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Movement Prep: The low hanging fruit for hitting new PR's!

The Principles of Movement Prep (A.K.A. your warm up)

If you are training or competing in or for (insert activity/sport here) then you have probably stumbled across the question of “What should I do before my workout or competition?”

Now there are a few different things people normally do after asking this question…

1) Nothing, strap up and go. “I’ll warm up eventually” “I’m young” “I don’t need to warm up” “I normally am feeling good around mile 1, hole number 3, 2nd possession…etc”.

2) “Let me pull on my quads a little bit”. “Maybe move my arms back and forth.” “Bend over touch my toes, do a round of high knees”, “I’ll do a few empty barbell snatches”…2 minutes later, “lets go. I’m good.”


3) A comprehensive approach to movement preparation to help you perform your best…what this article is all about.

I’m a firm believer in knowing “Why” I am doing something….so here it is.

Attaining a higher level of performance. Fend off future injury. Feel like “you” from the time you start your training. If you are training for something or competing in anything, you want to perform better. You put in hours a day trying to perfect your craft, make the most out of the time you put in. In life and in training, wasted time is a detriment to your success. If you are unable to perform the movement patterns without compensation or without the speed at which you need to, simply because you “are not warmed up.” You’re wasting time. You’re wasting opportunities to get better and you may be developing abnormal movement patterns detrimental to your goals. You’re also opening the door for pain and dysfunction to enter your life. You don’t like when someone wastes your time, so why are you wasting your own? Be productive and intentional with your actions.


If you have 7 sets of snatches or 6 x 400m repeats… make sure you’re truly getting the most out your training. Make sure you feel just as ready for your 1st set as you do for your 5th set. The first 2 sets of training should NOT be your “warm-up”.

The purpose of the movement prep is to prepare your body for action. In the 20-30 minutes prior to getting into your first training set, you’re going to want to…

1) Lubricate your joints.

2) Increase tissue elasticity.

3) Increase the perfusion of blood to your tissues.

4) Prime your central nervous system for the movement you want to perform.

5) Increase your core body temperature to enable your physiology to work more efficiently.

Anatomy of Movement Preparation:

  • General “Warm up”

  • Targeted Mobility

  • Semi-Specific movement preparation

  • Specific movement preparation and Energy System preparation

Your daily preparation will be different depending on the activity you’re performing that day. However the template above is a good starting point for developing an effective and intentional “warm-up”.

General “warm up”

The general warm up is simple. It’s a low weight bearing, low intensity, and low skill movements that require large musculature and is performed in a cyclical manner. The prime purpose of this is to lubricate your joints, increase tissue elasticity, increase perfusion of blood to your tissues, beginning to up-regulate your central nervous system, and beginning to increase your core temperature. It’s the first and easiest thing for you to do before your training.

Examples of a general warm up may be:

  • Rowing on a concept 2 erg,

  • Riding the concept assault bike

  • Skiing on a concept 2 ski erg

  • Performing a brief walk-jog

  • Performing a few jump ropes

  • Even pushing a light prowler

Set the timer for 5-10 minutes and just move at a low intensity through one of the above movements or a combination of a few movements. The key is just to start moving. This is not a 5-minute row for distance or a chance to push a heavy sled. It’s just moving your body.

This is NOT how your warm up should look:

Targeted Mobility

Why? Develop the positions needed for success and for joint health. It’s pretty rare that I stumble across someone who doesn’t need some kind of mobility work. Now, if you’re hyper mobile in every single portion of your body do not mobilize yourself more. You’re only making things worse. However, for the other 99% of you, here’s the plan. Be intentional with your mobility. Mobility is not just rolling around on a foam roller and talking with friends. It’s a time at which you are going to develop the positions you’ll be using during training that that. It’s a time to prepare your tissues and joints for the loads you’re about to throw at them. A major principle I want to stress during your mobility is being active. Be active in mobilizing your body into the positions demanded of it. You don’t train your body passively, do you? Prepare for being active by being active. Rolling passively on a ball or a roller doesn’t fit into this category. What does?

  • Think banded mobilizations, active controlled movement into the range you need to get into, contract relax of your muscles, tack and floss of your tissues, end range isometrics, controlled articular rotations…etc.

Now be intentional with the mobilizations you choose. You don’t have all day and you want to get training. Be efficient with your time. I recommend picking 3 mobilizations for the day.

  • #1 being your biggest “G.O.A.T.” You’re self-proclaimed biggest area of trouble.

  • #2 and #3 being positions related to your training for the day…what positions do you need to get into during the training session? That questions answers the mobilizations that occupy #2 and #3.

  • Spend an intentional focused 30-120s per mobilization and move on. This is not a 30-minute relaxation session; it’s 5 to 10 minutes of preparation.

Semi-Specific Movement Preparation

(I’m not a huge fan of this terminology that’s about to follow this… but it’s a term you may have heard before…) it’s your “activation” work, your “turning on the glutes”, “turning on the lats”…etc.

Your semi-specific movement patterns at their core are primitive-simplified components of the movements your about to perform. This is the time where you start to prime your central nervous system for the squat, hinge, lunge, press, pull…etc.… pattern your about to perform. It’s the movements where you start to prime your proximal to distal stabilization patterns, prime the coordination and timing of the motor patterns. These are still relatively whole body movement patterns, but they introduce an increased layer of specificity to the patterns you want to perform.

Exercises that may fall into this are:

  • primal crawling

  • monster walks

  • banded RDL’s

  • inch worms

  • scapular push ups

  • ring rows

  • banded squats

  • banded pull apart

  • banded rows..etc.

These are normally exercising that make your first few reps on your specific movement “feel good”.

Specific Movement Prep and Specific Energy System Preparation

This is the final step before diving into your training. This is your barbell warm up, your running drills, your muscle up transition skill work, your shoulder taps, your warm up tosses on the baseball field. This is probably the thing you skip to and say your good to go. The purpose here to put the finishing touches on priming your CNS for the coordination, timing, and speed demands of the movement for the day. This area is also a time where you start to prime your aerobic or anaerobic energy systems for your training demands. Have you ever started a 10-minute AMRAP and felt as if your body was in shock about 60-90s in? Well you probably didn’t do a great job of priming your energy systems. You want your movement patterns to be dialed in and your energy systems working how they should BEFORE you start your training. So you want to PR your mile time? Don’t forget this piece.

How do I know what to do in my movement preparation?

Take the movement you are doing that day and perform a task analysis on it. Break down the movement patterns to their basic positional requirements, the basic movement demands, and the basic energy system requirements. Once you do that, you should be able to plug the variables into the template above and start.

So lets recap…

  • General “Warm up” = 5-10 minutes

  • Targeted Mobility = 5-10 minutes

  • Semi-Specific movement preparation = 5 minutes

  • Specific Movement preparation and Energy System preparation = 5 minutes

This is a total of 20-30 minutes of your time that will help you capitalize on the next 60-90 minutes of training.

If you are serious about your goals then you will take the time to prepare your body for action. If you know the reasoning behind the movement preparation it becomes obvious that it’s an important piece into your training program and should not be skipped.

So from here on out, give this movement preparation template a try, take a note on how much better you feel and perform…and continue pursuing after your goals.

Dr. Michael Tancini DPT

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