Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Looking to maximize your gains from your efforts in the gym or outside? Or want to ensure that you can continue training for life?
If so, you'll need to make sure that you're performing a proper and effective warmup before each workout session you do, as well as a cool down afterwards.
And while there are countless ways that people go about performing their warmups, there is no perfect, one size fits all routine. You'll need to take into consideration the time that you have available, your own body, your goals and what you plan on doing.
To properly warm up for any form of exercise, you should look to do some combinations of the most common warmup methods.
These are: dynamic and static stretching, foam rolling, light cardiovascular exercise, and your main exercises such as deadlifts and squats, done at a lighter load (usually with an empty bar).
Exactly what you do will be dependent on your goals, body and time availability, and we'll go into what this all means, as well as how you can implement it into your training as effectively as possible.
Firstly: What Is a Warmup and What Are the Benefits?
A warmup is a sequence of exercises or movements that are done prior to a workout session, with the intent of priming and preparing the muscles, joints, central nervous system and mind for the workout ahead.
A regular warmup routine for the average trainee will usually take around 10-15 minutes, depending on the time available and the goals of the trainee.
All warmups will look different, but every one has more or less the same goals in mind. To reduce chances of injury, enhance athletic performance, and to get the trainee into the right mindset leading up to their workout. Whether this is for a recovery bike ride or a competitive powerlifting meet, the primary goals will remain the same.
It's vitally important that you do do a warmup, for several different reasons. One of the main reasons is to avoid injury. Getting blood flowing into the muscles and joints will reduce the chances of you suffering a muscle strain, as you body will have been prepared to lift heavy or endure intense exercise.
You'll also prepare your heart and lungs for intense exercise, keeping your breathing in check and reducing the chances of you having to work unnecessarily hard. This is especially important if you're lifting heavy, as the failure to breathe and brace properly when lifting heavy loads can lead to serious danger, such as spinal injuries during squats and deadlifts.
Ensuring a proper warm up is done will also increase your athletic performance, both in terms of muscle activation and output.
Warming up will get blood flowing into your muscles and joints, as well as increase the overall temperature of your body, having you feel good and prepared to train. You won't have to waste a portion of your actual workout getting warm, and risk leaving gains on the table. You'll be able to create as much force as possible, for as long as possible.
Doing a proper warmup routine should also help loosen any tight muscles, increase flexibility and ultimately allow for more range of motion and more muscle activation/growth.
For example, having tight hamstrings can severely affect your performance and ability to achieve proper range of motion during Romanian deadlifts, and doing a proper warmup prior to your workout could help resolve or lessen that issue as much as possible.
And we know that generally, a longer range of motion means more muscle growth. A study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld found that: "it can be inferred that performing RT through a full ROM confers beneficial effects on hypertrophy of the lower body musculature versus training with a partial ROM."
It would also be appropriate to assume that the effect is the same for the muscles of the upper body, although research was limited there.
So not only will a warmup increase your performance, it will likely enhance your muscle growth over time as well.
Help You Mentally Prepare
Lastly, a warmup will help you mentally prepare for the exercise you're about to do. Especially if you're competing in something like a lifting competition or a race, nerves can sometimes get the better of you, and doubt can start to creep in.
Doing a proper warmup will get you in the right mindset for your session, give you the confidence you need, and ultimately help you perform as best that you can.
All of this comes helps to keep you training for as long as and as efficiently as possible.
Standard Warmup Methods
You'll see many athletes and lifters head into the stretching room before any session they do. They'll do a combination of dynamic and static stretches, and it's a good idea for most trainees to do this too.
Generally just 3-5 minutes before a session, combined with some of the other techniques listed below will be a sufficient warmup for the average training session.
Another commonly used method of warming up would be light foam rolling. Generally this is also done for 3-5 minutes before a workout session, and used to release any tightness, aches or pain that might be lingering from previous workout sessions.
It's a good idea to include some foam rolling into your warmup, regardless of the exercise type that you're doing.
We recommend doing this before any exercise you do as well, just to get the blood flowing and your body warm.
But it's especially important that you cater this to the things you've got planned out in your session.
For example if you're going to do a 5km run, it's probably smart to warm up with a light jog instead of rowing. It'll still get you warm, but it won't be as effective at warming up the specific muscles you'll be needing.
You also don't want to go anywhere near failure or max effort during your cardio warmup. It will quickly deplete your energy and cause your actual workout to suffer. Again, just 3-5 minutes before your workout will be enough.
But bear in mind if you're doing something like an interval rowing workout, you will still need to do your usual and standard warmup, which could take upwards of 15-20 minutes. Especially if you're a competitive athlete.
Otherwise if you're lifting weights, just a quick, light cardio session beforehand will do the trick. Just get the body warm and the prepared.
This should definitely be a part of your warmup routine if you're planning on doing any kind of weightlifting. Just do it with an empty bar, or a small stack of plates if you're on a machine.
You need to get your body prepared for not only the weight that you're about to lift, but also the movement you're about to take it through.
So just before your first squat set, or your first bench press set, do a couple of sets with the empty bar. Get your technique right, get the right muscles warmed up, the right joints warmed up, and then work your way up to the your actual working weight.
Don't jump straight from an empty bar to 85% of your one rep max. That's practically asking for an injury.
While warmup sets should undoubtedly be a part of your lifting warmup routine, you don't have to do them before a cardio session.
But you SHOULD look to spend some time doing your chosen cardiovascular exercise at a lighter and less intense level, to ease your body into it. You just don't have to use a barbell to do squats before a run if you don't want to.
So What Kind of Warmup Should I Be Doing?
Well, we can't tell you for sure as it'll depend on several factors that we don't know about you, but we can give you a couple of rough guidelines.
As a general rule of thumb, you'll want to activate the joints and muscles that you'll be working, as well as get the heart rate going, and stretch to loosen up any tight muscles from previous workout sessions.
Then, to further release aches or tightness in your muscles, you could do some foam rolling.
Start every workout session with some light cardio, just for 3-5 minutes.
Then, to warm up your joints you'll want to do do 2-3 sets of an activation exercise, such as glute bridges for your hips, arm circles for your shoulders, push ups for your wrists and elbows, and so forth.
Next you could look to do some stretching, and foam rolling for about 4-6 minutes, obviously focusing on the muscles that you'll be working in the upcoming session.
Lastly you'll either start with low intensity on your chosen cardiovascular exercise, or head to your main compounds and do sets with an empty barbell, before gradually increasing sensibly up to your working weight.
To wrap things up we'll provide you with a sample full-body warmup for a total-body lifting session, fully complete with stretches, foam rolling, warmup sets and cardio.
Rowing/jogging - 3-5 minutes
Push ups - 2 x 10-20
Pull ups - 2 x 5-10
Long lunges - 2 x 15-20 each side
Cross-body arm swings - 15-20
Leg swings - 15-20 each side
Cat/cow stretch - 15-20
Lying torso twists - 10-15 each side
Foam roll any tight spots (hamstrings, back, etc.)
Empty bar warmup set for your first exercise (squat, bench press, deadlift, etc.)
Work up sensibly to your working weight
Overall, ensuring that you go through a proper warmup routine can have a huge and positive impact on your workouts.
Often more than people think. Many factors do and should go into determining the best warmup for you, but it's important that you take the time to find out what works for you. It'll only boost your performance and minimize the risk of injury.
If you're not currently doing any sort of a warmup before your sessions, you're most likely leaving valuable gains on the table. It's as simple as that.
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Now take a moment to think: how can you best optimize your warmup routine?