It’s super tempting to move right into heavy working sets of deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses the moment you step into the gym – especially when you’ve just dumped a scoop’s worth of caffeine-loaded pre-workout into your mouth ?
All that adrenaline. All that desire to break your PRs.
But here’s the thing.
By skipping out on your pre-workout warm up exercises, you could be doing yourself (and your long-term gains) more harm than good.
Wondering why that’s the case?
Well, that’s what this article is for. Below, find out why doing a warm up before your workout is ever so important – and the specific exercises you should include in your warm up routine (because plain running in place isn’t going to cut it).
Why is doing a warm up before your workout so important?
First off: why do you even need to do a warm up before your workout in the first place?
Perhaps the best way to wrap your mind around this is to think of your muscles like a car's engine. Would you push the pedal to the floor when you've just started on your drive?
(I'm assuming that you're not a Formula 1 driver – which is fair, right?)
Chances are, you wouldn’t. Unless you own a supercar – like a McLaren or Ferrari, you'd have to wait till your engines are 'warmed up' before you can start applying real pressure on the pedal.
So, the same goes for your muscles. Your warm up routine helps prime your body for the rigorous demands of your workout.
Benefits of doing warm up exercises
Here are a few specific benefits that you’ll see from incorporating a proper warm up routine:
Enhances range of motion
At rest, your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage receive relatively little blood flow – and, therefore, are significantly cooler than the rest of your body.
Now, think about what happens when you try to stretch cold rubber bands. Yes.
They can't stretch very well and, worse still, tend to snap. That’s why you need to do warm up exercises before your workout; they help increase blood supply to your muscles and connective tissues – which, in turn, helps raise their temperatures.
Which enables them to become more elastic and agile. Meaning? You’ll see a better range of motion, which can translate to better performance and long-term muscle growth.
Decreases your risk of injury
This point is related to that of warm ups helping to enhance your range of motion.
Why? Well, it’s because to perform loaded patterns (e.g. barbell squat, bench press, overhead press) safely and effectively, you’ll need to have adequate joint mobility or range of motion around your relevant joints.
Let’s take the barbell squat, for instance.
If you lack ankle mobility (because you’re not sufficiently warmed up yet), then your lower back will have to compensate for it.
In other words: you’ll subject your lower back to unnecessary stress. Which imaginably increases your risk of muscle strains and sprains in that area.
All simply because you failed to do a warm up before your workout!
"But I always feel so tired after my warm up!"
By now, you must be warming up (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to the idea of, well, warming up before your actual workout.
I'm no psychic, but I have a hunch that you still have a reservation about performing warm up exercises: that you'd be too tired by the time you get into your actual workout.
That's a fair point. You can indeed harm your performance if you warm up too intensely.
Noticed the keywords: 'too intensely'? Yep. When it comes to your pre-workout warm up routine, there is a sweet spot that you should be aiming for. One where you're:
Doing just enough to raise muscle temperature and redistribute blood flow to muscles that need it
Going through too much of your body’s energy supply (which could have gone into your workout)
An ideal warm up routine before your workout
Sounds challenging? Don’t worry.
The secret to accomplishing this sweet spot is to divide your pre-workout warm up routine into 2 parts:
- General warm up: This is solely meant to help you raise muscle temperature. All you need to strive for here is to break a sweat – and feel good. This shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes.
- Specific warm up sets: Let’s say your workout routine includes overhead presses at 30 kg. Instead of diving right into your working sets, what you should be doing instead is to slowly work your way up to that load with 2-3 warm up sets (e.g. 15 kg, 20 kg, then 25 kg). Doing this helps prime muscle activation and serves as a ‘practice lift’ for you.
Now, it's important to note that your 'general warm up' should also be relevant to the specific muscle group you're working. What does that mean?
Well, it just means that if you’re planning to do bench press (i.e. upper body), you shouldn’t be doing a general warm up, like jogging or stair-climbing, that targets the lower body. Whatever you do has to warm up the upper body.
Planning a warm up routine for your next workout?
The following list of upper-body and lower-body general warm up exercises you could do might help:
Upper body: Elliptical, rowing machine, or upper body focused dynamic stretches (e.g. arm circles, wall slides, bear crawl)
Lower body: Treadmill, spin bike, or lower body focused dynamic stretches (e.g. wall ankle mobilizations, walking spiderman lunges, squat to stand)
Don't forget to optimize other areas of your training
Now that you’ve realized the importance of including a warm up routine before your workout … you should also know that this is just one of the things you need to pay attention to for optimal hypertrophy.
There are many other aspects of your training that you’ll need to pay attention to – including workout planning, nutrition, and recovery.
Feeling overwhelmed? Well, what would you say if we offloaded one of those things from you? Yes?
Then you’ll want to download GymStreak, an AI-powered app that can tailor all your workout routines to your unique fitness goals. It’ll take over workout planning for you – so you can focus your energy on eating right and recovering well.Get GymStreak
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Andrade, D., Henriquez–Olguín, C., Beltrán, A., Ramírez, M., Labarca, C., Cornejo, M., Álvarez, C., & Ramírez-Campillo, R. (2015). Effects of general, specific and combined warm-up on explosive muscular performance. Biology of Sport, 32(2), 123–128. https://doi.org/10.5604/20831862.1140426
Barroso, R., Silva-Batista, C., Tricoli, V., Roschel, H., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2013). The effects of different intensities and durations of the general warm-up on leg press 1RM. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(4), 1009–1013. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182606cd9
Page, P. (2012). CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 109–119.