Stretch, Engage, Activate: The 3 Things You Should Do Before Every Workout

This article was originally written for STACK.

Jumping straight into an intense workout without a proper warm-up is a recipe for disaster. Yet spending 30 minutes stretching before every lift is a waste of time.

The solution?

A three-step process that can be boiled down to "stretch, engage and activate."

The following warm-up accomplishes all of these goals in under 10 minutes, and it's the perfect way to prime your body for just about any type of workout. If you don't have the discipline to check off these three boxes before you train, don't be surprised if your results aren't what you envisioned!

1. Stretch

Before training, we want to dynamically stretch chronically tight muscles. For the upper body, this includes the pecs and lats. For the lower body: quads, hamstrings and glutes. We also want to loosen stiff joints, such as areas surrounding the shoulder and hip complex.

In your warm-up, focus on movements that target these areas first. Move in a slow and controlled fashion, while paying attention to any particularly tight or painful areas. If you find some, spend some extra time to ease out that tension.

This portion of your warm-up should take no more than a few minutes. Three to four sets of any of the following exercises will have you covered:

Upper Body:

  • Band Dislocate

  • Band Around-the-World

  • Wall/Floor Slide

Lower Body:

  • Shin Box Switch

  • Deep Squat to Hamstring Stretch

  • Hip Swing

2. Engage

The second step in this system is to engage target muscles. Specifically, we want to "turn on" areas that are chronically underused so that they can better assist in later lifts. For upper body, this is the upper back. For lower body, this is the glutes.

Here, we want to use high reps and/or isometric holds to pump blood into these areas. Chase the pump, and ensure you get a good burn before moving on. By this point, you should be breaking a sweat. Again, this portion of the warm-up should take no more than 2-3 minutes. Aim for reps in the 15+ range or hold any of these positions for 30+ seconds:

Upper Body:

  • Band Pull Apart

  • Band Face Pull

  • Lying Y-W-T

Lower Body:

  • Hip Thrust

  • Glute Bridge

  • Cossack Squat

3. Activate

The final step in our warm-up is to activate the central nervous system, or CNS. "Waking up" the CNS will help recruit more muscles, and will enable you to lift with more power and purpose.

To activate the CNS, we need to get explosive. Exercises such as jumps, sprints, and throws are ideal. Perform just 2-3 sets of these movements in low rep ranges (3-5 reps).

Upper Body:

  • Medicine Ball Slam or Throw

  • Explosive Jumping Jack or Seal Jack

  • Lying Y-W-T Isometric Hold

Lower Body:

  • Kettlebell Swing

  • Broad Jump

  • Sled Sprint