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My top 5 squat warm up exercises that aren't just the bar.

By: John Flagg

This is another excerpt from a larger project I'm working on. Some things will be referenced that are part of that project, but I see people slay warm ups too often to keep this to myself.

"As we covered in the Warm up chapter, there is no need to get fancy or crazy with warm ups. I do want to provide you with some of my favorite exercises to cluster into those warm ups specific to the squat and limitations commonly seen. Let’s cover the five that I use most often.

Half Kneeling Arm Circles

Two common complaints I hear when people start squatting are tightness in the shoulders getting under the bar and tightness in the hips during the movement. This exercise can help with both. I want to make this clear, this is a strength book, not a mobility book so we aren’t going to dive into that rabbit hole. What I will say though is that much of those sensations you feel around tightness is less related to tension in the actual tissue, and more so to do with how well you tolerate those ranges of motion. This is how this exercise helps.

Find a nice clear wall, I suggest dry wall or something smooth because you will be dragging your arm on the surface. Go down on your knee closest to the wall with your bottom knee bent at 90 degrees and your top knee at the same angle. There is no need to lean forward. Sit tall and you should be close enough to the wall where your shoulder is just touching it. Extend your arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing away from the wall. Squeeze your glutes tight and you should feel a decent stretch in the front of your hip. From here, bring the arm over head as you work it around in a circle on the wall. As you get to your arm being around behind you, allow your hand to turn on the wall, palm facing the wall, naturally. Keep working that arm around and is it approaches your hips you can turn your hand back over. Do this for 5-8 reps on each side and then move on to the next part of your sequence.

If being this close to the wall is too hard or you aren’t able to get your arm all the way around in the circle, slide away from the wall until you can.

Kettlebell Sots Press

This can be done from a deep squat or standing position and is best used when you have those days where you just don’t feel like you can extend through the upper back area.

Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell and hold it at your chest. I suggest one that you think is going to be far too light. Trust me, this is a tough one. It’s easiest to complete this from a standing position and more difficult to complete in a deep squat. Start by standing and pressing the bell directly overhead and then pushing your head and shoulders through your arms. This should help open up that thoracic extension we are looking for. If this is too easy, you can move right to a deep squat position or even use a chair or low box to go into a seated position. This will be much harder for most so master standing before moving on here. Five to eight reps tend to be enough, then you can move on to the next in your cluster.

Cossack Squat

The Cossack squat is one of my favorite lunge variations of all time. This is a great way to work your hips and knees through a full range of motion that is fairly close to the positions you will be in a squat. While also being something that you can scale easily. Start with the feet about 1.5 shoulder widths apart. From here, lunge down to one side keeping the heel flat and squatting down as far as you can. Keep tension here just as you would for a lift and if you need to hold on to something like a pole or rack for balance then that’s fine. Hold that position for one to two seconds and then switch directly over to the other side. I don’t have athletes do this weighted as a warm up and instead prefer them going through as large a range of motion as possible. This is great to help with squat depth, groin and hip sensations of tightness in the squat, and get the heart rate higher than the other options we have covered so far.

Barbell Goodmorning

This tends to be a staple in some people training as an accessory lift, but I love it as part of the warm up as well. Especially for those with a history of back injury as they can use this as a gauge on how they are feeling and adjust training accordingly. Similar to the Cossack squats, I don’t load these past the barbell for warm up purposes. The key here is to get the posterior chain warmed up by loading the hips and back directly.

You will start with an empty bar in the same position that you would for the back squat. The difference is that to start the good morning you will push your hips straight back just like when you are trying to shut your car door with your butt. Keep tension in the upper back just as you would with the squat and keep pushing the hips back. Stop when you feel a big stretch in the hamstrings, are parallel to the floor, or reach your max tolerable range of motion, whichever comes first. No need to push past these ranges or add a ton of weight using this as a warm up. Remember, this is there to set up the big lifts for success.

Lateral Step Downs

Last but not least, the step down is my go to for people with knee discomfort, want to work on ankle range of motion, or we want a little extra quad work. These are great because they are also massively scalable using as low as a 2 inch block all the way up to 24 inch boxes. The key is control.

Start by standing on a box, block or step. It’s important that whatever you are standing on, it’s stable. No falls allowed during warm ups, deal? If you need to hold onto something for balance, I would suggest that. This isn’t a balance exercise but a way for us to strategically load certain tissues. Bring one leg off to the side hanging off the box and keep the other foot nice and flat. Slowly step down with the leg on the box until you can touch the heel of the other foot on the ground. Keep as much control as possible sitting the hips back and bending the knee the same way you would in a squat. Make sure to keep that heel flat on the box as well. Tap the heel and then come back up to the starting position. Eight to ten reps here tend to be enough to get moving.

Remember the concepts from the Warm up chapter. These five exercises are examples of specific ones for specific areas of the body for the squat. Use the ones specific to you and how you feel. Don’t just use these five because they are in these pages. "

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