Effective Warmups to Improve your Squat, Bench, and Deadlift Numbers

The fastest way to get injured is failing to warm up and going into a workout cold.

Have you ever seen someone load up the bench press, proceed to eek out a few reps and then get up and  say “that was heavier than I remember”?

The weight felt heavy to them because they weren’t warmed up. At all.

Make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

 You know that I love the squat, bench, and deadlift.

These exercises are staples in my training as well as my clients programs. The big 3 can provide a huge return on investment, and can pack on muscle, burn fat, and help get you incredibly strong.

One reason a lot of people don’t perform back squats, barbell bench presses, or straight bar deadlifts is fear of injury.

Below are some highly effective warm-up exercises that won’t take a ton of time, but will better prepare you for the big 3.

Squat

big-squat

To better prepare you to squat, you’ll need to warm up the entire body. Without stretching, rolling, or mobilizing every single inch of your body, here are my go to warm ups for squatting.

1) Side lying Windmills

Side lying windmills are great to improve upper back mobility. Not only do you gain mobility through the t-spine, you’ll also get a bit of a pec stretch as you open the top hand. Upper back mobility is crucial for getting tight under the bar and putting yourself in a great position to squat.

Technique tips for the side lying windmill:

  1. Make sure your top knee is on the roller at all times. This helps to ensure you’re getting the range of motion through the upper back and not simply twisting through the low back.
  2. Keep the bottom leg straight.
  3. Make a big arc with your top arm, focusing on opening up through the upper back rather than simply rotating through the shoulder. Aim to get your top shoulder blade to the ground.
  4. Follow your hand with your eyes through each rep.
  5. Keep the rib cage down towards your belly button. We want to focus only on the upper back, not simply flaring the ribs and swinging the arms around in a circle.

Try 8-10 windmills per side to warm up the upper back for squatting.

2) Rocking Ankle Mobs

The rocking ankle mob is an excellent warm up prior to squatting. With this drill, you’ll warm up the ankle joint, calves, and hamstrings. A lot of people are limited when squatting due to poor ankle mobility, and tight calves. This one will definitely improve both of these issues.

Technique tips for the rocking ankle mob:

  1. Starting in a push up position, raise your hips up and place one foot on the back of the other.
  2. Perform ankle rocks (much like a calf raise) by lifting the heel off the ground and repeating.
  3. The goal is to get your heel to the ground on each rep, therefore going through a full range of motion as possible. You should feel a decent stretch in your calves.
  4. The farther away your hands are from your feet, the more challenging it will be to get your heel to the ground.

Perform 10 ankle rocks per side, making sure you are utilizing as much range of motion as possible.

3) Goblet Squats

Goblet squats are fantastic at practicing your squatting pattern while allowing you to warmup your hips and groin, as well as helping you to engage your core. These can be done with a fairly light kettlebell or dumbbell.

Technique tips for the goblet squat:

  1. Stance width will vary but start out with the feet slightly wider than the hips.
  2. Point the toes out slightly.
  3. Hold the weight at your chest so that your elbows end up on the inside of your thighs at the bottom position.
  4. Flex your glutes hard, pull the rib cage down, take a big breath into the belly, get tall and squat.
  5. Push through the heels and stand.
  6. Feel free to “hang out” in the bottom position to help open the hips a bit.

Perform 10-15 of these prior to squatting and feel how much smoother your technique becomes.

4) Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat will awaken those cranky hips in a heartbeat. This one really turns on the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, adductors and quads.

Technique tips for the split squat:

  1. Elevate your back foot onto a bench or box, and set up so that both legs are at about 90 degrees.
  2. While placing most of the weight on your front leg, drop the back knee down towards the ground.
  3. Maintain a slight forward lean, and keep the torso nice and straight.
  4. Use a full range of motion and come all the way up, trying to flex your glutes at the top.

Do 10-15 per leg, taking your time to fully warm up the lower half.

5) Walking Spiderman with Overhead Reach

The final warm up before you get under the bar. The walking spiderman with overhead reach ties in a lot of the previous drills while providing a dynamic component as well. This one basically attacks the entire body in terms of warm up drills, so it’s great to implement at the end of your pre squat routine.

Technique tips for the walking spiderman with overhead reach:

  1. Take a big lunge step forward and at a slight angle. Allow the back knee to come down to the ground.
  2. Make sure both toes are pointing straight.
  3. While keeping one hand on the ground, reach overhead with the other hand.
  4. Follow your hand with your eyes just like in the side lying windmill drill.
  5. After you reach overhead, place both hands back on the ground and perform a hip lift. You want to try to straighten both legs on this part.
  6. Bring your feet together in a standing position and then switch sides.

Do 5 of these on each side, taking your time to really work through your full range of motion.

Recap of the Squat Warmup

  1. Side Lying Windmills 8-10 per side
  2. Rocking Ankle Mobs 10 per side
  3. Goblet Squats 10-15 reps
  4. Bulgarian Split Squats 10-15 per leg
  5. Walking Spiderman with Overhead Reach 5 per side

After performing this warm up, you’re ready to get under the bar.

I suggest squatting the empty bar for 2-3 sets of 10 reps before adding any additional weight.

Bench

bench bell

If you’re looking to maximize your bench press, make sure you warm up beforehand. Don’t be that guy or girl that comes in, swings their arms around and lays down immediately to bench. If you haven’t already checked out my article on common bench press mistakes, you can read it here.

Now, let’s get into the bench press warmup.

1) Split Stance Extension Rotation

The split stance extension rotation is similar to the side lying windmill, but with an added adductor stretch. This one is great before benching because it forces you to open up through the upper back while in the rocked back position.

Technique tips for the split stance extension rotation:

  1. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, with one leg directly out to the side. Toe should be pointed forward.
  2. Place one hand (same side as outstretched leg) behind your head with the elbow pointed to the side.
  3. Drive your elbow and shoulder blade down, and rotate upward, following your elbow with your eyes.
  4. Try to only move through the upper back. Don’t just twist your elbow up and down.

Do 8-10 of these per side.

2) Yoga Pushup

The yoga pushup is great to fire up the shoulder girdle and pecs. With the yoga pushup, you get some good scapular movement as well as a nice stretch to the hamstring and calves.

Technique tips for the yoga pushup:

  1. Start in a regular pushup position with your hands directly underneath your chest
  2. While squeezing your glutes and abs hard, lower your chest to the ground.
  3. On the way up you’ll want to start pushing back while raising the hips at the same time. Rather than just do a pushup first and then a downward dog, it will be one smooth motion on the way up.
  4. As you get to the top position of your yoga pushup, be sure to tuck your chin and head down to keep it in line with your upper back.
  5. Return to the starting position after each full rep.

6-8 of these will help to loosen up your shoulders, upper back, hamstrings, and calves prior to benching.

3) Band Pull Aparts

Band pull aparts are a staple in my own bench warmup, as they should be in yours too. They’re great to fire up the shoulders, and also help to correct poor posture if done correctly.

Technique tips for the band pull aparts:

  1. Stand tall, flexing your glutes and abs tight.
  2. Hold the band out with your arms straight, palms down.
  3. While maintaining tension in your glutes and abs, try to squeeze your shoulder blades together without bending your elbows or letting your ribs flare up.
  4. Return to the starting position but keep a bit of tension on the band.

Do 15-20 of these prior to benching and you’ll feel better immediately.

Recap of Bench Warmup

  1. Split Stance Extension Rotation 8-10 per side
  2. Yoga Pushup 6-8 reps
  3. Band Pull Aparts 15-20 reps

After going through these warm ups, you can now get to benching.

Like the squat, I suggest taking the empty bar for a couple sets of 10 reps. This will help to get more blood flow and also establish a solid benching pattern before loading up the weight.

Deadlift

If you want to maximize your deadlifting prowess, you’ll definitely want to ensure that your hips, hammies, glutes, and back are ready to handle some heavy weights.

Whether you pull conventional or sumo, these warm up drills will significantly benefit your performance.

1) Hip Airplanes

I first saw Chris Duffin do these and he’s a crazy strong deadlifter. I decided to give them a shot to see how they felt.

Wow. I could feel them working immediately.

They really worked to open up my hips and get the adductors firing and warmed up.

Forward to 9:20 in the video below to see how to perform the hip airplane.

The other exercises shown in this video are also highly beneficial as well (some are discussed above in the article).

I like to do 6-8 of these on each side to really fire up the adductors and get primed to pull some heavy weight.

2) Half Kneeling Adductor Dips

The half kneeling adductor dip is excellent at opening up the groin and hips.

Technique tips for the half kneeling adductor dip:

  1. Start out in the half kneeling position. Then, open the top leg to the side, pointing your toe to the left or right depending on the leg that is up.
  2. With your chest up, squeeze your glute on the down knee side.
  3. Rock sideways, pushing your top knee past the toe. You should feel a stretch in your groin and inner thigh area.

Perform 8 per side.

3) Single Leg Hip Thrust

The single leg hip thrust will get some blood moving to the hamstrings and glutes. These will also force you to stabilize your core and maintain a rigid posture as you perform each rep.

Technique tips for the single leg hip thrust:

  1. Start with your upper back on a bench, with your arms outstretched to the sides. Be sure that your upper back is resting on the bench and not your elbows.
  2. Place your feet about hip width on the ground and lift your hips up by pushing through both heels and squeezing your glutes.
  3. With your hips up all the way, raise one leg up off the ground.
  4. Brace your abs tight the entire time.
  5. Allow your head to follow the hips. As your hips come up, your head does as well.

Do 10 reps per leg as your last warm up before you grab the bar.

Once you’ve gone through the warm up drills, it’s time to start pullin’.

Much like the squat and bench, start out very light and do several sets to warm up. Even if you’re pulling for reps that day, keep your warm up reps lower and use more warm up sets if needed. This way you can still maintain great technique all the way through warm ups and onto your working sets.

On the technique side of things, check out this post here, where I discuss some common deadlifting mistakes and how to correct them.

Recap of Deadlift Warmup

  1. Goblet Squats (video shown in squat warmup as well) 10-15 reps
  2. Bulgarian Split Squats (video shown in squat warmup as well) 10-15 per leg
  3. Hip Airplanes 6-8 reps per leg
  4. Half Kneeling Adductor Dips 8 per side
  5. Single Leg Hip Thrust 10 reps per leg

I’ve got a powerlifting meet coming up next month, and I’m super excited to compete again. My last meet was October of last year.

 I’m itching to get back on the platform and hit some PRs.

I have been using these exact warm ups to better prepare me to handle increasingly heavier training loads. I can tell you first hand they will make it easier to hit depth in your squats, help you create more arch and tension during bench presses, and allow you to pull your hips into position on deadlifts.

Give each of these warm up sequences a shot before your next squat, bench, or deadlift session. I can bet you’ll feel a heck of a lot better heading into the workout ahead of you.

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