How to warm up properly

People on exercise bikes in gym

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
  • increase your mental alertness and awareness
  • prepare mentally for your workout.

All of the above will reduce your chances of sustaining an injury and increase your body’s ability to work and therefore make gains!

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, rowing machine, or bike. Make sure to break into a sweat.
  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 core. You may therefore be wondering whether or not you have to perform warmup exercises for each muscle group.

If you’re training your back and biceps, you only need a single compound pulling exercise (for example, the seated cable row) to warm up all of the day’s target muscles. The reason is that compound pulling exercises involve your back, posterior shoulders, and elbow flexors (biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis). Indeed, this is also the very reason that people train their back and biceps together. Similarly, if you’re training your chest, shoulders, and triceps, you only need a single compound pushing exercise (for example, the push-up) to warm up all of the day’s target muscles. The reason is that compound pushing exercises involve your chest, anterior shoulders, and triceps.

If you’re training muscle groups that do not work together, such as opposing muscle groups (for example, chest and back), then you will need a warmup exercise for each one.

What is dynamic stretching?

The warmup procedure I recommended above 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 30 or so 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 videos below for demonstrations.

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.

Dynamic stretching videos

The video above might be blocked in your country, in which case I have added two more videos below that will give you an idea of what dynamic stretching is.

The stretching in the video below starts at 1:15.


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