Warming up before exercise is probably one of the most misunderstood and misapplied portions of the workout where so much time is wasted. Taken from Scott Abels book: The Abel Approach: “The recommendation of doing 10 or so minutes of cardio to warm up has no basis in fact at all. Equipment like bikes, treadmills and climbers encourage a restricted range of movement and shorten the muscles of the psoas group and this can have negative effects on the body of the workout performance”
Again as another expert Gambetta states: “Too much emphasis is placed on raising the core temperature and heart rate in the warm up, the main physiological objective is neural activation and getting everything firing to prepare for the more intense work to follow”.
This is my point about how much time is wasted, warming up is not a waste of time but applying it improperly to what you are trying to achieve during the workout certainly is.
The best warm up for anything is “physical rehearsal” which would be whatever exercise you’re doing first and completing 4-5 progressively intense sets, building your way up to the weight you’ll be using for your first working set. This will activate the nervous system and prepare the body to work hard in the planes and ranges of motion it will be working in during the training session.
Here’s an example of what a warm up would look like on chest day and your first exercise is incline DB presses for 4 X 6-8, let’s say you know you can use 100lbs dumbbells to reach failure in this rep range. This would be an effective protocol to wake up the nervous system and let your body know what you’re trying to do:
Warm up 1: 30lbs X 4-5 reps
Warm up 2: 50lbs X 4-5 reps
Warm up 3: 70lbs X 4-5 reps
Warm up 4: 90lbs X 4-5 reps
Warm up 5 100lbs X 2-3 reps
Working Set 1 100lbs X 6-8 reps
The warm up sets shouldn’t be exhausting to the muscle; they should enhance performance of your working sets. Other beneficial protocol to apply would be to also utilize general activation movements in between your warm up sets, so things like arm circles, body weight squats and lunges, butt kicks, knee highs, etc. are all great to wake your nervous system up and get it ready to fire.
So ditch the 5 or 10-minute cardio warm up and start employing physical rehearsal, you’ll save time and have much better workout performance, besides looking at it from a logical standpoint, riding a bike or walking on a treadmill to prepare for a strength training workout makes about as much sense as an endurance athlete doing 5 sets of bench press to warm up for a run!
It’s important to remember that the whole point of the warm up is to prepare the body for the work ahead, so the goal should be neuro activation in the form of physical rehearsal. Physical rehearsal is basically using progressively intense sets of whatever exercises and movements you will be doing, allowing your body to build its way up to working set intensity.
However, another misapplied technique that I see every time I’m at the gym; is the practice of stretching cold muscles before the workout or even between sets of an exercise. We warm up to stretch not stretch to warm up.
Static hold stretching before a workout will actually make muscles less explosive and responsive to training and will disrupt co-ordination, you also run the risk of straining and injuring tendons, ligaments and the muscle itself especially in colder weather.
So essentially by stretching before your workout you are reducing the amount of force you can produce and hindering your workout performance. Stretching has a relaxing and calming effect on the body which is another reason it is best placed after a workout as part of your “cool down routine”.
Learn some stretches for the different muscle groups and start taking some time after your training session to apply them. Stretching should never hurt or be painful and if it is you are stressing it too far. Aim to hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time and do 2-3 rounds of it, as you become more consistent with stretching your flexibility will increase as well and you will start seeing more benefits from it.
Stretching can help alleviate a lot of muscular imbalances and tight muscles that end up pulling on the skeleton and joints causing pain and misalignment in problem areas of your body. Give it time and be consistent with it however, doing a stretch or two halfheartedly after your workout isn’t going to cut it.
So save stretching until after the workout, as at this point it will serve to kick start recovery and increase flexibility and reduce the risk of future injury. It need not take long either, give yourself 10 minutes after a workout, trust me it does a world of good and you will thank yourself down the road!
Start maximizing your time in the gym and stop wasting it on useless and potentially injuring protocol, proper warm ups don’t need to be very time consuming and will serve your body and workouts in the short and long term.
Warming up properly is one area of training that seems to get butchered or is completely nonexistent altogether. The fact is warming up properly will actually help you perform better in your workout and reduce the risk of injury.
Invest your time at the gym, in what’s actually important to why you’re even there in the first place; to a have a productive workout!
Yours in fitness