Your Dynamic Warm Up Is Killing Your Gains, Bro


Can I be honest with you?

Do you aspire to be on the spread of a fitness magazine flashing your abs or defined glutes? Do you think once you find the “secret” that those dudes and dudettes in the fitness magazines have, you’ll suddenly get to their level over night?

Well, you’re partially right, they do have an advantage, but it’s not something found in a bottle or cutting-edge routine. It’s not because you need to find the underground supplement they have that you don’t. It’s not because you don’t consume enough protein. It’s not because they have a better training program than you.

No, it’s not because of any of those things.

The fact is these pros have drawn pocket aces in the genetics poker game, while you’ve been dealt an off-suit, non-pair.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Let me shoot it to you straight: Genetics are a bitch and play a part in bodybuilding/fitness like they do in most professional sports.

But there’s a silver lining. You may not have what it takes to get paid to look a certain way, but that’s OK – the best version of yourself is going to still be pretty kick ass, just don’t mortgage a legitimate career path pursuing the unrealistic dream.

What it boils down to…

Stop complicating things. Stop program hopping. Stop looking for the next great supplement that’ll open the floodgates to new-found gains. Stop doing your complicated 30 minute dynamic warm up. Yep, that’s the “secret” you’ve been searching for.

I’m all for educating yourself on all things bodybuilding and aspiring to be the best version of yourself possible, but there’s a point of diminishing returns in today’s world of easy access to free information. How do I know?

I’ve Been There

When I jumped head first into bodybuilding, my reasons were simple enough. Originally, my sole goal for getting in shape was to be noticed. That was it. Noticed by other humans. Noticed for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Noticed so I could live the life I wanted to live. I owe a lot to bodybuilding, as without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

But rather than take the balanced approach, I replaced one obsession (junk food and video games) with another (weight lifting).  And my 360-degree into fitness quickly turned into an unhealthy obsession. I withdrew myself further from the world, measuring every morsel of food that went in my mouth, refusing to eat dinner with the family and avoiding social gatherings so I could maximize my REM sleep. Gainz, bro!


It took a while to come to the realization that I was wasting some of the best years of my life to chase a dream that wasn’t a reality for me. I looked like I lifted weights, sure, and plenty of women stared me down (OK, that last point was likely because I was known to loiter during “last call” at the local cougar clubhouse) but I didn’t have what it took to go much beyond that.

It was not until I loosened the reins a bit, stopped over-analyzing every detail, and started to enjoy life in and out of the gym that things began to fall into place.

Even though mentorships with coaches were a big part of my development, I figured things out for myself along the way, too. I fear the science has taken over. Without the self experimentation, hardships and roadblocks I faced along the way, I’d argue the journey I’ve undergone would not be nearly as satisfying or successful.

Over Analyzing Gets You Nowhere

Does your pre-gym checklist go a little something like this? Protein shake primed for anabolic window. Check. AXE Body spray. Double check. Hockey bag full of medieval training devices, chains and whips right out of a scene from 50 Shades of Grey? Check, check, check.

I see too much of this from guys and gals who should be sticking to the basics for their level of development. Hell, even some advanced trainees take it to the extreme in the name of science. And in fairness, it’s not your fault. Google and blogs like this one are to blame. The fitness world likes to jump on the latest ‘proven’ scientific theories as a way to create new material, but often these recommendations are made without providing context.

Just because self myofascial release by way of foam rolling has gotten a lot of press and can be a useful tool when implemented properly, it does not mean you need to start every workout dry humping the thing to smithereens. Self myofascial release has a place, just save it for post-workout or when you’ve got a few free minutes on an off day.

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The more time I’ve spent in the gym, the more I realize a consistent routine is going to best the complicated, dynamic, functional, AMRAP double axel, double twist variation every time. Trying to manage all aspects of this game outside the gym is stressful enough. Let the gym be your stress reliever; don’t pile on the complications there too.

And you know why consistent beats complicated? Because the former allows you to train by feel. Bodybuilding requires constant self evaluation – you need to be in tune with how your body responds to training stimulus. It’s you vs. you. If you’re following someone else’s routine without listening to your body’s feedback to that routine, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Practical Applications 

Again, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying simplify things to such a degree that you walk into the gym cold and load up the bar for your heaviest set of squats. But nor should you need 17 variations of dynamic stretches, 40 sets of bodyweight squats and a half hour on the foam roller to get some blood flowing. Or I.E. Don’t start your workout with 225-lb BOSU ball squats (my knees hurt looking at it)

It’s all about squatting 225 on a BOSU now. Photo credit:

I suspect your time is limited, so why not optimize what little of it you have in the gym?

As I’ve gotten older and eclipsed that dirty 30 benchmark, my knees and shoulder mobility are not what they once were and need to be “mobilized” before I get into my working sets. I’m not denying the need for some form of warm up.

But you can raise your body temperature and get the joints lubricated without all that fancy stuff – it’s a solution that works more often than not, and it’s not some obscure ointment shipped from India.

It’s Exercise Sequence!

Take, for example, a typical tricep routine. Skullcrushers will wreck your elbows when doing them first, but put them last after you’ve pyramided up on some low impact joint movements and you’ll all but eliminate elbow pain. Start instead with low load pushdowns (rope or bar), pyramid up in weight on those over 6+ sets, and you’ll fill the tricep and elbow joint with blood, better protecting it for the heavier work to follow.

If your knee aches cripple your leg workouts, hammer your hamstrings first instead of jumping right into squats. Follow hammies with some light quad work, whether that be leg extensions that pyramid up in weight (don’t start too heavy), goblet squats (good for getting your form perfect) or some step-ups/box jumps, hell any exercise that works for YOU without undo knee stress. John Meadows gets credit for showing me the light here.Note: Box jumps are meant to get the CNS firing, not be a conditioning tool. Read Eric Bach’s article on box jumps for the expert insight on that

After a few preliminary exercises, then I’ll work in some knee and hip mobility drills before squats. Simple exercises like walking knees to chest, hip swings, or planks with glutes squeezed (bonus points if you wear shorts a size too small and wink at the row of elliptical bunnies while you do this) all have their place here, and don’t take much time to accomplish. Then slowly pyramid up in weight as you go through your typical squat progression.

Some argue you won’t be as strong on your compound movements when you push them later in the workout, and that may take some adjusting to, but the difference is negligible in my experience. In fact, without knee pain, squats are a helluva lot more fun (so says Captain Obvious). But bear in mind, I’m also speaking from a hypertrophy perspective, so if you’re training strictly for strength and power, different rules apply.

I’d also recommend buying some proper-fitting knee sleeves for additional support. Tommy Kono and Rehband are two brands I frequently hear recommended. I have a pair of Grizzly Fitness sleeves that work fairly well.

For shoulders and chest, meanwhile, don’t move right into your heavy pressing movements. Start with a machine press or dumbbell movement (flat DB press, side laterals, hammer strength machine etc.).

Shoulder mobility and warm up can be improved through band overhead shoulder rotations or spider wall walks with band (hat tip to John Meadows). For extra tight shoulders, check out Eric Cressey’s shoulder warm-up video

Footnote: If the exercise still causes you pain, find an alternative. There’s too many options out there to suffer through one that causes you the bad kind of pain, and you’ll know what that is when you feel it.

The Bottom Line

If you were to listen to all the incoming messages out there – and implement them all – you’d end up going in circles. I hope, for your own sake, you start to believe in yourself a little more.

Shut down your web browser, implement a program or hire a coach you believe in and adapt as you go based on what your body is telling you. It knows better.

Set yourself free. The gains will soon follow.


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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.