Dumbbell Bench Press Warm-Up Sets?

The 8 -Min Bench Press Warm-Up You Need

The average person loves benching, but hates warming up. And that’s why they’re average.

They strut into the gym, do a few half-ass arm swings before slapping 135lbs onto the bar and pumping out some questionable reps.

Lack of preparation breeds a lack of results.And if you’re looking to bench bigger and feel better while doing so, a proper warm-up is non-negotiable.

Why you need to warm-up before benching:

Maximize your strength potential. Warming up enhances your ability to display your strength by priming the central nervous system (CNS). Minimize your risk of injury. As you move through your warm-up, synovial fluid builds up between your joints and acts as a lubricant. Thus, reducing unwanted joint friction and “stiffness” while greatly minimizing your risk of injury. Increase muscle fibre recruitment. As noted, your warm-up is an opportunity to prime the CNS, which ultimately leads to greater muscle fibre recruitment. Your ability to push through the concentric phase of the bench press with maximal effort is a result of a primed nervous system. This can only be achieved through an optimal warm-up. Plus, warming up increases your joints’ range of motion. A greater range of motion means greater time under tension and a higher degree of muscle fibres at work. Increase core temperature and blood flow. Warming up enhances blood flow and increases core body temperature. It alsoimproves overall core function and stability, which increases your loading potential for the bench press. A stronger core means a stronger bench.


The 8-Min Bench Press Warm-Up (4 Steps)

Step 1: Foam Rolling/SMR ( 2 min)

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a warm-up technique involving applied pressure to specific muscle tissues and can be used with a variety of tools including (but not limited to) the foam roller.

Foam rolling increases blood flow to the working muscles involved in your training session and, ultimately, gets you moving. This, in effect, raises your core temperature and primes your muscles for loading.

As Mike Boyle puts it, “When done regularly, foam rolling unties the knots in your muscles by breaking down the adhesions and helping to heal the tissues.”

Grab a foam roller and perform 10 slow rolls per side to the following areas:

Lower back: Be sure to lay on your side so the roller is not placed directly on your spine. Rather, you want to roll out the muscles along the side of your lower back. Triceps: Keep your arm fairly straight and roll along the triceps, between your elbow and armpit.

Be sure to exhale as you apply pressure to these areas and focus on breathing throughout your sets.

Step 2: Mobility ( 2 min)

Mobility is your joints’ ability to actively move through their intended ranges of motion. Simply put, it’s flexibility in motion.

The bench press places high demand from a mobility-perspective on the thoracic spine (upper back) and shoulders. That said, mobilizing these areas should be an area of high priority during your warm-up.

Perform 10-15 reps per side for each of the following:

Side Lying Windmill: The objective here is to keep your hips straight while rotating at the upper back and shoulders. Overtime, work to touch the floor as you reach overhead while keeping your arm straight. Banded Shoulder Dislocates: This acts as a mobility drill while also aiding in activation of the muscles surrounding the shoulders and upper back. Many Olympic lifters will perform this with a dowel, but the resistance band offers greater flexibility and added tension throughout the movement, making it a great precursor to the bench press.

Step 3: Activation ( 2 min)

Now it’s time to get the primary muscles involved in the bench press (triceps, upper back, core) activated and primed for loading.

Perform 2-3 sets of each of the following:

Band Pull Apart: Holding a resistance band at shoulder-height with your arms straight, pull the band apart and focus on contracting your upper back muscles. Slowly bring your arms back to the center while keeping tension in the band throughout the entire set and repeat for 15-20 reps. Triceps Extension with Resistance Band: This is meant to increase blood flow to the primary movers of the bench press (the triceps) while preparing the elbows for loading. Do 15-20 reps. RKC Plank: The RKC or “hard-style” plank is one of the most effective exercises you can do to strengthen the deep, underlying muscles of the core. It involves maximally contracting every muscle in your body for 5-10 sec at a time while holding the standard plank position. After 5 sec, you “relax” your muscles and continue to hold the plank for 10 sec. Repeat this process 2-3 times for a total of 30-45 sec.

Step 4: CNS (2 min)

Your ability to display strength quickly is a result of priming your nervous system withdynamic and explosive movements prior to lifting. As already mentioned, doing so will increase your total muscle fibre recruitment and result in an explosive concentric phase of the bench press.

You’re not limited when it comes to dynamic movements to perform prior to benching. That said, it’s generally a safe bet to use exercises like explosive push-ups or ballistic throws since they closely mimic the movement of the bench press in a dynamic setting.

Choose one of the following and perform 3-5 reps for 2-3 sets (rest 30-45 sec between).

Option 1: Med Ball SlamOption 2: Explosive Push-Ups

Summary: Putting It All Together

1. Foam roll lower back x 10 slow rolls per side.2. Foam roll triceps x 10 slow rolls per side. 3. Side lying windmill x 10 per side. 4. Banded shoulder dislocates x 10. 5. Band pull apart x 15-20 for 2-3 sets. 6. Triceps extension x 15-20 for 2-3 sets. 7. RKC plank x 30-45 sec (5 sec pull, 10 sec regular hold, repeat). 8. Med ball slam or explosive push-up x 3-5 for 2-3 sets.

Prioritize your warm-up and make it a non-negotiable part of training. You’ll feel strongerand reap the rewards because of it.  

Video

Is This The EXACT Way EVERYONE Should ALWAYS Warm Up?

While the overall structuring of this warm up sequence is pretty close to ideal in most cases, there are some notes and exceptions.

Here are the main ones that come to mind:

  • Strength Levels. The heavier the weight being lifted for a given exercise, the more warm up sets you’ll typically need. The opposite is true as well (the lighter the weight, the less warming up you’ll need). Meaning, someone bench pressing 275lbs would need more warm up sets than someone bench pressing 135lbs. Or, if you want to look at it from the other point of view, the person bench pressing 135lbs just doesn’t need as many warm up sets to work up to their lesser weight.
  • Experience Levels. This goes hand-in-hand with the first item on this list, but it’s worth giving a separate mention. Beginners are typically weaker than intermediate and advanced trainees. Therefore, beginners wouldn’t need as many of the heavier warm up sets as someone more advanced would. (So for example, sets #4 and/or #5 in the warm up sequence outlined above might not be as necessary for a beginner.)
  • Rep Range and Training Intensity. Warm up sets may also need to be adjusted based on the rep range and level of weight training intensity being used. Meaning, if you’re bench pressing for 4 sets of 6 reps, you’ll be using a heavier weight than you would if you were bench pressing for 3 sets of 12 reps, and more or less warming up may be needed or preferred in comparison.
  • Specific Exercises. The type of exercise being done might also warrant changes to how you warm up. For example, a harder/more technical exercise like barbell squats might require a more thorough warm up sequence than something like leg presses.

Really, warm up sets are not an exact science where one method is universally perfect for everyone on all weight training exercises and at every level of strength and experience.

Some people benefit from more sets, some from less. Some from heavier weight, some from lighter. Feel free to experiment (if needed) to find exactly what feels best for you.

For the majority of the population however, something similar to what I described above is what’s most ideal and most often recommend.

12.1 Nutrition

Eat well-balanced meals of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats throughout your day. Simple carbohydrates such as white rice are okay immediately following a workout.

The Goals Of Warm Up Sets

Now, here is where people start to screw things up. They understand the reason for warming up, they just don’t understand the goals… and that leads to all sorts of dumb stuff being done.

Specifically, the goals of warm up sets are as follows:

  • To allow us to prepare the target muscle(s).
  • To allow us to prepare the joints being used.
  • To allow us to prepare our central nervous system.
  • To allow us to prepare mentally.
  • To accomplish all of the above WITHOUT creating unnecessary fatigue.

With all of that in mind, the most common recommendation for optimally accomplishing everything on that list is to:

Perform a series of progressively heavier sets that will get pretty close to our actual working weight, while using fewer and fewer reps as we go to avoid fatiguing ourselves before we even begin.

Most people grasp the “progressively heavier sets” part of that, but they miss the second part about avoiding fatigue.

That’s why one of the most common stupid things people do when warming up is perform a bunch of sets of anywhere from 10-20 reps per set.

What they are primarily doing here is just tiring themselves out with warm up sets and creating a ton of unnecessary fatigue (which is why traditional pyramid sets suck for most people) while at the same time doing little to actually accomplish what we are hoping to accomplish by warming up.

I’ve personally been there and done that myself back in the day, where I basically turned my warm up sequence into a full on workout by doing a bunch of sets of 10-12.

By the time I got to my first actual work set, I was (unknowingly) significantly fatigued and my performance (unknowingly) suffered for it.

11.2 Front Deltoids

This stabilizing muscle can take a hell of a beating after an aggressive chest day workout. While you can dedicate a few sets of front dumbbell raises to this muscle, your main focus should be on stretching and recovery. A tear of the front deltoid means no more benching for months.

Concurrent

Another programming method is the concurrent style of training — where multiple goals are pursued within the same session. Where in strength-orientated programming, you may train the bench press using heavier weights almost exclusively, concurrent training methods would see you train the bench press for strength before training the chest itself through a range of muscle-building exercises. These are also some of the guiding principles found in many power-building routines.

The Workout

To create a concurrent-style of program, first, choose a periodization method to guide your bench press routine. From there, add in additional exercises prioritizing chest size and strength to complement the bench press, such as dumbbell presses or pec flyes. 

Oftentimes, these workouts start with heavier weights before stacking many more sets, repetitions, and moderate training loads to fully train the chest across a spectrum of challenges within the same day. 

  • Bench Press: 3 sets of 5 repetitions with 85% of 1RM (block periodization style).
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Cable or Machine Flye: 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
  • Push-ups: 2 sets of as many repetitions as possible.

Note: If this looks similar to a bodybuilder’s chest day, that’s because it is. Concurrent training is one of the guiding principles found across the various disciplines of resistance training. 

2. Mobility Drills For Bench Press

By doing mobility drills you increase the blood flow to your muscles and restore motion.

Mobility drills are performed by using self-massage therapy techniques, such as using a foam roller or lacrosse ball to apply pressure to the muscle.

When a muscle is tight it limits the mobility at the level of the joint. Every exercise in the gym will require a certain level of mobility to perform. In the bench press, you’ll need to have requisite mobility through your shoulders and thoracic spine to bring the bar through a full range of motion.

It’s important to know that performing mobility drills through the use of self-massage therapy techniques will only restore motion temporary. This means that you can increase range of motion for the specific workout, but the benefits of foam rolling doesn’t last (from a range of motion perspective). Therefore, you’ll need additional interventions to make long-term progress in your mobility following your workout (such as static stretching) (Peacock et al., 2014).

A lot of people actually overdo this stage of the warm-up, and spend far too long doing mobility drills. My recommendation is to pick 1-3 exercises listed below, apply pressure to the muscle, and perform 5-10 strokes for 60-90-seconds. Feel free to choose different mobility drills over time.

Lats

Lie sideways on the foam roller and apply pressure on the lat muscle. Roll areas that you feel tight whether that’s higher or lower.

Pec Major

Pec Major

The pec major is a bigger muscle group. Areas of the upper pec, closer to the shoulder, will be tighter, so start there and roll inwards to the midline of the body.

Pec Minor

The pec minor sits beneath the arm pit. It might be harder to apply pressure on the pec minor against a wall, so do this one on the floor and apply appropriate pressure.

Thoracis Spine

Move your upper and mid-back through flexion and extension on the foam roller. You can also apply pressure to the erector spinae, which sit on either side of your spine.

Check out my article on the top bench press progressions to take your lift from a beginner to advanced level.

#3: Don’t Stretch Before You Lift

Stretching before a workout was considered a must-do for a long time but research now shows that this is not optimal for your performance in the weights room.

One research study (1) shows that static stretching before weight lifting causes a significant reduction in strength, even in stretches lasting as little as 45 seconds or less.

Another study (2) found that static stretching before working out decreased strength in lower and upper body exercises in both trained and untrained men.

Next time you workout forego the stretching until after you workout if you want to be at your strongest.

The Benefits of a Stronger Bench Press

As with most barbell exercises, many of the benefits of successfully performing the bench press are actually achieved by the work you do to become a good bencher in the first place. Benefits such as improved mobility, joint stability, and upper body size and strength are all involved in building the bench press, and bleed into other aspects of your fitness.

Improved Mobility

To perform the bench press successfully and for a long enough time to see real progress, you must first gain the required hip, trunk, and shoulder mobility to perform the best possible bench press technique. This often requires the addition of hip flexor, pec and lat, thoracic spine, and shoulder warm-up drills to be involved in bench press training and thus carries over to many other exercises.

Increased Joint Stability

Being strong is intimately tied to the ability to stabilize your body through only one range of motion — that of the bench press. Having adequate joint stability is necessary to prevent plateaus in the bench press from elbows and wrists losing position, or the legs wobbling around uncontrollably during hard attempts.

Improved Upper Body Size and Strength

Everyone who has a strong bench press, and thus a strong chest, has probably realized that to keep seeing progress, they need to build more muscle. Ultimately, a bigger torso (back, shoulders, arms, and chest) gained by building the upper body musculature translates into a bigger bench by cushioning the joints and providing more muscle to produce force. 

Other Considerations and Post-Novice Training

It is rare that a lifter will have a mobility limitation that can’t be addressed by simply performing the barbell movements themselves, but an exception to this sometimes is shoulder flexibility for squatting. It can be helpful to take a few minutes before beginning squats to stretch the shoulders. Taking your normal grip on the bar (or slightly wider) and “pushing” the shoulders under the bar—holding that position for several seconds—can help make the beginning squat sets more manageable. Some lifters benefit from using a broomstick or similar object to perform the (inaccurately named) “shoulder dislocate” stretches for the same effect.

Beyond the basics above, a few more points can be made as programming progresses. If deadlifts are performed first in a session, a few more warm-ups are probably a good idea to make sure the body is generally prepared for activity. If you are on a four-day split, the lower body won’t have much demanded of it on an upper-body day, so simply performing the benching and pressing warm-ups will probably be sufficient on those days. If you find it isn’t for you, start those days with a couple of empty-bar sets of squats—or you could utilize an exercise bike or rower before the lifts. Just make sure it is light activity for a few minutes, enough to slightly elevate the heart rate and heat your body up. This can also be very helpful for some older lifters that find they need a little extra activity to feel prepared before lifting.

As a lifter gets stronger and begins lifting larger absolute amounts of weight, more warm-up sets will be required. The same rules apply, but more steps will have to be taken to get to heavier working loads, and larger initial jumps. For example, a strong deadlifter with a working set of 1×3 @ 525 might have warm-ups that look like this:

1×5 @ 135

1×5 @ 225

1×3 @ 315

1×2 @ 405

1×1 @ 455

1×1 @ 485

1×1 @ 505

References

Racinais S, Oksa J. 2010. “Temperature and neuromuscular function.” Scand J Med Sci Sports. 20 Suppl 3:1-18 (Oct). https://doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01204.x.

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