Tactical Fitness Workout: Warmups During Strength Training Cycles

Coast Guard personnel take part in morning calisthenics.
Coast Guard personnel from the 91106 Marine Safety and Security Team (MSST) perform morning calisthenics at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, N.Y., July 30, 2003. (PA1 Tom Sperduto/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Most of our training injuries happen when we lift too much, run too fast or do too many repetitions.

Doing any of these when not properly warmed up is a sure way to injure yourself. Whether you are a tactical athlete or avid lifter, a warmup before lifting weights is critical.

For the most part, these warmups take only minutes and typically look a lot like the exercise we are preparing to do.

Depending on what phase you are at in the tactical athlete process, you may need to lift heavy weights to get strong. However, you cannot neglect the endurance and muscle stamina fitness elements, either, since you will need them for test-taking or selection events in the near future.

What are some options for warming up before lifting weights that can be effective in preventing injury, as well as help with staying well-rounded on the tactical athlete spectrum?

To stay well-rounded and maintain muscle stamina and cardio endurance during a strength training cycle, you simply include many of the calisthenics-based testing exercises as part of your split-routine warmup.

That is why I like to design my warmup with a mix of running and push-ups arranged in a short pyramid fashion. For instance, if we are doing exercises like bench presses, push presses, heavy rows and other upper-body weights, we do the following options:

Push-up/run pyramid:

Use a variety of slow push-ups to engage different movements.

Easy run of 100m -- do 1 regular push-up and 1 reverse push-up.

Easy run of 100m -- do 2 wide stance push-ups (hands wider than shoulders) and 2 Birds.

Easy run of 100m -- do 3 close stance push-ups (hands touching under the chest) and 3 arm haulers.

Easy run of 100m -- do 4 alternating push-ups (hands high and low above and below the shoulders ...

Keep moving up the pyramid until you get to 10 (stop at 10) and resort to regular push-ups if the variety of push-ups gets too hard.

Some military branches are using cadence push-ups set to a metronome at one repetition every two seconds or 60 reps in two minutes. Strive to do these warmup push-ups at a one second down, one second up pace.

Once you get to level 10 of the pyramid, you will find this is a good upper-body push warmup.

Mixing in some reverse push-ups, Birds and arm haulers of the PT reset will add to the muscle movements and engage the pulling motions of the shoulders and upper back as well.

You can mix in some pull-ups, lightweight shoulder work and band pulls to finish warming up the upper body.

Make the runs easy jogs (not sprints) and mix in dynamic stretches for both the legs, hips and upper body, as well as leg swings, front kicks, side steps and shoulder circles, etc.

You do not have to have a 100-meter football field. You can use a basketball court to make the running distance shorter if you prefer. If your warmups start to blend into your workout, then you are doing it right.

When you are lifting weights for your first few sets, they should be light to moderate weights that allow you to have easy repetitions. Consider this the final stages of the warmup.

Once you start to get into greater than 60%-75% of your one-rep max (1RM), you want to be fully prepared for that lift -- whatever lift it is.

The goal of the warmup before lifting weights is to get blood flowing throughout the area that supports the joints that are being worked. That is accomplished by doing the actual movements from your weightlifting workout with no weight or doing a calisthenics version to achieve the same blood flow.

You then can add weight progressively to lubricate the joints. The time spent warming up can be just as fun as the max of the workout if you get creative with it. Your warmups should be well worth the few minutes spent, especially since they can help prevent weeks or months where you're unable to train because of muscle pulls or joint damage.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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