Are you pressed for time?
Do you want to get into the gym, smash your sets and get out?
Yeah, me too.
But what about warming up?
You shouldn’t not warm up. Not warming up will increase your risk of injury and hold you back from getting the most out of your warm ups. But do you need to spend 15 minutes warming up?
Why Do We Warm Up?
The warm up serves two purposes.
First, it physically warms your muscles improving muscle recruitment and performance.
Secondly, it prepares your nervous system for the task at hand.
That’s literally all it has to do, and it doesn’t take long to achieve those objectives. If your warm up is 15 minutes on the treadmill before you jump into squats, then your warm up isn’t optimal, and it’s probably taking up time that could be put to better use.
But you must warm up.
Injuries and sub-par performance aren’t good for anyone.
General Warm Ups and Specific Warm Ups
General warm ups serve the first purpose, simply to raise the temperature of the muscles. Any movement can do this, but full body exercise achieves this far more quickly than single joint, or isolation, movements.
Specific warm ups are specific to the movements you will be performing. You don’t do some light sets on bench press to prepare for deadlift. The muscles are different so no matter how many warm up sets you’d do, you’d be warming the wrong muscles.
The perfect specific warm up for squats is light squats, the perfect specific warm up for bench press is light bench press.
If the movement you’re training is a compound movement, do you actually need to do a general warm up?
But it depends.
Weather and Warming Up
Warming Up In Warm Weather
Raising your muscle temperature in the heat of summer isn’t really that necessary. Your muscles will likely be fairly warm already so as long as you do a specific warm up, you should perform well.
You need to be mindful of the effects of heat when training at higher temperatures. Heat is good for your muscles, but too much is bad for your head. Hydrate well and reduce the reps if necessary so that you don’t overheat.
Warming Up In Cold Weather
In winter however, you’ll need more warm up sets to make sure that your body is prepared for going heavier in each exercise. Cold muscles aren’t as strong or resistant to injury, so get them warm.
Warming Up For Cardio
No low intensity forms of cardio require a warm up. Walking or jogging pretty much are warm ups. If you’re doing high intensity interval training then start off with a low intensity period lasting long enough to warm the muscles before switching up gears.
Warming Up For Weights
The most effective way to warm up for weights is to do lighter sets with the exercise you’ll be training.
Do enough reps to warm your muscles but not so many that it takes energy away from your main sets.
You should aim to increase the weight in comfortable jumps until you get to your working sets. So if you were going to squat 160kg for 3 reps for your working sets, you might do something like this.
60kg x 8 reps (first warm up set, light weight relative to ability level, decent number of reps to warm up)
100kg x 6 reps (second warm up set, bridges the gap between light and heavy, reps down slightly to reduce fatigue)
140kg x 3 reps (close to weight of main sets, few reps to avoid fatigue before working sets)
160kg x 3 reps (first working set)
If you were doing 60kg for 3 reps, it would look more like this.
20kg x 10 reps (empty bar, decent numhber of reps to warm muscles)
40kg x 6 reps (bridges gap, continues to warm muscles and prepare body for next set)
60kg x 3 reps (first working set)
So the objectives are only to increase muscle temperature and prepare you for your next set. The stronger you get, the more sets you’ll typically use to warm up and the more mindful you’ll need to be about fatigue. A strong cardiovascular system will help to fight fatigue.
What About Stretching?
The great thing about warming up with a particular movement is that, quelle surprise, it prepares you very well for that movement. That said, the more advanced you get, the more your need for stretching increases, but you still don’t need to spend long stretching.
I enjoy a bit of olympic weightlifting from time to time, and back in 2015 I followed a routine with California Strength, American competitive weightlifters and prolific youtubers. I picked up a great stretching routine they used and I use it from time to time now when my muscles are feeling a bit stiff before a session.
You can see that routine below.
[okay, you can’t yet. I’ll find the video soon]
It’s effective because it’s dynamic, so it’s actively increasing muscle temperature, and it’s quick. I’ll spend an extra five minutes warming up if it’s going to make the difference between an uncomfortable session or a good one.
If you’re only training your upper body, some band pulls, or light rear delt raises are a great way to warm and mobilise the area in a couple of minutes.
The Warm Up Is Part Of The Workout
A good warm up is part of the session, not a random activity thrown in to make you sweat before you jump in heavy on another exercise. Doing it the other way isn’t going to harm you, but it does take up time, which is a resource that a lot of us don’t have enough of.
Get yourself warm, work up to your heavy weights and use dynamic stretches when you need them.
Until next time,