A warm-up reduces the chance of injury and boosts performance, preparing your body and allowing you to practice form.
The perfect warm-up depends on the trainee though.
No matter how involved, it should never interfere with the workout by feeling too exhausting.
A warm-up has two stages:
Any activity that uses lots of muscle and movement with enough time will give you a general warm-up. It should feel easy but have you sweat a bit.
This makes brisk walking the best option and needs to last only 3-10 minutes.
A general warm-up increases your temperature, heart rate, and blood flow to allow the body to work at its best. The same effect does not result from a warm environment or with heat from other sources.
If possible though, still exercise in an environment that provides enough warmth. Consider extending the warm up if exercising in colder temperatures.
Specific Warm Up
A “cold” muscle is literally incapable of working within its existing level of reserve strength – and unless an imposed workload is heavy enough to force the involved muscles to work well inside their momentarily existing reserve levels of strength, then very little in the way of results will be produced.
Practice prepares both the body and mind. Performing the exact movements with good form and less intensity can provide both a specific and general warm-up.
This specific warm-up may achieve both goals so you could remove the general warm-up but you need to determine this for yourself.
For cardio such as intervals, the general warm-up should work well enough.
For lifting, I suggest a specific warm-up after the general. Begin with a lighter set or two before one tough set. I recommend no more than 2 warm-up sets per exercise.
Very strong trainees may require more if dealing with the very low reps on their heaviest set, such as 3 or less, which I suggest against.
With lower reps, such as 4-6, two warm-up sets may feel necessary for some to prepare the body for the intense effort early in the set.
Sets with higher reps, such as 12 or more, may not even need warm-up sets. In these cases, the earlier reps prepare the body for the intense effort later in the set.
You still may want one easy set for the practice though. For a set of 5, the following system may work.
The first set uses 40-60% of the weight used for the working set. The second set, if needed, uses 60-80% of the weight used for the working set.
You may need to bump up the weight a bit for each set for the lower body, since percentages sometimes result too low of a weight as you grow stronger. This second set is usually heavier to prepare you for the challenge ahead.
For both of these sets, you could use 3 reps to limit fatigue or use 5 reps if you benefit from auto-suggestion or more of a warm-up. Designing a specific warm-up relies on trial and error and you should tinker this base as you see fit.
Consider using a progress log and reviewing it after the warm up.
It eliminates relying on memory, which is important if the equipment you use has specific settings for safety.
Consider creating a cue sheet to remind you of your tips for good form as well.
Consider a complete stretching program after your warm up.
Keep in mind that flexibility requires a balance. Develop it neither too much nor too little to protect the joints.
Some experts advocate explosive movements for warming up. These may involve bodyweight drills or kettlebell exercises that aim to ready the nervous system for the workout.
These instead may invite harm and can exhaust you before the workout even begins.
Include a Warm Up
Some believe a warm-up serves little purpose. In a less sedentary society, perhaps our daily activity kept us warmed up enough.
We could spring into activity on a moment’s notice. How things ought to be has no bearing on how things are though.
A warm-up has plenty of support and science proving its value.
Remember these rules:
- Consider a 3-10 minute general warm-up with walking.
- Include a specific warm-up of 1-2 lighter sets for lifting.
- Use either the same number of reps as the working set or less.
- Use between 40-80% of your working set weight for these sets.
- A warm up should enhance your performance and never detract from it.