Q: How should I warm up on my first exercise? I train heavy, with work sets usually in the range of five to seven reps. How do I best warm up to perform optimally in my workout? I want my muscles to be ready, but I don’t want to burn myself out before the workout actually begins.
A: Most lifters seem to pay either too little or too much attention to warmups, which unfortunately can cause injury in the former case and reduced performance in the latter. Because you didn’t mention having any injuries or limitations, I’m assuming that your muscles, tendons and joints are all in excellent working order.
My first recommendation to all bodybuilders and athletes is to raise your core body temperature before you even touch a weight. By increasing whole-body circulation through some light cardio work—bike, treadmill, etc.—and/or callisthenic movements, you’ll prepare your body systemically for the more intense exercise to come. That’s the part of the warmup that most people ignore, yet it’s probably the most important for injury prevention.
Next up is the direct warmup. Here’s where many trainees do too much, which can not only reduce performance but also make unnecessary inroads into your overall recovery ability and retard muscle growth. By performing too many reps in your warmup sets, you’ll deplete muscle energy stores and cause an acid buildup, which will reduce your strength—the opposite of what you want. What you really need to achieve with your direct warmups is 1) a solid mind/muscle connection, 2) central-nervous-system activation for the movement pathway of the exercise, 3) a clear message to your central nervous system, muscles and connective tissues as to what type of load they will be undertaking, and 4) initiation of an increase in the circulation of blood and nutrients to the muscles and joints directly affected by the exercise. Despite what you may believe, that doesn’t take dozens and dozens of unnecessary repetitions.
Here is a typical bench press warmup scenario I see at the gym all the time:
Warmup set 1: bar x 20
Warmup set 2: 135 x 15
Warmup set 3: 185 x 12
Warmup set 4: 225 x 10
Warmup set 5: 275 x 8
Work-set 1: 315 x 4 to failure
By the time they get through that warmup, they’ve already performed 65 reps—before anybody gets to the first work set. That, in my experience, is a less than optimal method. The following is a more efficient and useful warmup sequence for serious lifters seeking optimal performance:
Warmup set 1: 135 x 5
Warmup set 2: 185 x 4
Warmup set 3: 225 x 3
Warmup set 4: 265 x 2
Warmup set 5: 285 x 2
Warmup set 6: 305 x 1
Work-set 1: 315 x 6-7 to failure
In the above warmup you do only 17 reps before the initial work set, which prevents too much intracellular acid from building up and more efficiently prepares the central-nervous-system muscles and joints for the load they’ll be called upon to handle. The result will be significantly improved performance on each work set, leading to a more productive workout and more energy left for postworkout recovery—which of course will bring about hastened muscle growth.
Editor’s note: Eric Broser’s new DVD “Power/Rep Range/Shock Max-Mass Training System” is available at Home-Gym.com. His e-book, Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout, which includes complete printable workout templates and a big Q&A section, is available at X-Workouts.com.
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