Getting Warmed Up

Updated December 5, 2009

One question I see over and over again is how do I warm up? I rarely ever answer this question decisively, because it is my belief that a proper warm up is an individual thing. I have offered advice on the subject, but little in the way of instruction. Now I will break my silence.

It doesn’t matter what your reason is for lifting weights, a proper warm up is an integral part of keeping you injury free. One problem that I often see is that people will over play that fact, and in essence wear themselves out on the warm up. That can – in fact – cause you to build muscle at a much slower rate, or even halt growth period.

Anytime you put too much energy into warming up, you will be taking away from your bottom line as far as energy is concerned. You must remember that your energy and recovery are limited, so you have to be careful not to over use either on less than maximum return investments. This is the same reason why we focus on heavy compound exercises instead of isolation exercises, because the compounds offer more growth stimulation for a certain amount of work than an isolation can.

Think of this like a computer’s hard drive. It has to partition off a certain amount of itself in order to make sure that its main program or operating system (your routine) always has enough space (energy) to run (remain productive).

Forgive me if that spiel sounds a little off topic, but trust me it is all relevant. Remember how I talked about the whole bang for your buck idea, well the same will apply to your warm up sets. The more time and energy you spend warming up, the less you will have for your muscle and strength building sets. So then the secret to a proper warm up is doing just enough to warm the muscle up, without wearing it out. Let’s take a quick look at the Reg Park warm up for an idea about a proper warm up.

  • Set 1 – 100 lbs x 5
  • Set 2 – 125 x 5
  • Sets 3-5 – 150 x 5

Notice how the warmups are not very heavy in relation to the work sets, nor is the rep range high. Now let’s look at how the average guy warms up for his heaviest set of 5 with 150 lbs:

  • Set 1 – 45 lbs x 15
  • Set 2 – 80 x 12
  • Set 3 – 100  x 10
  • Set 4 – 125 x 8
  • Set 5 – 150 x 5

I don’t know about you, but after that many sets and reps, I would be too tired to put forth the effort required to make that last set productive. Actually, by that point, I doubt I could complete that last set if my max for the given exercise is 150 lbs x 5. You see, that’s the normal warm up used by most people. But all it does is causes you to be unable to do what you must to produce improvement. That is an uneffective warm up scheme.

So let’s review, an effective warm up is:

  1. Quick
  2. Well below maximal (weights/reps)
  3. Uses few reps and just enough weight

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