Next up in the 101 series is one of the most important pillars of resistance training – warming up! If we don’t protect our bodies in preparation for physical activity then we’re just asking for trouble. If we don’t have the mobility to put our bodies into the positions they need to reach then we’re not going to get very far. Warming up is an essential part of lifting that athletes of all levels should fully understand if they want to see better training results1. In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the theory behind warm-ups and we’ll also share our favourite exercises.
We’ve broken this topic into 3 areas which will cover what you should be doing from the moment you walk into the gym, up to when you first lay your hands on a barbell. We’ll also look at some of the considerations you should take for working on mobility outside of the gym. The overarching goal of the warm-up routine is to prep the body for physical activity whilst also being mindful not to expend too much energy that could be used for our actual workout. We aim to get through the warm-ups in under a quarter of the time that we’d be spending in the gym.
Over the years we’ve tested out a variety of different exercises, picked up tips from wise old lifters in gyms around the world, researched solutions to some of our lifters’ problem areas, and stood on the shoulders of our favourite giants – Dr Stuart McGill, Adriene Mishler, and Joe DeFranco. The combination of exercises that we’ve put together for our general warm-up has been laid out in a specific order and has been separated for upper body and lower body work.
WIthout further ado, let’s begin!
1. It’s getting hot in here
Our first task when entering the gym, as the name suggests, is to warm up. By this we mean actually warm up. The sole purpose of our first activity is to increase the temperature of the body. We want to warm everything up, increase the heart rate, and increase blood flow to the muscles. This activity shouldn’t be too strenuous or take up too much energy; remember, we came to the gym to lift. This should be a quick full-body activity that will make us break a slight sweat2. Our go to exercise is the Rowing machine. If your gym has an erg machine we’d typically take 2 or 3 minutes at the start of the session to prep the body for the workout. Equally, the static bike or the elliptical machine do a great job of increasing body temperature.
Row / Cycle / Elliptical
2. Dynamic warm-ups
It’s time to increase specificity. We want to carry out movements which allow the body to mimic the compound lifts that we’ll be doing, and target the muscles that will be working. This section is split into two sample complexes that accommodate for upper and lower body routines. There are crossover exercises which cover both and focus on the back and core; with separate exercises targeting the shoulder girdle and chest, and then the hips and legs.
Dynamic prep movements have been shown to have an increased output on physical performance3. The goal is to acclimatise the body to the heavier movements that will follow, and to prehab any personal areas of weakness or reduced mobility.
For upper body workouts, i.e ahead of a bench press or overhead session in Prep10 we would follow the below routine:
For lower body workouts we follow:
Rollovers – into sitting V
3. Guided machines
The third and final part of our gym warm-up routine is some light work on the guided machines. Emphasis on the light. The goal here isn’t to try to build muscle, we’re not testing strength, all we want to do is warm up for the upcoming lifts. This work should be quick and easy. Take the lightest pin on the machine and work through the range of motion. A couple of quick sets is all you’ll need to replicate the upcoming compound exercises.
Cable Shoulder internal & external rotations, and Cuban rotations
Leg press/ Hack squat machine
We’d do this circuit ahead of any heavy lifting on the Prep10 programme. You should be able to incorporate this into your routine without sacrificing much time or energy, and will reap the benefits for years to come.
Away from the gym
Wait, there’s more. You may have noticed that we haven’t mentioned anything about static stretching; all of the activities that we carry out in the gym are dynamic in nature. This is because the jury is out on the benefits of static stretching before lifting. Some studies even show that this type of work to actively lengthen our muscle fibres reduces physical performance, even if it can help to increase mobility4. What can be said however, is that regular long-term static stretching can help to greatly improve mobility and flexibility – which will benefit lifting in the long run5,6. So the idea here is to reduce static stretching immediately before lifting, and focus on its long term benefits by regularly stretching with a less gym oriented approach.
That’s why our static stretching comes in the form of daily home workouts. Taking 20 minutes of your day to build up your mobility and flexibility can be a great way of prehabing the body and targeting problem areas. Try to build something into your daily routine. This can be a quick stretch when you’re watching television, while you’re waiting for your food to cook, or maybe before bedtime. This is what your complex could look like:
We’ll finish off by highlighting the benefits of foam rolling. It may be painful, you may look strange doing it, but if you have access to a roller you’ll see great benefits from it. Foam rolling is a fantastic way to prepare the body for lifting7. You can slot this in before your dynamic stretches at the gym, or at the start of your daily regimen. If you have access to a foam roller or lacrosse/hockey ball you could also try targeting:
Always consult with a GP/physician before starting out with any fitness regime – you may also identify additional stretches or exercises that you can fit into these warm-up routines, or may identify exercises that may not be suitable for you.
1.Fradkin, A; Zazryn, T; Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects Of Warming-Up On Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis, Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 24(1), 140-148
2. Stewart, D & Macaluso, A & De Vito, G. (2003). The Effect Of An Active Warm-Up On Surface EMG And Muscle Performance In Healthy Humans. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 89, 509-13.
3. Fletcher, Iain M., And Ruth Anness. (2007). The Acute Effects Of Combined Static And Dynamic Stretch Protocols On Fifty-Meter Sprint Performance In Track-And-Field Athletes. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 21(3), 784-7.
4. Winchester, J; Nelson, A; Landin, D; Young, M; Schexnayder, I (2008) Static Stretching Impairs Sprint Performance In Collegiate Track And Field Athletes, Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 22(1), 13-19
5. Kokkonen, J., A. G. Nelson, C. Eldredge, & J. B. Winchester. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 39(10), 1825–1831
6. Nelson, A; Kokkonen, J; Winchester, J; Kalani, W; Peterson, K; Kenly, M; Arnall, D. (2012) A 10-Week Stretching Program Increases Strength In The Contralateral Muscle. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 26(3), 832-836
7. Su, Hsuan & Chang, Nai-Jen & Wu, Wen-Lan & Guo, Lan-Yuen & Chu, I-Hua. (2016). Acute Effects Of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, And Dynamic Stretching During Warm-Ups On Muscular Flexibility And Strength In Young Adults. Journal Of Sport Rehabilitation. 26. 1-24.