How To Warm Up Before Weight Lifting, According To Trainers

Why is warming up so important?

Physiologically speaking, warming up increases blood flow and body temperature which minimizes stress on your joints, tendons, and muscles. This drastically reduces the risk of injury by improving your flexibility, allowing you to move suddenly or explosively, and to bear load.

From a psychological or emotional perspective, warming up helps you keep focused and motivated for the task at hand. It can also help to avoid injury by drawing your attention to any pre-existing pains, or discomfort you may have developed before training.

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Are There Ever Any Exceptions?

Of course. Like most things, there are always exceptions.

The main one would be if a person’s cardio performance was more important to their goals than their weight lifting performance.

In a scenario like that – such as someone with endurance-oriented goals – it can make more sense to do cardio before weights.

But keep in mind, of course, that endurance goals are less common among the general population than goals like losing fat or building muscle, and in those cases, weight lifting before cardio would still be the ideal setup if they’re both being done in the same session.

What to do in your warm up

A warm up usually consists of some form of cardiovascular (cardio) exercise, foam rolling and some dynamic movement such as arm or leg swings. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but you DO need to do it!

You can get the blood flowing with a few minutes of walking, jogging on the spot or jumping rope. Then focus on the muscle groups and joints you’ll be using for your workout. 

Part Three: Get on the Bar

We’re warm, we’re prepared, and now it’s time to get acquainted with the bar. This is where the warm up gets more specific according to what you’ll be training.

There is no better way to prepare for a lift than by performing it. Using an empty barbell, go over all the positions you’ll go through during your lifts. Aside from being a sport-specific warm up, this is an excellent way of reinforcing good mechanics and timing of the lift.

Here is an empty bar progression for the snatch.

Perform at least two sets of 3-5 reps of each movement.

S. DEADLIFT → HIGH HANG MUSCLE SNATCH → S. PRESS B/NECK → OVERHEAD SQUAT → SNATCHBALANCE

Here we have a similar progression but for clean and jerk. Again, go for a minimum of two sets of three to five reps of each movement focusing on proper mechanics, extension, and explosiveness.

DEADLIFT → HIGH HANG MUSCLE CLEAN → FRONT SQUAT → PUSH PRESS → PRESS B/NECK

Once we’ve gone through the motions, it’s not necessarily time to load the bar just yet.

Take advantage of the empty bar to do a few slow reps of your first lift. Manipulating the tempo has the added benefit of exposing bad habits and gives the lifter the chance to correct or refine faults before working up to challenging weights.

When the movement quality is satisfactory, perform some reps at regular speed.

Try to retain the same explosiveness in each lift as you gradually increase weight.

The 5-Step Warm-upbefore lifting

This warm-up sequence includes 4 (or 5) steps and takes around 10 minutes to perform. 

Step 1: Light Aerobic Work

Light aerobic work increases the heart rate and raises core temperature. Warm muscles are more supple. So you are less likely to pick up soft tissue injury. And you’ll respond better to the dynamic stretching in step 3.

How It’s Done

3-5 minutes of cardio activity, preferably repetitive in nature: jog on a treadmill, elliptical, bike, rower, skipping…whichever you prefer. If you run or cycle to the gym and are already ‘warm’, feel free to skip this step. 

Step 2: Soft Tissue Release (Optional)

This step is my no means mandatory but if you have tight muscles and struggle with mobility, soft tissue release can help. It’s a very effective method to reduce muscle tension. This can immediately improve range of motion. It also prepares muscles for stretching.

How it’s done

The foam roller is a great tool. But to release more precise areas of tension, it’s worth getting your hands on a tennis ball or something similar. This will fit the contours of your body better.

Pick 1-2 body parts and apply release techniques for 60-90 seconds per body part. 

3 quick tips to foam roll more effectively Go very slow.Go against the grain of the muscles not just up and down.Hold static pressure on those exquisitely tender areas.

For best results, focus on muscles that tend to be short and tight. The main culprits across the anatomy are:

  • Lower Body
  • Hip Flexors
  • Adductors
  • Lateral Hip Group
  • Upper Body
  • Pectoralis Group
  • Lats

Step 3: Dynamic Stretching

Before diving in, a quick word on static stretching (when you hold a stretch in a set position for a set amount of time). Here’s what we actually know: static stretching for less than 30 seconds has no negative impact on performance – but it doesn’t improve performance either.

Static stretching for more than 60 seconds does negatively impact performance (namely, it reduces power output). Given that it ‘may’ negatively impact performance and definitely does not improve performance, static stretching has no place in a warm-up (Kay & Blazevich, MSSE, 2012).

Dynamic stretching on the other hand does improve performance. It gives you greater power output (Behm & Chaouachi, EJAP, 2011). It also does a great job to unlock mobility as it reduces tension in the surrounding soft tissues.

How It’s Done

Pick 3-5 movements and perform 10 reps of each. Focus on the joints that are key players in the exercises you have planned.

As a general guideline, here are 3 dynamic stretches for the lower and upper body that pretty much everyone can benefit from:

Lower Body

Adductors

Hip Flexor

90/90

Upper Body

Pecs

Lats

T Spine

Step 4: Joint Preparation

CARs (controlled articular rotations) are a mobility exercise that involve isolating a joint and actively moving it through its full range of motion.

This is going to engage all the surrounding muscles as they work together to coordinate the motion – great for enhancing motor control. This action is also going to siphon blood to the joint and stimulate the release of synovial fluid. All in all, this promotes smooth, efficient, and coordinated motion.

How it’s done

Upper body day? Perform shoulder CARs. 2 Reps.

Lower body day? Perform hip CARs. 2 Reps.

Step 5: Targeted Muscle Activation

The purpose of this phase is to fire up key stabilizing muscles. Examples are the rotator cuff in the shoulder for the upper body and the gluteal group (the butt in other words) for the lower body.

How It’s Done

The activation drills you pick should match up with the main lift you have that day. They should target the key stabilisers and/or prime movers.

Pick 1-2 exercises and perform 2 sets of 8-15 reps with a 30-45 second rest between sets. (Pick a rep count that works the muscles but don’t go to failure.)

This will clean up energy leaks, improve movement quality and increase strength.

For example, before squatting, you can perform one move for the stabilisers (such as x-band walks for the hip abductors) and one for a prime mover (such as glute bridges for the gluteus maximus).

There are many exercise options and to choose from. So it’s best to experiment and be keenly aware of how your main lift feels afterwards. Everyone will respond differently.

Whichever you choose, be a stickler for pristine form and focus your mind on the muscles being targeted. Yes, that mind-muscle connection matters if you want a strong transfer your lifts! 

Here are two of my favorite activation drills, one for the lower body and one for the upper:

Facepulls

Foam Roller Glute Bridges 

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Whats the Best Way to Warm Up?

How to Improve Your Technique With Drills

Another popular way of warming up before lifting weights is to do drills. These drills have a variety of purposes. Perhaps you have a hard time keeping your spinal neutral when doing your front squats, so you warm up with some dead bugs to remind you how to properly engage your core. Or maybe you have a hard time keeping a neutral spine when doing deadlifts, so you do a breathing drill to remind you how to brace your belly.

These drills are all optional, and you should use the ones that benefit you personally. Here are some that we’ve found incredibly useful for helping people do their compound lifts with better technique:

  • Planks, to teach people how to maintain a neutral spine by engaging their abs and obliques.
  • Dead bugs, to teach people how to keep their core braced while moving at the shoulders and hips, as is needed for the overhead press, squat, and deadlift.
  • Bird dogs, to teach people how to keep their lower back in the correct position while moving at the hips, as is needed for the squat and deadlift.
  • 90/90 hip lift, to teach people how to keep their pelvis in a neutral position while lifting, allowing them to squat and deadlift with a much deeper range of motion.
  • Goblet squats, to teach people how to sink deep into a squat while keeping an upright torso. These work great before doing heavier sets of front squats.
  • Romanian deadlifts, to teach people how to hinge at the hips without bending at the back. These work great before doing conventional deadlifts.

What’s interesting about these drills is that Marco learned them while working as a strength coach for college, professional, and Olympic athletes. Later, we realized that they’re also incredibly popular among high-level powerlifters, such as Chad Wesley Smith. There’s very little research proving a benefit, but in practice, they seem to do a great job of improving lifting technique.

How to Do Warm-Up Sets With Weights

By far the most important part of warming up is to gradually ease up to your working loads, giving your joints, tendons, and muscles some time to prepare for the heavy lifting.

The other important part of warming up is to get i

The other important part of warming up is to get in some quality practice. Every warm-up rep should be as perfect as you can make it. Lift with gusto, put in real effort, brace hard, lift explosively, and don’t rush through it.

Here’s how to do your warm-up sets:

  • 10 easy reps. Start with a weight that you can do for around 20 reps, and do an easy set of 10 reps with it. The weight should feel light and you’ll be stopping 10 reps away from failure, so focus on using a deep range of motion and doing the lift correctly.
  • Add a bit of weight, drop the reps. After your light warm-up set, start increasing the load. There’s no specific amount that you need to increase the weight by, but the idea is to work up to some easy sets with heavier weights. Maybe you do 5–8 reps with a weight you can do for 15 reps.
  • If you’re doing heavy sets, do extra warm-up sets. If you’re doing sets of 8–20 reps on smaller lifts that you’re good at, then you don’t need very many warm-up sets. But if you’re doing sets of 3–7 on the squat, bench press, or deadlift, it helps to gradually work your way up. So maybe you do a set of 3 reps with your 8-rep max.
  • Warm up past your working weight (post-activation potentiation). If you want to improve your performance on your working sets, some research shows a benefit to warming up with a set that’s around 5–10% heavier than your working sets. For example, if your workout routine has you doing 10 reps on the bench press with 185 pounds on the bar, you might want to lift 205 pounds for 2–3 reps as your final warm-up set. After that, the 185-pounds sets will feel lighter, and you might be able to eke out more repetitions.

So that’s the general idea, but depending on how strong you are and what kind of lifting you’re doing, your warm-up routine can change quite a bit. Let’s go over some examples.

Warming up for a 20-rep set of bodyweight push-ups. In this case, the exercise is light, the risk of injury is low, and you’re doing plenty of reps on your working sets. To warm-up, then, all you need to do is make sure that you’re using a full range of motion and aren’t feeling too stiff. Your warm-ups might look like this:

  • 10-rep set of push-ups, focusing on going deep and using good technique.
  • Working sets: aiming for 20 reps.

Warming up for a 10-rep set of bench press with 185 pounds. In this case, the rep range is a bit lower, but the lift is still fairly light and simple, and the risk of injury is low. So to warm up, all you need to do is grease the groove a little bit, warming up your elbows and practicing your technique.

  • 10 reps with 135 pounds.
  • 5 reps with 165 pounds.
  • 2–3 reps with 205 pounds (optional).
  • Working sets: 10 reps with 185 pounds.

Warming up for a 3-rep set of deadlifts with 405 pounds. In this case, we have a big compound lift done in a low rep range with a lot of weight. This is where we want to use a copious amount of warm-up sets.

  • 10-rep set of deadlifts with 135 pounds.
  • 8 reps with 225 pounds.
  • 5 reps with 315 pounds.
  • 1 reps with 365 pounds.
  • Working set: 3 reps with 405 pounds.

So, overall, there are no strict rules. The purpose is simply to start with a weight that’s very light, pumping out a bunch of reps to practice your technique and warm up your muscles, tendons, and joints. From there, gradually add weight to the bar until you get to your working weight.

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