How to warm up

How to warm up before a workout

Why should you warm up?

Warming up is probably much more important than you realize. While it is important to know how to warm up properly, you should also know why you should warm up. Warming up before a workout will help you to:

  • increase your body temperature
  • lubricate your joints
  • increase blood flow to your muscles
  • loosen your muscles, joints, and connective tissues
  • improve the elasticity of your muscles, enabling them to work harder, more efficiently, and for longer before they fatigue
  • allow nerve impulses to be transmitted faster
  • increase your mental alertness and awareness
  • prepare mentally for your workout
  • rehearse proper form and technique.

All of the above will reduce your chances of sustaining an injury and increase your body’s ability to work and therefore make gains in size and strength! Warming up can also boost your arousal and motivation.

How to warm up properly

I recommend the following warm-up sequence:

  1. Perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching (explained below).
  2. Do some cardio for five to 10 minutes on the treadmill, cross-trainer, or bike. Make one or two of those minutes very intense. If two minutes of intensity, spread them out. For example, if running on the treadmill for ten minutes, make the fifth and eighth minutes very intense.
  3. Warm up the target muscle group(s) with a light set using approximately 50% of the weight that you will be using in the workout.
  4. Do a heavier set using approximately 75% of the weight that you will be using in the workout.

You can then safely start your workout.

Note that the heavier the weight you will be using in the workout, the more warmup sets you will have to do to prepare your target muscle group(s) for the heavy weight. For example, if it is leg day and you have to squat 250 pounds, you should do a few squats each using, for example, 150 pounds, 175 pounds, 200 pounds, and 225 pounds. On the other hand, if you will not be lifting very heavy weights, two lighter sets, as described above, should be more than enough to get you warmed up and ready to safely start.

Must you warm up every muscle group?

Depending on your training program, you will most likely have to train different muscle groups in each workout instead of just one muscle group. For example, Monday might be back and biceps; Tuesday might be chest, shoulders, and triceps; and Wednesday might be legs and abs. You may therefore be wondering whether or not you have to perform warmup exercises for each muscle group.

The answer is that it depends on the warmup exercises that you use. Compound exercises are of course the best for warming up because they work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. When it comes to compound exercises, there is the target muscle (the one that takes the brunt of the resistance), there are the synergists (muscles that help the target muscle to complete the movement), and there are the stabilizers (muscles that contract with no significant movement to maintain your posture). If you warm up with a compound exercise, you can consider the target muscle and the synergists to be warmed up. The stabilizers, on the other hand, will need warming up if they are to be trained.

With that in mind, you should learn what muscle groups are involved in each compound exercise. That way, you can determine whether or not a particular muscle group needs to be warmed up. What you’ll realize almost immediately is that many of your body’s muscles often work together to perform common movements. For example, pull exercises involve your back, posterior and lateral shoulders, and biceps, whereas push exercises involve your chest, anterior shoulders, and triceps. Therefore, if it’s back and biceps day, a single compound pulling exercise, such as the cable row, will suffice to warm up all of the day’s target muscles.

What is dynamic stretching?

The warmup procedure I recommended above (see How to warm up properly) starts with five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is different from the type of stretching with which you are probably familiar, known as static stretching. Static stretching involves holding a position for more than 30 to 60 seconds in order to elongate the muscle. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is a newer variation of stretching that involves performing fluid, controlled movements that take your joints safely through their full range of motion without stretching the muscles. See the video below for a demonstration.

You should perform dynamic stretching as part of your warmup sequence and not static stretching because the latter can impede the performance of your muscles, as well as lead to an injury when done before your muscles and joints are warmed up. Note, however, that static stretching is recommended after your workout, as explained in the lesson How to cool down.

Dynamic stretching video demonstration

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