Being a trainer you see a lot of different people and how they approach exercise and working out in general.
One thing I see MOST people NOT doing is properly warming-up their bodies to perform the work they need to do.
This is especially true when performing resistance training, particularly for big compound lifts, such as the squat, bench press, or deadlift.
In fact, I saw 4 people jump right into it within 30 minutes today while I was doing my workout. No sweat when they got there, and no practice of movement patterns for the exercise they’re about to do. Whether it’s a squat or a bench press, no warm-up at all.
Essentially, they’re working out without any thought, method, or purpose.
What these individuals fail to understand is that they’re leaving gains on the table. Sure, it’s great in theory that you should be able to just “turn-on” your body when you need to and perform on a dime, but since many people sit for long periods during the day it’s not like you’re just ready to perform. To think you have mastery over your body where you require no warm-up is foolish.
Anybody who lifts any respectable weight for their size, age, weight, sex, etc. knows this. Most of these people are ignorant, and making an excuse that you’re different doesn’t stand-up to reality.
If you want to make more gains, and not get screwed up at the same time WARM-UP.
It’s not an option.
Warming-up is a MUST because it generates increased blood flow to our muscles, joints, and connective tissues that prepare our bodies to do physical work significantly better.
Increased blood flow equals increased oxygen to our muscles for energy, and primes our central nervous system (CNS) to better control bodily movements. This allows the body to become more flexible, mobile, and respond to the task at hand with greater readiness.
In addition, warming-up also reduces the chance for injury.
For instance, if your plan is to bench 315 for the day it’s not the best idea to put 315 on the bar from the get-go. Odds are you’ll probably fail miserably, and maybe even tear a pec (not good!).
Instead, take your time and start getting blood-flow in your muscles, specifically the ones you will use: chest, shoulders, back, and arms. Start with the bar, and add appropriate increments of weight that prepare your body for the weight you will use.
There is a little more to it than that (I’ll go over that in a moment), but keeping things simple, that way is a much better method than diving in haphazardly and hoping for the best.
Warm-up routines are an essential part to any workout or training that you’ll do, and if you want to optimize the work you’re doing make it a part of your routine every-time.
Let’s get one thing straight…
WARMING-UP IS NOT STRETCHING!!! Nor, is it FOAM ROLLING.
Stretching (and sometimes foam rolling) is a “PART” of your warm-up routine, but it DOES NOT WARM-UP THE BODY.
What “WARMS-UP THE BODY” is physical activity, like certain drills and exercises that elevate your body temperature and respiratory rate. Basically, anything causing you to break a sweat, and prepare you for the strenuous work ahead.
SPEND MORE TIME ON ACTIVITY AND LESS TIME ON STRETCHING (ESPECIALLY FOAM ROLLING).
What stretching, like static stretching (SS), is essential for is increasing muscle elasticity.
In other words, SS allows your muscles to reach complete, or better, range of motion (ROM) for any movement that you’ll have to do: any pressing, pulling, rowing, extensions, flexions, etc. This allows for better mobility — flexibility in action — so you can perform better during any exercise you’ll have to do.
Yes, keep stretching, but do not think that after your stretch you are good to go. It is only part of the process.
The Warm-up Process
What does the warm-up process look like?
There are 3 basic steps to any warm-up routine, especially if you want to lift your best.
THEY ARE THE FOLLOWING:
- Get the Body Moving!
The first step is what is says — move the body!
Pick something SIMPLE that will cause you to start and break a sweat. For example, you could go on the treadmill for 1o minutes, or you can do something more interactive and run some stairs or do some battle ropes.
In addition, this stage can also involve basic movements or exercises, like calisthenics (any body-weight exercise, like body squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, ab work, etc.) or kettlebells. It’s great to do a warm-up circuit at a lower intensity that further increase blood flow to muscles. What’s great is that exercise actively stretches the body at the same time, which is referred to as DYNAMIC STRETCHING (DS).
DS is stretching in motion, and a simple example is a lunge. A lunge will often stretch your hip flexors while you do the exercise, while increasing blood flow to your quads and glutes. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.
The takeaway: get the heart rate up, elevate your body temperature, and increase your respiratory rate with something useful.
The second component in a warm-up routine is stretching. I like doing my stretching after a general warm-up so my muscles can be more elastic and pliable. It’s also safer to do so, since stretching may cause excess stretch to a muscle that is “COLD” (shortened).
Stretch the main parts of your body, especially the muscles groups you plan on using for the day. Stretch the hips, legs, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. Spend as much or as little time as you need on stretching. I’m not a big fan of saying you should spend “x amount of time stretching”. I think that does not make sense. Stretch until you feel loose and ready for action then move on.
3. Specific Exercise/Movement warm-up
The last part of the warm-up is to do an active warm-up specific for the exercises or training you have outlined ahead.
For instance, if you’re deadlifting for the day, doing some sort of hip hinge and pull is a great way to stimulate the muscles involved in the movement pattern for that exercise. An example would be a kettle bell swing, and a pull down or a barbell row.
In conjunction, it is VITAL that you do an active warm-up within the main exercise itself to practice movement patterns and PRIME the body for the actual demand of the exercise at-hand. This will fire your CNS to perform like it should for better performance.
As you practice and warm-up within the exercise (i.e deadlift), you want to lift the warm-up weights (lighter weights) like they are heavy. Essentially, imagine that whatever you have on the bar is the weight(s) you’ll be working at. This will activate your CNS to perform at is optimal condition.
Once you do this you’ve done your job, and it’s time to crush your workout.
Example Warm-up Routine
Below is a general routine I use for the Squat:
Squat Warm-up Routine
|1. Cat/camel (cat/cow)||
|2. McKenzie Press (optional)||
|1 to 2||Low||
|Exercise Specific Warm-up (Circuit)|
|1. Kettlebell swings||
12 to 15
Little to no rest
|2. Split Lunges||
|3. Back Extensions||
15, 12, 10
|Intra Squat Warm-up|
|3 to 8||Multiple
(~5 to 6)
|Low to Moderate
(start with the bar)
This is the warm-up routine that I will use for the squat.
FROM START TO FINISH, IT WILL TAKE ME ~20 to 25 MINUTES TO BE WORKING AT MY DESIRED WORKING WEIGHT IN THE SQUAT.
If you ask me that is not too long, any anything less throws me off.
As you notice, it begins with some rehab/mobility work to stimulate blood flow to my lower back (a big priority for me) with the cat/cow and McKenzie press. After I’m done, I’ll go right into stairs and begin my physical warm-up.
It works good for me because it incorporates the muscles I need (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips). By the end of warm-up circuit, I’m typically sweating quite heavily with my heart beating fast and my breaths nice and deep.
One thing that I did not include in the table above is stretching.
I do stretch, BUT I DO NOT FOAM ROLL
I do not foam roll because it is a useless activity to get the body fired up to lift (even before your warm-up activities).
That is why I do it at the end of the workout if I need to (rarely). When I do stretch it’ll be after the warm-up circuit (my given resting period) or sometimes after the general warm-up (stairs).
I’ll stretch my hip and shoulder complex, back, and legs. I’ll do a combination of SS and DS, like the couch stretch, the frog stretch, use a PVC pipe for my shoulder complex, and some other ones I do (but do not know the particular names to because I just made them up or can’t remember them, haha).
You may say this defeats the purpose, but I find it works well for me. I do not notice a drop in performance if I don’t stretch compared to if I do (at least for me). In fact, if I don’t stretch I find it takes me longer to get into a rhythm and do my best work, and my hips are super tight and even hurt.
What’s important after the SS and DS, however, is that I fire on my nervous system by “warming (or PRIMING my body) back up again” within the squat itself.
First, I do a couple sets with only the bar with varied tempos for each (6 to 10 reps from slow to fast or explosive) to prime my body for the squat. Next, I’ll throw a 45 plate on each side and go from there (each time lifting with intensity like it’s the goal weight for the day). Eventually, I’ll work my way up within about 5 or 6 total warm-up sets to reach my first set at my working weight (typically takes about 6 to 10 minutes).
From there I get my work done.
Warming-up may be thought of as an afterthought by some, but in order to perform at your best, maximize the work you do, and reduce the likelihood of injury, it is a MUST.
Warming-up will allow you to get started more efficiently for the work you have planned for the day, especially lifting in the big lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press).
No matter your goal — increasing strength, endurance, lean muscle mass, etc. — warming-up is a pre-requisite for any work performed.
Follow the 3 basic steps above, and you’ll better turn on your body for its best work.
(Click HERE for my free to download LEAN MUSCLE BUILDING program).
Let me know how you warm-up in the comments, and what you do to warm-up.
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Until next time, be strong and be you.