Lifting & How To Properly Warm Up
I was never a big fan of warm ups. I was once asked what I typically do to warm up, and my response was; I start lifting. Granted, there’s a lot more to it than that, and I do warm up, but it’s specific to the first major lift, or movement that I am doing on any particular day. "Warming up" is rather open-ended. Some like to really get a sweat going, others focus on "Mobility!" But, what's really necessary, and also beneficial? Only if mobility for a given movement that I may be working with (on that day) is an issue, then yes, necessary, targeted mobility that will improve MY necessary range of motion of the given lift is important, and may take a little longer. Otherwise, I don’t really like to waste energy on movements, or work that's not going to benefit the first, major part of the training session. If mobility for the given lift(s) to be completed, or at least the first lift is not really an issue, then just some basic cardio for a few minutes to get the joints lubricated, and blood flowing should be all that’s needed, plus some additional, specific “primers”.
Primers can be isolated portions, or “problem areas” of a compound movement that serve to “wake up” certain muscle groups that play a vital role in the improvement, or success of the given movement, or lift. Generally, the number of reps done with these “primers” are low; 3-6 depending on the type of lift. The tempo is typically a bit slower as well, in order to better promote the mind-muscle connection. Though much of this is lifting, it really can also be viewed as specific mobility, and even core work as well, based on the way it’s performed. For example, we often use the front foot elevated split squat as a primer for front, or back squats. This is a simple variation of a single-leg squat (that can even be done as an accessory exercise, or even bi-lateral squat substitute for various reasons). The main reason for this as a primer though, is to promote mobility in the knee, and range of motion in the ankle by a focus on pushing the knee forward as the lifter descends into the split squat. It also allows the lifter to better feel the work in the quads specifically, and a warming sensation in the knee prior to getting under
Following, or even included with these primers are the more specific warm up sets to the given movement. What increments in weight should you increase for each set? How many reps, etc? As an example, we’ll use two different weights, representing two different lifters of different capacities for the squat. Let’s say that working sets are supposed to be 3x5@ (A)225lbs, (B)315lbs. Warming up to these working sets may look like;
A: 115x8-10 B: 135x8-10
Some things to keep in mind for your warm up sets that will both save time, and energy are to first determine what your working sets are going to be. This can only be done using data that you’ve kept from prior experience. Once you’ve determined your target weight, know that you’ll start warming up the specific movement between 35-40% of your target. For the most part those numbers don’t need to be exact, but it’s important to know what your target is, and where you’re going to start, so that you know what the other four or so sets in between will be. This will save time and energy which should be reserved for the working sets. The other important aspect of this is increasing the loading by similar increments for every warm up set. In essence, you don’t want to be feeling really good on your first couple warm up sets, then add 50lbs when you’ve only been making 20lb jumps. Conversely, adding only 5lbs per warm up set will greatly increase the number of sets, energy requirement, and time it takes to get to the point you need to be. The point of the similar incremental increases in weight per set is to create a pattern for your nervous system. Though you might be capable of lifting what you added that’s more than what the pattern should be based on your target weight, your nervous system may not yet be prepared for that, or you might just be having an ‘off’ day. The lift will then go from feeling great to terrible in literally one rep, and this is even more evident with more complex lifts such as the snatch, clean & jerk, and their variants. Now what? Are you thinking five sets may not be enough? If you take the right approach, it should be plenty. That said, try approaching your specific warm up sets a little differently. Slow the tempo of the eccentric (lowering/ descending) phase of the lift. Include pauses at various positions. Prioritize absolute control over every portion of the lift, through your entire range of motion. Then, I’d venture to just about guarantee that the above described approach to warm up is plenty for just about anyone.
With the above kept in mind, I like to include some of the basic, general stretching & movement primers during the specific warm up sets. This tends to be a much more efficient, and effective way to warm up, saving both time, and energy while having a much more direct carryover to the improvement of the first lift, or two of the session. So, the warm up for the squat workout listed above might look something like;
3-5 Minutes of low impact, steady aerobic work and/or foam roll
-Knee & Ankle rock x10 reps
-Spider-Man Stretch x3-4 reps/leg
-Front Foot Elevated Split Squat x6/ leg @30X1
-45lb Barbell Hip Thrust w/ pause x6
-Back Squat 135x8-10 -pause 1st Rep, 40X1 tempo for remaining reps
-Spider-Man Stretch x1-2 reps/leg
-Back extension w/ pause at extension x6
-Front Foot Elevated Split Squat x6/ leg @30X1 w/ 25lb DB’s per hand
-95lb Barbell Hip Thrust w/ pause x6
-Back Squat 185x6 -pause 1st rep, *increase tempo based on feel
-Back Squat 225x4 -pause 1st rep
-Back Squat 265x2 -pause 1st rep
-Back Squat 305x1-2 -pause 1st rep
-Back Squat 315x5x3
This certainly is not the only way to warm up. But, it’s adequate, and beneficial for anyone who already has the experience, and necessary mobility for the lift that you are warming up to. This is especially beneficial if you want to save some time, and energy for what really counts. There’s no sense in doing a workout before you have to workout.