A good warm up should increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping in anticipation for any activity. Next, it should improve circulation in the joints that will be seeing a lot of work. A warm up should also start up your nervous system and get it ready for the intensity you are about to expose it to.
This might run contrary to some people’s beliefs that a warm up is supposed to literally “warm up the body”. Or that a warm up should consist of stretches to “elongate” muscles. At the same time, warm ups like jumping jacks, running, and mountain climbers are not inherently bad in any way. They just don’t cover the wide range of preparation that an activity like Capoeira requires. When you play Capoeira, the body will be moving in many different ways, and this is what we want to get it ready for.
We’ll start work with the most critical things to warm up. Our time limit will be 10 minutes and we’ll try to get you as ready as possible to play Capoeira in that time. We’ll also assume you don’t have any prior injuries (because otherwise this guide would be impossible to do).
Dynamic kicks for legs
It’s probably not a surprise that we start with the legs. In Capoeira, there are so many kicks and squat-like movements, that it’s impossible to think of a warm up that does not include the legs to some degree. The first warm up we want to focus on is a dynamics stretch for the legs. We do this with straight kicks up in the air, making sure to kick as high as we can.
If you feel like you need to hold on to something while you do your kicks, feel free to hold onto the wall or a chair. As you kick, keep your back straight and tuck in the pelvis. Also make sure your head stays in place. It’s very common for people to bend their backs and throw their heads forwards as a way to take pressure off of their hamstrings.
There are three ways we want to kick and I recommend 12-15 kicks with each leg in each direction. The first is a kick in front of you with a straight leg. Kick up as high as you can without compromising your posture. You can kick your hand as a reference. Second, is a crescent kick. The leg will move from the outside towards the inside. If you find this difficult, remember that it’s better to kick lower, than to compromise your posture. The last kick we’ll do is a reverse crescent kick. This kick starts from the inside, moves up, and then goes out. The idea is to kick as high as you can and fire up the quad muscles that govern your ability to kick high.
Warm up for the hip capsules: 90/90
The next warm up finishes up the legs with isometric contractions. Isometric contractions wake up the nervous system while minimizing risk of injury. I’ll explain how this works as we go through the warm up.
The 90/90 is a great warm up meant to wake up the nervous system. Sitting is harmful in part because it deadens the nerves in and around our hips. If this goes on for months and years, it will mean weaker muscles and a weaker body to brain connection. Doing the 90/90 is a way to maintain that mind body connection through neurological drive (tensing up which you will see later). It’s also a way for us to retain our current range of motion, which is valuable is in Capoeira.
From a sitting position, place you legs to form a 90 degree angle in front of you and a 90 degree angle behind you. This angle is going to allow us to rotate the hip capsule and fire up the muscles that make that rotation happen. The legs should look like this.
Bring your chest down over you shin by bending at the hips. You can relax here for a few seconds. Once this starts to feel a little comfortable, begin pushing the shin into the ground while maintaining the stretch position. Keep your core tight and slowly start pressing down harder and harder into the floor.
Our goal in this warm up is to fire up the glutes while the hip is internally rotated. The amount you push down will depend on you to a degree. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest around 70% of your perceived maximum for 15 seconds. After the isometric contraction, relax for 15 seconds while maintaining the stretch. For a second time, push for 15 seconds against the floor while still in the stretch. After the isometric is complete, relax in the stretch for another 15 seconds. At this point you should feel a nice burn in your legs, which means you ready for the second part.
Bring the torso upright while maintaining the same leg position. This might be difficult for some people and you might find yourself leaning over to one side due to a lack of flexibility in this position. If this happens to you, feel free to prop yourself with a hand. You can also use something like a yoga block to help you out with this.
Once upright, lift up the heel of the back leg while keeping the knee in place. This movement focuses on internally rotating at the hip capsule. Pull the heel up for 10 repetitions and on the last repetition, hold the heel up for 10 seconds. The muscles by the hip may cramp as you do this. If you feel a cramp, do what I tell my students and “eat the cramp!”.
Why hold the position despite the cramping? Cramping is a muscular response to your brain crossing wires. Your body’s trying to figure out what to do so it fires a bunch of neurons hoping to get the right ones active. This can happen when you do something you’re not used to. Cramping is a normal process your body does as it learns new movement patterns. Once you do this on both sides, you’ll be done with the lower body portion of the warm up.
Warm up for the back: cat/cow or Spinal segmentation
Even if you don’t plan on doing a lot of back bending movements, warming up the back is essential for Capoeira. Having a strong, supple, and resilient spine will ensure you can train for years to come. There is a simple and an advanced way to warm up the back. First I’ll start with the simple version and then move on the advanced method.
Cat/cow is a very simple movements. To start, we want to be in a quadruped position, meaning our hands and knees are on the ground with our back straight. The “cat” part of this movement has us sucking our bellies in – as if to pull the stomach through our backs and towards the ceiling. Make sure to push the shoulders up(protraction), let the head come down, and tuck the tailbone in. By doing this, we flex all the segments of the spine at once. While maintaining this pose, we’ll make sure to engage the core to help us flex each spinal segment. Once in this position, we want to lower down into the “cow” part of the movement. From having our back fully flexed, we want to extend the back as much as we can.
As you bring the spine down, imagine your heart is being pulled down towards the floor. The shoulders will come down(retraction) and the shoulder blades will come together. The hips will also rotate out in the opposite direction. The back muscles should begin to flex as you move into the cow position. While in the cow position, we want to make sure each spinal segment is fully extended. Take note of this before switching back to the cat position. Continue doing this about 20 times or until you feel you are ready.
The advanced way to do this involves moving each segment of the spine one at a time. The spine consists of 31 different segments. 8 segments can be found in the cervical portion of the spine. This is the upper back to the neck. 12 segments are for the thoracic. This is the largest grouping of segments and runs from the upper to lower back. 5 segments comprise the lumbar. This consists of segments in the lower back. And lastly, 5 segments can be found in the sacral and 1 lonely segment is in the coccygeal section. The parts we are most concerned with are the cervic, thoracic, and lumbar portions of the spine.
The starting position for this advanced method is the same quadruped position as the simpler version. You want to start from a neutral spine position and the first thing you’ll do is tuck your tailbone in. The idea is to start flexing each segment of your spine starting from the lower-most segment. This means we’ll start from about the sacral or lumbar segments and work our way up to the cervical portion. Keep your core tight and your belly button sucked in as you do this movement.
This may take a lot of concentration as you start getting used to moving each segment independently. You can compare this to moving toes. Some toes are more difficult to move independently than others due to a poor brain to toe connection. The same thing happens with spinal segments. If segments don’t get used, then their ability to move atrophies.
It might not seem like much, but this is a great warm up for the extension and flexion of the spine. Not only that, but this exercise is meant to increase the neurological connection between the spine and the brain. Doing these exercises regularly means you’ll have more control over your spine. Which becomes more and more as we do more advanced movements.
Warm up spinal rotation: Quadruped reach
Again, the spine is a very important part of the body that we want to make sure to protect as much as we can. Staying in the quadruped position, we’ll now work on the rotation of our spine. Take one hand and slip it between your opposite hand and leg. Reach as far as you can by bringing you shoulder down to the ground. The hand that was supporting you will now move and plant itself behind your head.
We want this exercise to be active, so once you reached the furthest point you can twist, start pushing down onto the floor with the hand that is reaching. Similar to the 90/90 stretch, we are creating an isometric hold in a stretch position. The intensity of this hold is dependent on you. Like with all the warm ups in this guide, it helps to start off at a lower intensity and ramp up. This is especially true if you’re feeling very stiff – listen to your body! Make sure you’re core is tight and hold the contraction for about 15 seconds. relax for another 15 seconds and then do another round of isometric contractions followed by a relaxed hold.
Make sure to do both sides.
Warm up for the shoulders: Quadruped Shoulder Rotations and over head isometrics
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body. This is because your shoulder can move in ways that no other joint can. And this makes a lot of sense considering all the things we do with our hands, but this does pose a challenge for a shoulder warm up.
To start our warm up we’ll start from a high plank position. Place both hands on the floor, fully extended as if you were about to do a push up. From here, we want to move the shoulders around in a circular motion. Note that if this is too difficult you can regress the movement by placing your knees on the ground.
The direction of the rotation does not matter much, but I advise doing rotations in both. About 10 rotations per direction should be sufficient. As you make these circles, aim to make the circles as big as you can. Start slow, and slowly work your way up until you’re making circles as big as you can with your shoulders. This may take a lot of control and may not be that smooth at first. Give this exercise some time and you’ll see that slowly you’ll acquire more and more control.
If this exercise feels too easy, you can add resistance to the warm up by including an elastic band. By passing the band around your back and holding the two ends of the band with your hands, you can add resistance to these rotations. For most people this is not necessary, but it does add a layer of intensity if you feel that is what you need.
Warm up the wrist: Wrist routine
Although that is the end of this general warm up routine, there are plenty of other body parts that could use a good warm up. One of those body parts is the wrist. The wrist is a joint that receives a lot of punishment in Capoeira and taking the time to warm them up is a good idea. I made a whole blog post equipped with a video on how to do this in the link below. Enjoy!