Integrating the Joint-by-Joint Approach Into Our Client’s Warm Up


We’ve all seen this scenario:

*Client walks in for training*

Trainer: “Hey!  Let’s get started with a warm-up.  Why don’t you head over to the treadmill and jog for 5-10 minutes then we can get begin.”

This situation makes me cringe perhaps more than anything else as a trainer.  The scary thing is there are still people who believe this antiquated approach to a warm-up is how it should be done.  Their defense?  You’re warming up the body and getting blood flowing.  But really what relevance does jogging for 10 minutes have to the strength training your client is about to perform?  The answer: Not much.  Not only does this method of a warm up lack any biomechanical or physiological preparation, it also is a lazy response from a trainer.

The question then becomes “What should I do for a warm up?”

The easiest way we’ve found to answer this question is to look at the joint-by-joint approach.  This method is applicable to any client, at any skill level, preparing for any type of training session.  It can be tailored in countless ways for each client in either a one-on-one or group setting.

The joint-by-joint approach is a theory coined by Physical Therapist Gray Cook and Strength & Conditioning Coach Mike Boyle that states the body is a series of joints, one after the next.  Each of these joints has a specific function- to either provide mobility or stability; however, these joints can also be predisposed to predictable dysfunction.  Because of this, it is important we prepare the body for training by ensuring that each joint is prepared for its function and is warmed up as such.  Not only does applying the joint-by-joint approach to a warm-up increase the efficacy of a movement, it also greatly decreases the risk of injury.  An injured client most likely won’t train, so we definitely want to avoid that!

If we can look at the primary joints of the body that will be used during training, establish whether they are mobile joints or stable joints, and provide warm-up movements that enhance their function, you’ve not only prepared your client for the movements to come, but also increased body temperature and blood flow on a much more effective level than jogging.

Let’s take a look at the human body and see which joints are particularly important for our clients to warm up, and what their function is

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The joints highlighted in red are joints that should be mobile.  In the world of Personal Training, the ones we’re most interested in are the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and glenohumeral joint.  The blue should serve as stable joints including the knees, lumbar spine, scapulothoracic joint and elbow joints.  If we can address each of these joints in our warm-up, primarily focusing on the  joints involved in that days workout, you’re already ahead of most other Personal Trainers.

Here are a few exercise suggestions so you can apply the joint-by-joint approach theory to your warm up.  Remember this is by no means an exclusive list but rather somewhere to start.  These are some of our favorites:


Ankles (Mobile):  Half Kneeling Ankle Mobility

Kneel with one knee down and one knee up.  Each knee should be at a 90-degree angle, with the front shin parallel to the floor and heel flat.  Maintaining a flat front foot, push the knee forward over the toe trying to create as much dorsiflexion in the ankle as possible.  Return to starting position.


Knee (Stable):  Glute Bridges

Lay on your back with feet flat and heels close to glutes.  Keep both upper and lower legs parallel to each other.  Drive heels into the ground, and squeeze glutes to lift hips up so there is a straight line from shoulder, to hips, to knee.  Avoid the knees caving inwards or pushing out too wide.  Keep them moving in the sagittal plane to ensure knee stability.


Hip (Mobility):  Adductor Rock

Start from a quadruped position.  Kick one foot out to the side with the foot flat and toes pointing forward.  Drive the butt of your bent leg back towards your heels, feeling the adductors & hamstring of your straight leg.  Return back to the starting position and repeat.


Lumbar Spine (Stable):  Deadbugs

There are many variations of a deadbug, but for this variation start laying on your back with hands flat on a wall and legs in a table top position.  Press firmly into the wall, and make sure elbows are pointing straight up to the ceiling.  As you drive hands into the wall, be sure to press ribcage and lower back into the ground, and maintain this engaged position.  While staying engaged, reach one leg out long so the heel is about an inch from the ground, then alternate. 


Thoracic Spine (Mobile):  Thoracic Spine Rotation

From a quadruped position, push hips back over heels, and reach one arm out in front and bring the other hand behind your head.  With your hand behind your head, rotate through your upper and middle back, leading with your elbow and shoulder, keeping your lower back stable. 


Scapulothoracic Joint (Stable):  Floor Slides

Laying on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, bring your arms out to the side and bend the elbows to 90 degress.  Keep as much contact with the floor as possible, from the back of the hand to the shoulder, as well as from the head to tail bone (in particular the lower back).  From this position, try to maintain contact with the ground as you reach your arms up over your head, but keeping the shoulder blades depressed.  Depending on your shoulder mobility you may or may not be able to get full range of motion. 


Glenohumeral Joint (Mobility):  Side Laying Windmills

Laying on your side, stack ankles, knees, hips.  Keeping everything stacked, and your top fingertips on the ground, reach the top arm in a full circle around to your hip, then reverse direction back to your knee.  Be sure to keep the hips and knees stacked the entire time so there is no movement in the lumbar spine.