CNS, think about being explosive.
  • So you could incorporate a couple sprints, skater hops for distance, or rotational med ball tosses (great for hitting) in order to prime the CNS for training.

Now that we know what a good warm-up should generally look like, stay tuned, because next week, we'll discuss a specific, detailed warm-up that we would give an athlete at Summit Sports Performance!

Citations Jeffreys, Ian. (2007). Jeffreys I (2007) Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning. (6) 12-18. Professional Strength and Conditioning. 12-18.

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