upper body warm up and mobility routine

A proper warmup is one of the most overlooked aspects of strength and bodybuilding training, yet it’s one of the most effective ways of minimizing injury risk and improving overall workout quality over the long term.

Taking a few minutes to properly warm up before your weight training workouts will prepare your body for the work ahead by raising core temperature, improving joint mobility/lubrication and range of motion, and activating the muscles and nervous system for maximum strength and performance.

You’ll find a ton of different warm ups and mobility routines online that you can follow, but in my experience, a lot of the typical sequences out there are either too basic and don’t include a wide enough variety of movements to really get a significant benefit, or they’re overly lengthy and just not practical or necessary for the average trainee.

The upper body warm up and mobility routine I’ll be outlining below lands somewhere in the middle and contains a good mixture of dynamic movements, self-myofascial release exercises and stretches to help you perform at your best and decrease injury risk but without going overboard.

If you move through the routine swiftly then it should take between 10-15 minutes to complete, which is not much to ask if it means keeping you off the sidelines and in the gym consistently over the long term. Remember, injuries will stop your program dead in its tracks, and so training longevity should always be treated as a primary concern.

This warmup can be used prior to any upper body centered workout, and I’ll be following up this post next week with a lower body warmup and mobility routine that you can use as well.

Complete 12-Step Upper Body Warmup & Mobility Routine

You can either watch the video demonstrations in the video above or just view the pictures and written descriptions below…

#1 – Foam Roll: Thoracic Spine (Middle/Left/Right) x 10-12 per area

upper back foam roll

Wrap your arms around the opposite sides of your upper body in order to separate your scapula, and with your hips elevated and head in a neutral position, slowly roll up and down the center of your upper back 10-12 times. Make sure to keep your muscles nice and relaxed here rather than tensing up.

After that, tilt your body to the left and perform 10-12 rolls along the left side of your upper back followed by 10-12 rolls along the right side.

#2 – Foam Roll: Lat/Arm Pit x 10-12 per side

lat foam roll

Place the foam roller underneath your armpit and tilt your upper body back slightly. You’ll know when you’ve hit the right spot because it will probably be quite tender there. From there, perform 10-12 rolls all the way from your armpit down along your lat muscle and then back up again.

As with all foam rolling and ball rolling exercises, if you find a spot that is particularly tender, feel free to pause in that position for a few extra seconds until the pain subsides.

Repeat on the opposite arm for 10-12 rolls.

#3 – Ball Roll: Pec/Front Delt x 30-60 seconds per side

pec foam roll

My recommended tool for this one is a hard medicine ball, but you can also use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball or foam roller as well depending on what’s available to you.

Place the ball (or whichever tool you’re using) on the upper area of the pecs right where they meet the shoulder joint and then slowly move it around the entire upper pec/front delt area. Again, make sure to keep your muscles relaxed and search for spots that are particularly tender, spending a bit more time in those areas.

You can perform this one for anywhere from 30-60 seconds on each side.

#4 – Ball Roll: Rear/Lateral Delt x 30-60 seconds per side

delt ball roll

A lacrosse or tennis ball works best here, but if you don’t have those available then a medicine ball or foam roller can also be used.

Lay on one side and place the ball underneath your rear delt, and then slowly roll it around the entire back and side portion of your shoulder. This is an area that is especially tender on most people, so prepare for some discomfort on this one.

Go with 30-60 seconds for each shoulder.

#5 – Thoracic-Spine Extensions x 4 sets of 5

t-spine sit ups

The ideal tool for the job on this one is 2 tennis balls that have been completely taped together, otherwise known as a “peanut”. However, if you don’t have one of these handy, a foam roller is also acceptable.

Place the peanut so that each ball is on either side of your spine, and start a couple inches above your lumbar area. With your hands placed forward at a 45 degree angle, perform a series of 5 crunches, leaning back into the peanut or foam roller on each rep and allowing your head to touch the floor each time.

After you’ve completed your 5 reps, move the peanut or foam roller up a couple inches and perform another 5, aiming for 4 total sets along your mid/upper back and stopping at your upper back a few inches beneath your cervical spine.

#6 – Scapular Wall Slides x 12-15

scapular wall slides

Stand with your head, upper back and butt pressed firmly against a wall. With your shoulders depressed and scapula retracted, place your upper arms and forearms against the wall at about a 90 degree angle. From there, press your arms overhead until you feel a good contraction in your upper back, and lower them back down as far as you comfortably can.

Perform 12-15 slides in total.

#7 – Shoulder “Dislocations” x 10-12

shoulder dislocations

These can be done using either a resistance band or a broomstick. Grab it with an overhand grip and start with the stick in front of your body touching your stomach. Then, while keeping your arms straight, rotate it back in a circular motion all the way behind your head and down to your lower back.

Your grip can be placed narrower or wider depending on your individual shoulder flexibility and limb length, so just find the distance that is most comfortable for you and that allows for a good stretch without any pain.

Perform 10-12 reps in total.

The next 4 exercises (#8 through #11) can be done using either a resistance band or a cable machine. I’ll be describing the cable machine variations as that’s what I personally use, but you can simply replace them with a resistance band if you prefer.

#8 – Face Pulls x 10-12

face pulls

Place a rope attachment at upper chest height and hold onto it with a neutral hammer grip. Keep your chest up, shoulders back and retract your scapula, and then pull the rope back towards your face while at the same time imagining that you’re trying to pull the rope apart. Think of it as though you were hitting a back double bicep pose on each rep, while making sure to keep your head stationary.

Focus on squeezing your rear delts and upper back on each rep, and repeat 10-12 times.

#9 – Scapular Retraction x 10-12

scapular rows

Using the same rope attachment, extend your arms straight in front of you using a neutral palms-facing-in grip. With your chest open and back tall, squeeze the muscles of your mid-back and slide your shoulder blades together until you feel a good contraction there.

Extend your arms back out in front of you without allowing your shoulders to round forward, and repeat for 10-12 reps.

#10 – Reverse Fly x 10-12

reverse fly

Standing in between a cable stand, use each arm to grip the cable on the opposite side with an underhand grip and without using any attachments. With the cables at shoulder height, perform a reverse fly motion until you upper arms are in line with the sides of your body.

Focus on driving the cables back using the muscles of your mid-back as well as your rear delts and repeat for 10-12 reps. (You can also perform this one arm at a time if you only have access to a single cable stand.)

#11 – External Rotations x 10-12

external rotations

Place the cable pulley at elbow height and grip a single-hand attachment with your elbow at a 90 degree angle. Position your elbow against your side with your forearm across your stomach, and then pull the cable attachment away from your body as far as is comfortable by externally rotating your shoulder. Repeat for 10-12 reps on each arm.

#12 – Weight Acclimation x 3

weight acclimation

After your stretching and mobility work has been completed, you’ll move onto the final phase of your warmup, which is to perform 3 weight acclimation sets for the first major compound exercise of your workout.

The basic idea here is to start off with a very light weight for higher reps, and then gradually increase the weight while lowering the reps and working up to the maximum weight you’ll be using for your first muscle building set of the workout.

Here’s the basic template you can use…

Set #1: 50% x 8 reps
Set #2: 75% x 3 reps
Set #3: 100% x 1 rep

So, if dumbbell presses were the first exercise in your workout and you were planning to use 80 pound dumbbells on your first set, you’d warmup with 40’s x 8, 60’s x 3, and 80’s x 1.

These warmup sets should not fatigue you in any way or compromise your strength for the workout ahead, so make sure to take things slowly and ease up a bit if you find yourself feeling tired.

The only purpose of these sets is to warm up the joints and muscles involved in your first exercise and to acclimatize your body to the movement. In fact, performing these 3 warmup sets should actually give you a small strength increase once the actual workout begins.

Upper Body Warm Up & Mobility Routine Recap

So, here is a rundown of the entire routine once again…

#1 – Foam Roll: Thoracic Spine (Middle/Left/Right) x 10-12 per area
#2 – Foam Roll: Lat/Arm Pit x 10-12 per side
#3 – Ball Roll: Pec/Front Delt x 30-60 seconds per side
#4 – Ball Roll: Rear/Lateral Delt x 30-60 seconds per side
#5 – Thoracic-Spine Extensions x 4 sets of 5
#6 – Scapular Wall Slides x 12-15
#7 – Shoulder “Dislocations” x 10-12
#8 – Face Pulls x 10-12
#9 – Scapular Retraction x 10-12
#10 – Reverse Fly x 10-12
#11 – External Rotations x 10-12
#12 – Weight Acclimation x 3 (50% x 8, 75% x 3, 100% x 1)

Warming up may not be the most enjoyable or exciting thing in the world, but the time investment is minimal and the benefits are well worth it.

Performing these various exercises and mobility drills will not only improve the quality of your actual workouts, but they’ll also carry over to your day to day life as well.

2 Comments. Leave new

great illustrations, explanations. I will be anxious to see your lower body, as I am 58 yrs old and have a goal to continue squats and deadliftd (however light) as long as I can.

thanks again

Sean Nalewanyj
May 17, 2015 10:17 pm

In case you missed it, you can see that post here:


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