Something that seems to confuse people quite a lot is the issue of warming up properly. Warm ups are essential, especially if you intend to lift heavy weights at medium to low rep ranges as they can both physically and mentally prepare your body for the hard work your muscle is about to do, as well as being proven to help reduce the risk of injury during training. I see it time and again in the gym, both with my own clients and also loads of the guys and girls training around me on a day to day basis. I even see other fitness professionals and experienced trainee’s using incorrect protocol, whist they themselves are preparing for their own workouts.

Below I will go through exactly what process you should be following when readying yourself for a heavy weights session. Of course everyone is different and some people need more or less of a warm up to be safe to move into the working part of their training than others, but this guideline will give you all the information you need, based on science, that will have you in the best possible position the get the most out of your workout, with the least risk of injury.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WRONG?

Firstly lets just quickly discuss a couple of common errors that happen at the start of a lot of peoples workouts that can be putting them at risk and also decreasing the amount of weight they may be able to use during the working stages of their exercises.

  1. Walking on a treadmill or using any piece of cardio equipment for 5-10 minutes before your hard weights sessions, does not pass as a warm up…especially if you are about to train your upper body. All this will do is help elevate your body’s core temperature, which will obviously make you feel hotter, but this does little to prepare a target muscle and connective tissues flexibility and blood flow for the stress you are about to put it though.
  2. Static stretching of a target muscle before entering a strength-based workout, has scientifically been proven to reduce the muscles capability to produce force (or strength) by up to 10%. This means that if your aim is to squat 100kg, you may only be able to push up to 90kg. It has also been linked to an increased risk of injury in some cases, so I would be very careful if you incorporate this type of stretching into your training session. You would be best to loosen up the joints and muscles before you hit the weights, by moving them both through some dynamic stretching movements that mimic the movement of the exercise you are about to perform.

Static stretching does have its place, don’t get me wrong, but it is most beneficial to be done at the completion of your training. Let’s be honest, we all know we should be doing way more stretching than we care to take part in, I myself am guilty of this…but the benefits are increased recovery, less soreness and increased mobility and flexibility. As we get older the amount of stretching we don should always be increasing as we age, this can be linked to a much better quality of life.

HOW SHOULD WE WARM UP BEFORE LIFTING HEAVY?

If you feel that you want to spend some time slightly elevating your core temp and then are ready to start lifting, DO NOT get into your first exercise and go straight away to your working set weights. Her is the correct path to follow to safely and effectively prepare your body for the onslaught you are about to put it through. Depending on the rep range you intend to train in, I normally recommend 2-3 warm up sets. I would normally do these on all my different exercises, but possibly only performing a maximum of 2 warm up sets as I move onto later exercises. On the first exercise at least 2-3 warm up sets. If you are training for a 1 rep max, then obviously you may want to include more, but for general heavy training this is sufficient.

  1. Go to your first exercise and select a weight that is roughly 40-50% of the weight you will use as your ‘work set weight’, perform 15-20 reps so the muscle becomes accustomed to moving through this range of motion, the tendons and ligaments become more supple and blood has the chance to flood into the muscle tissue. The weight you choose should be easy enough that you could do double the amount of reps you just performed. Rest about 30-90 seconds before your next set so that the muscle has the chance to fully recover…remember we are just warming up.
  2. Increase the weight to around 75% of the ‘work set weight’ and do a few less reps than last time. How many?…maybe 12-15 reps and make sure that at this weight you could still possibly get another 6-10 reps out if you had to, if you can then you second warm up weight is to heavy. Rest around 60-90 seconds and perform your third warm up set at the same weight, or if you feel you are ready move into your ‘work sets’.  

One mistake people make when they are tracking their workouts, is to track warm up sets as part of their working sets of their programs. They are not and should not be considered part of the volume training that you are dedicating to muscle growth. They are not a progressive overload exercise and therefore do not have any effect on making your muscles increase in size, by stimulating protein synthesis.