First off, let's look at why it is important. The main reason that you should warm up is to elevate your core body temperature, including that of your skeletal tissue (muscle-tendons) and synovial fluids. Muscles are like elastic bands. If you take a rubber band and put it in the fridge or freezer for a while, then take it out and stretch it, what happens? It is not as pliable and it will more often than not, snap in half. On the other hand, if you take a rubber band and leave it in the sun on a windowsill for a while and then stretch it out, what happens? It is nice and pliable and stretches and snaps back in place like it is supposed to.
We can take this a step further with an old elastic band. They are brittle, and cracked and not as stretchy as they once were. If you try and stretch them out when they are cold, things go wrong fast. Older athletes have muscles that are bound up with scar tissue and are like old elastics. Warming up correctly is more important for the older athlete. This is not to say younger athletes do not need to warm up. They do, and doing so as a habit from a young age will prolong your health and career.
Warm-up is even more important for those who train early in the day, regardless of age. Training early requires more care because your body (and specifically, synovial fluid) is much colder in the mornings. Synovial fluid is a fluid that is in your joints that lubricates and nourishes cartilage. When it is cold, you can experience pain because it is not moving around doing its job. It's kind of like motor oil. You let your car warm up for a few minutes in the freezing cold, don't you? You should take care of your joints better than you take care of your car. You can always buy a new car, but buying a new knee is much more difficult.
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While we're on the subject of hitting the gym floor, it should be noted that a top-quality pre-workout formula can play a key role in preparing you for an intense and productive workout. A premium pre-workout performance catalyst like BioQuest's Alpha Fury or ProSource's own SynthaTrex Xteme will set the stage for success, creating an ideal bodily environment characterized by an invigorating muscle pump, enhanced nutrient delivery to muscle tissue, increased focus, and postponed fatigue.
Understanding Muscular Mechanics
OK, so now we know why it is important, let's look at what it can do for you. Warming up properly does several things. It alleviates pain and stiffness from the last workout or from being old and beat up, like me. It loosens and releases scar tissue and adhesions, making your muscles slide freely back and forth.
Muscle contracts by what is called the Sliding Filament theory. You have two types of muscle fiber, actin and myosin. When a muscle contracts or loosens, the two fibers slide across each other. As you age, or after a hard workout, muscles can develop what you feel as a "knot". This is either an adhesion or the formation of scar tissue and it prohibits the muscle fibers from sliding across each other smoothly. This causes at the least a decrease in power output, and at the worst, a catastrophic tear in the belly of the muscle. I know, I've torn more than a few.
Proper warm-up can also INCREASE your nervous system activity and prime it to fire much faster. This allows you to lift more weight, jump higher and be faster. We should all know by now that speed is king in the weight room. Muscles contract in an all-or-none fashion.
The All or None Law means that a muscle fiber fires 100% or it does not fire at all. The body is lazy and will only use what it needs to get the job done. The best way to activate more muscle fiber is to move faster. The best way to get your nervous system to ignite more motor units is to prepare it to do so. This is done with a proper warm up.
Warm-Up Techniques for Maximum Workout Results
I strongly suggest beginning your warm up with foam rolling. In a nutshell, foam rolling allows your muscles to work better. It releases scar tissue and adhesions, and it increases blood flow to the areas that you rolled on.
Pay particular attention to your IT bands. The IT is the Illiotibial band and it is a sheath of tissue that surrounds your leg and glutes. Lie on your side and roll the sides of your legs and then sit on the roller and roll your glutes.
Don't forget your back and lats too.
A good rule of thumb when rolling is that when you find an area that hurts or is more uncomfortable than others, that is where you need the most work.
To get the chest and the upper back, I suggest putting a lacrosse ball in a tube sock and using that to get in between the shoulder blades and on the pecs. To get the pecs, simply put the ball against a wall or the floor and roll the ball on the area you want to release.
If you have access to a dragging sled, I am a huge fan of doing 5-10 minutes of light dragging pre-workout. This is especially true in the colder months. Sled dragging will increase your core body temperature while increasing your GPP. GPP is a five-dollar term for General Physical Preparedness, and is a fancy way of saying work capacity. Sled dragging gets you in better shape and allows you to handle more volume in the workouts.
Once this is complete, I am a true believer in a dynamic warm up. A dynamic warmup is a series of calisthenics done in a particular order to increase dynamic flexibility and prime your nervous system to fire quickly. It also builds GPP. A great resource for tis is the Parisi Warm Up Method DVD. It has a complete series of exercises in the proper order designed to get you moving, flexible, mobile and FAST! We use it, or a variant of it at my gym, TPS with all of our clients. If it works for us, it WILL work for you.
This process should take you from 15-30 minutes. I know it sounds like a long time, but you need to think about where you are and where you want to be. If you are young, you think you are bulletproof and don't need to do all of this. You are wrong. Doing this at a young age will prolong your career and help to prevent injury.
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Warming Up For A Big Lift
OK, once we get this done, let's look at how to warm up for a big lift. Warming up for a big lift is not the time to accrue extra volume. It is the time to prepare your body to handle the weight you will be working with. Many people go in the gym and will do way too much volume in their warm up lifts.
Let's use the squat as an example. We'll assume that you want to squat first in your session and sue 315 for 3 sets of 12 for your work sets. These are arbitrary numbers for illustration, don't think this is the gospel for all weights/rep schemes.
- Begin work at 315
By the time you get to your work sets, you are burned out and you wonder why you don't make any progress, right?
Here is a better way:
Follow all of the instructions about rolling, dynamic warm up, etc. listed above and when it is time to get to the bar, do this:
- Bar x 5-10
- Work sets
These numbers can be adjusted based on how much you will be lifting and what the exercise is. Those lifting very heavy weights will need more singles as warm ups and those lifting light weights will need much less with smaller jumps.
When you are getting to your second and third lifts, you will need very little to no warm up sets. Your body is already warm and isn't going to get much benefit from doing extra work. You might need 1 set of 3 reps or so just to get used to the movement. The only need to do an extra warm up sets on your second and third lifts is if you will be handling very heavy weights. Don't do extra volume, do something to accustom your body to the movement for the work sets.
The STRONGEST lifters in the world warm up like this, so should you.