Warm-up- To do or not to do?
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Warm-up- To do or not to do?
For all scenarios, a warm-up is essential. Almost everyone knows this. However, the majority of the population go about this incorrectly. I believe warming up is crucial in getting a good workout and help prevent injury. For most people, due to day to day lifestyle factors, our muscles aren’t as responsive as they should be. For the majority of people, these muscles include the core, glutes, lower trapezius/mid-back area. It is vital to pre-activate these muscles, along with warming up the body.
Importance of warming-up?
- The main one is to help prevent/minimise injury. Shit happens, even with an excellent warm-up routine and correct technique, things can still go wrong. Warming up, for me anyway, helps reassure myself that I did the right things for me not to get hurt.
- Warming up increases body temperature. It tells your body its time to get pumped!
- Performing warm-up primes the neural system. Helps “wake our nervous system up” and make it more responsive so you can exert as much intensity as you can when you are training.
- Warming up can be a good indicator of how your session will be. Besides injury prevention, using your warm-up to indicate how hard you should go is another reason I recommend a proper warm-up. I’ve worked at commercial gyms long enough to know that most people don’t warm up properly. I see members walk into the gym, put their bags down, go to a squat rack and start loading up the bar (If I could do emoticons this is where I’ll insert the shaking head emoticon). These are the same people who perform the exercise with terrible technique, and you see them lifting the same weight year in, year out. I know, I know, as a trainer I should talk to them. The funny thing is, I do! Most of them just ignore me. I don’t know if it’s their ego’s (these people I’m referring to are mainly men, some women) or whatever it may be. Anyways, that was a long tangent, moving on.
If your warm-up sets feel like shit, chances are your working sets are going to feel like shit. At this point, you can either listen to your body and take it easy or push through and see what happens.
If you need more reasons, I’m sure Google will provide you with the answer. What I want to do with this article is to provide a framework of how you can incorporate an adequate warm-up routine; what it looks like and how to do them.
Warm-up routine- before lifting anything
The only difference with the warm-up routine I would recommend is dependent on the time you train. If you are going to train early morning or within 1-2 hours of waking, I will do some sort of cardio machine or bodyweight cardio movement; treadmill, skipping, stationary bike anywhere from 5 minutes to 10 minutes. The time depends on how long it takes your body to warm up. Some take longer than others.
Ideally, you want to be awake for a few hours before training to ensure your body is adequately warmed up. However, I know most people prefer training first thing in the morning to get it out of the way or because they don’t have time for the rest of the day. I’ve trained all hours of the day throughout my training career, and I prefer during the day training after I’ve been awake for at least 2 hours.
If you are training during the day, then whole-body cardio warm-up is not essential and may be skipped if you want. Again, it depends on the individual.
Upper body pre-activation drill.
Now, for the upper body, this is intensely individualised. There are so many things that may be under/misfiring. For the upper body, having your palms facing the ground vs palms facing up uses different muscles. So, what I’m going to lay down is just general advice. For advice more tailored to you and your issues (everyone has some problem) see a physiotherapist or other allied health practitioners.
Generally, I would get my clients to warm up the shoulder, wrist and elbow joints. For the upper body, I like using a powerband to do shoulder mobility work. The YouTube link below will take you to a video demonstration of the shoulder mobility work I recommend:
No matter which upper back muscles you are working on, I believe it’s essential to warm up the upper/mid-back muscles. After the mobility drills with the bands or body weight, I will go into some rows, either with a powerband or on a cable machine. I will do 1-2 sets, 10-15 reps, lightweights feeling the muscles we want to activate. I’ll do a mid-angle row and a high-angle row. I’ll also throw in some external rotation work for the rotator cuffs.
Lower body pre-activation and warm-up drill
For the lower body, I will perform a core and glute activation routine. I recommend a plank variation (knees/toes/hold in a push-up position) paired with glute bridges or hip thrust if you have the tools to do so. I would then perform a side plank along with the clams. I do anywhere from 1-2 sets. The idea behind pre-activation is “waking” the muscles up. Rep wise, I would hold the plank and side plank anywhere from 20 seconds to 40 seconds, depending on how advance someone is. For the glutes and clams, I do as low as ten up to 25. Again, the goal for these pre-activation exercises isn’t to “kill yourself” it’s to make sure these underperforming muscles perform when you need them to. So, I would highly recommend developing a high level of mind-muscle connection so you can feel the muscles work.
The video link below will take you to a demonstration video of my go-to lower-body pre-activation and warm-up drill, which is pretty much what I described above:
The pre-activation I mentioned above, I recommend being done at the beginning of every lower body training day. However, it’s beneficial for most people who have weak core and glutes to do daily to help strengthen those areas.
Warm-up routine- warming up with the movement
Warming up in the movement is an aspect most general population gym-goers, miss. I see guys and gals walk straight to a squat rack and start adding weight. Let’s be honest, if powerlifters, weightlifters and athletes, in general, spend a few minutes to warm up, then shouldn’t you do the same? Don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. If you’re short on time, then cut your workout shorter. I always recommend my clients to reduce their workout load if they are short on time and not skimp out on the warm-up. This is a big no, no!
Warming up in the movement
For example, say you’re going to squat 100kg for 5x5. After I’ve done the required pre-activation and core and glute warm-up, I’ll start my movement warm-up. I will do the bar, usually 20kg, for anywhere from 5-10 reps. I will then add either a 10kg or 15kg on each side to make it 40kg or 50kg. I will do that for half the amount of reps I did the first warm-up set. So, if I did 10 reps, I’ll do 5 reps. I’ll then go up to 70/80kg and perform 3 reps. My final warm-up set will be 90kg for 1 rep. So, in total I did 4 warm-up sets, increasing the weights, lowering the reps for each set. Now, this is just an example. The amount of warm-up sets is dependent on how heavy you are going. Someone squatting 200kg + will have more warm-up sets, and longer rests in-between each set.
Side note: Treat the warm-up sets like they are your working sets. Don’t rush through them or take it half-assed. That defeats the purpose. As I wrote above, performing multiple warm-up sets allows us to “feel” how our body is feeling that day and can help determine how heavy we go.
The warm-up routine I’ve written out here are things I’ve learnt over the years from some of the best strength coaches in the world. They are the methods they use for themselves, and their athletes to lift the heaviest possible, the safest way.
For those who are curious, I didn’t mention stretching at all, or more specific static stretching. It’s not useful, especially if you are lifting heavy shit. Stretching relaxes the muscle, and when we work out, we need our muscles to be rigid to prevent injury. I’ll probably write an article about it eventually, but for now, do what I’ve mentioned above! Keep lifting hard and making those gains, peace!