Body Language and Exercise Warm Up

Recently I gathered a new insight into the success of my workouts that is related to body language. Body language is a topic that has been an interest of mine for the past few years. In 2008, I discovered the book The Definitive Book of Body Language and it opened my eyes to an entire dialog between people which I never noticed before. Since then I have monitored both my body language and the body language of others. It is fascinating if you’ve never explored the topic.

What I never considered was how I was responding to my body language in the gym. Then in November, I got a chance to hear Amy Cuddy speak about body language and what she calls power poses. If you haven’t seen her TED Talk, check it out.

Although her talk had nothing to do with exercise, I connected the dots that the mobility exercises I had been using for years happened to be the ones where my body took up the most space. By constructing a “power pose”, I was mentally warming up for higher performance during my workout. Only I didn’t see it that way until recently.

Here is how I described my motivation for doing mobility work in a 2012 post on back pain:

My mobility work is about demonstrating to my mind that my body is healthy and can engage in a wide range of movements effortlessly and pain free. Since I believe the root cause of almost all my back pain is psychological and not physical, I am showing my mind just how capable I am. Throughout the week, I may sit for hours at a desk or in a car. During this time, I am incapable of demonstrating free movement. My mobility sessions are to me a movement meditation. I am proudly showing my mind just how capable my movement is when I step away from the restrictions the modern world places on varied movement.

usan bolt power pose

Bolt showing a power pose in victory.

HIT and Warming Up

Most of what I’ve read from the High-Intensity Training community is that warming up is unnecessary. HIT trainer Drew Baye has an article on Warming Up, where he states:

When performing high intensity strength training using proper form and a slow, controlled speed of motion additional warm up sets are almost never necessary. In most cases they provide little or no benefit while wasting time and energy that could otherwise be devoted to the “work” sets.

Most of the physical benefits of a warm up – increased blood flow to the muscles, enhanced metabolic reactions, reduced muscle viscosity, increased extensibility of connective tissue, improved conduction velocity of action potentials, etc. – are obtained during the first few repetitions of an exercise.

I think this makes sense when you look at the physical aspect. I’ve learned from both my research into the psychology of pain and body language is that mobility movements can mentally prepare you for an excellent workout.

My Key Warm-Up Exercises

Below is a list of the movements I regularly perform before exercise. To me, these wide “power poses” bring the gap between a world that wants us to be smaller (sitting in a car, in front of a computer, crammed in a plane seat) and how I want to mentally feel when I put my muscles under load.

  1. Arm Circles (forward and back) – I always begin by taking a wide stance and engaging in 25-30 arm circles of varying speed forward and back.
  2. Windmill with slightly bent knees – Another expansive movement that has me pointing up and down and going from side to side.
  3. Leg swings – I do a set of swings with each leg. One swing is forward and back, the other is side to side. Hold onto something until you learn to balance. Vary the speed.
  4. Standing Sky Reach.
  5. Twisting movement with swing arms (see the start of this video for an example)


Arm Circles. Do half with the thumb forward and half with the thumb pointed backward.

Injury Prevention?

Since I’ve adopted High-Intensity Training and no longer engage in compound ballistic movements at the gym, my risk of injury is very low. However, for those of you who still like your squats, benches, and deadlifts, I think using Mobility Power Poses before exercise might put you into the right mindset to not only perform well but do it in a safe manner that reduces injury risk.

What are your thoughts on using positive expansive body language as a tool for better performance in the gym? Have you had success with any particular movements?


Add yours

  1. I have no experience with power poses. But I feel it makes sense to perform more task-specific warm-ups for the exercises you are about to perform. The power poses look great if you want to get rid of morning sleepiness by doing something active.

    I have been paying attention to keeping my face as neutral and ‘wrinkle-free’ as possible during intense physical exertion. This seems to help with keeping my keeping my form more tight. Also, the perceived notion of a weight feeling too heavy seems to be lowered when manifesting a non-exerted neutral countenance.

    As warm-up exercises go, I like to simply warm up with incremental weights. In between these 2-3 warm-up/ feeler sets I will do mobility drills. When pushing/pulling, weighted shoulder dislocations and face pulls are absolutely incredible. Also, static handstands (30-60 sec) also very helpful. Prior to lower body exercises, smashing the hip flexors is a must for me. Doing Cossack squats also helps. Prior and post-squatting, rolling the spinal erectors with a lacrosse ball is a favourite.

    Boxing bag and rope skipping work also good to fire your system up.

  2. Nice post. Well illustrated with Bolt.

    Here’s Michael Phelps stretching: (video removed)
    Is Your iPhone Turning You Into a Wimp?

  3. MAS – Your warm up is nearly identical to the first part of my warm up. The balance of my warm up is similar to what Stephan described. (At my age, I need a long time to get warmed up and ready to work.) When sprinting, my “feeler sets” are lower intensity runs that allow me to check in with how my body is responding.

    Also like Stephan, I find that a relaxed, neutral face helps me keep my form tight and allows me to direct my energy into lifting, not grimacing.

    On non lifting days I like to start my day with Tim Anderson’s “Pressing Reset” protocol from “Becoming Bulletproof” and “Original Strength”.

  4. I had a yoga teacher one time who recommended smiling while we did the poses, and especially smile during the difficult ones. Her belief was that if you frowned and grimaced, you were telling your body you hated the effort and found it difficult. But if you smiled, you were telling your body that the effort was to be enjoyed and you associated putting forth good effort with joy.

    I think smiling also relaxes the face.

  5. @Mike – I like that tip A LOT. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.