How To Warm Up For Weight Training (Increase Lifting Performance)

How to warm up for weight training? Should be a simple question to answer right?  And in effect it is.  The hard part of this question is trying to get people to understand exactly what they are trying to achieve when warming up.

I’m not a fan of the term warming up when it comes to weight training.  I personally use the term “ramping the body and muscles up”.

Although yes you technically are trying to get the muscles warm to reduce injury, for most people this comes at a cost of muscle fatigue before you have even got started.

So what do I mean by ramping the body and muscles up?  This means we are activating and switching on the motor neurons without creating any fatigue.

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The Right And Wrong Way To Warm Up

We are trying to train in the most efficient way, by producing maximum overload and maximum muscular force and contraction in the shortest possible time.  If you have already slightly fatigued your muscles or had any lactic acid build-up before you have even started your main work sets, then this will not be possible.

The warm-up stage is there to set your nervous system and muscles up to be at their best in your work sets.  A warm-up should be approached with the same mental focus as your working sets.  If they are not then you have already put yourself at a disadvantage before you have even got going.

We all have those times when you step into the gym and you really don’t want to be there.  This is where the warm-up comes in.  These sets should be used to help you get your mental focus back.  And if they don’t then it would be more advantageous to leave the gym and take a rest day.

The Wrong Way (You Must Avoid Doing This)

Most people’s warm-up involve starting extremely light and doing anywhere between 10 to 20 reps.  They will then increase the weight and do the same amount of reps.  This is then followed by another increase in weight doing the same amount of reps again.

We are now 3 sets into the warm-up, potentially 60 reps completed already with each set getting heavier.  I would be amazed by this point already if you haven’t experienced any fatigue or lactic acid.

However the warm-up normally continues and the weight gets heavier yet again but the reps start coming down, maybe in the 8 to 10 range.  Follow this again with another set in the 3 to 6 range and bang there you have it.  The muscle is most certainly warm but also massively fatigued and a pool of lactic acid preventing proper muscle fiber stimulation to boot.

You are now down at the rep range you want to be, but with a huge decrease in weight, you could actually lift if you had ramped up your body correctly.

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The Right Way (Follow For Increased Performance)

I am now going to show you the correct way of warming up, which will not create any fatigue in the muscles and allow you to lift the maximum weight possible in your work sets.

Set 1

12 reps – perform these reps at a nice smooth pace, keeping it even in both the up phase and down phase.  Do not go to fast but at the same time not to slow.  I always aim for a weight around 40 to 45% of my work sets here, but a bit of trial and error will be needed the first time around.  This set is to allow your body to adapt to the movement pattern and increase blood flow.  There should not be any feeling of burning or lactic acid build-up during this set.  If there is you have gone way too heavy

Rest for 1 to 2 minutes (personally, I go for the latter)

Set 2

10 reps – this set should be performed with the same weight as before.  The only difference is you increase the speed of the reps a slight bit.  This will start to encourage the muscle to move and generate more power.  Again there should be no lactic acid build-up what so ever.

Rest for 1 to 2 minutes

Set 3

6 reps – this set is usually performed with around 65% weight of your work sets.  However again a little trial and error are needed the first time around.  This set should really have some intent behind it now.  Again keep the reps smooth and at an even speed on both the up and down phases.  Perform at a similar speed to the previous set of 10, maybe a tiny bit further.  This is the set that will really start to ramp up your muscles and nervous system now.  The weight should feel light.  If there is any struggle, you have gone to heavy

Rest 2 minutes

Set 4

3 reps – This set is usually done at around 75 to 80% weight of your work sets.  This is the first set where we mimic the same form and timings of your work sets.  It should be an explosive push up followed by a slower lowering phase of the weight.

Rest 2 minutes

Set 5

1 rep – I get some funny looks in the gym when doing this set.  However, it is an extremely important set.  The weight should be slightly under the weight of your first work set.  Usually around 5kg (11lbs).  Perform this rep in exactly the same way as the previous set.  This and the previous set is all about weight acclimation.

You will notice there is a good amount of rest time between the warm-up sets.  This will help prevent any fatigue and get in the same mindset needed for your working sets.  You will be mentally rested for each warm-up set and can approach them easily with the correct intensity.  Remember it is not just about preparing the muscles but the mind as well.

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