The squat is one of the most common movement patterns we see performed in resistance training. As the vast majority of individuals have issues performing the squat due to mobility restrictions, warming up for the squat is an important part of your squat session. Even if your mobility is perfect, it will still be important to ensure you’re at your peak for your first working set. Let’s have a look at 8 very effective squat warm up exercises you can perform in your next squat warm up.
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We all know that warming up is important, but often forget the why and only think about the how, when we understand the why of warming up we can better design the how. “Both passive and active warm-up can evoke temperature, metabolic, neural and psychology-related effects, including increased anaerobic metabolism, elevated oxygen uptake kinetics and post-activation potentiation.”(1)
Neuromuscular activation is the ability of the brain to cause contraction in the muscle. Essentially we are just getting the muscles we are going to be using contracting and increasing blood flow to these areas in preparation. This style of warm ups have also been shown to reliably reduce injury . (2)
Skill preparation is an important part of a warm up, especially for beginners and when we are performing a more complex movement like the squat or the hinge. Just performing the movement pattern in question will allow us to find our grove in the movement, helping us prepare for the working sets to come. This is why professional athletes who play sports like tennis, basketball and baseball require long warm up periods (3), because of the fine motor skills required for these sports, warming up movement patterns in the gym may be far less complex, but they need to be warmed up all the same.
Warm ups provide a nice bridge into a session, as we go through our busy lives, it is important to prepare the body for physical output, to help us shift from work or parent mode into our session, if we jump straight into working sets often times we can lack focus. If you are preparing for a very challenging session or athletic event, you may want to consider even using a mental warm up (4), as these have been shown effective to reduce stress and improve performance.
It is very common to lack mobility in the squat movement pattern, the vast majority of people who arrive at the gym start with very tight hips and are unable to perform a squat to the proper range of motion. This makes movement through this range of motion in the warm very important, so we can open up the hip, knee and ankle joints on a regular basis to progressively improve our mobility.
It is very rare that we spend any time in the squat throughout our day to day lives, hence why it is the movement where mobility is the biggest issue. A lot of the other movement patterns like pulling and pushing have much lower prevalence of poor mobility and therefore are much easier to warm up for. This lack of movement throughout the knee and hip joints means that moving these joints in a warm up is very important prior to squatting with load.
“Squatting has been identified as a strength exercise with a raised risk of injury for the lower limbs and the trunk compared to other strength exercises”(5). Poor movement patterns in the squat can lead to injury, the same can be said for lacking concentration and physical preparedness. This means warming up correctly to be both physically and mentally prepared is very important when it comes to the squat.
Selecting the warm up exercises used depends on a number of factors that are specific to the individual performing them. These can be broken down into three categories.
If you are still dialling in your technique for the squat, then you will be much better off adding more squatting volume into your session and warming up for your squat workout with the squat. This could be as simple as doing a Goblet Squat with a light weight or a Tempo Air Squat . Either way if your lacking in technique, getting extra high quality repetitions in before adding load will always be beneficial.
If your technique is good but you are lacking in mobility, you may want to incorporate exercises which challenge your mobility rather than working on technique. An example of this might be the 90-90 hip twists, these do not take you through the squat movement directly but will open up the hips and help improve range of motion when performed in conjunction with strength work.
Some of my clients struggle from a lack of stability in the knees and the hips, and I like to combat this with warm up exercises that challenge these by adding in exercises like A-Stance Reverse Lunges into warm ups. This allows us to build balance and stability while warming up the joints that will be used in the primary exercise.
The warm up consists of two parts
The general warm up involves the exercises like those in the exercises listed below. If say I was coaching someone to warm them up for a full body resistance training session where the primary (first) exercise was a squat and the secondary a press up, then I would warm up both the squat and the horizontal press movement pattern and add a core exercise also. The warm up movements selected would take into consideration the points outlined above regarding exercise selection. Here is an example warm up for our full body resistance training session:
Complete 2 rounds
Once the general warm up has been performed, you will need to perform a movement specific warm up, preparing you for the specific squat variation you are performing in the training session. For our example let’s say that the movement is back squats and your first working set is at 75kg. Here I would perform:
This will allow you to be very physically and mentally prepared for your working set.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.