Training and nutrition advice
Warming up is a very important thing to do before you begin the real workout. You should never, ever, EVER skip a proper warm-up.
There are various ways to do a warm-up prior to a workout session. It's important to get your heart rate up a little (nothing crazy, like you just sprinted). This gets your blood flowing and wakes you up a bit. Some people like to do some treadmill work or some type of cardio for this. I like to utilize warm-up sets.
Even if you DO decide to use cardio as part of your warm-up routine, you still NEED TO DO warm-up sets. You can't do 10 minutes of jogging on the treadmill then go squat 300 lbs. You're asking for trouble. You're asking for injury. That jog did not prepare your body for the load you intend to lift.
Some people like (or even need) to do some kind of stretching and/or foam rolling with the muscle group(s) they intend to workout that day. Again, just like the jogging, this does not adequately prepare your body to handle a heavy load. Stretching can certainly be a good thing, but it doesn't warm you up for heavy lifting. Warm-up sets do.
What is a warm-up set? Basically, it's when you perform the intended lift you are going to perform with a much lighter weight than your intended working set. Let's use my favorite exercise to help explain this idea. Let's talk about the squat!
No matter what rep range I intend on working in, I start with body weight squats. Now, I DO have a few other things I like to perform prior to my body weight squat set, but that info will be explained in a different blog entry. Right now, I want to focus on warm-up sets.
I like to perform 15 reps with just my body weight. This helps loosen up any stiffness I might have in my knees, hips, quads, and hamstrings. This helps get blood flowing down into my legs and helps get me in a good mindset for the work I'm about to do. That is warm-up set number one.
For my second warm-up set I will do 10 or 15 reps with the bar on my back. Usually just 10 reps, as I tend to do several warm-up sets these days.
For the third warm-up set, I'll put 50 lbs. on the bar and do 5 reps. For the fourth set, I have 90 lbs. on the bar, and do another 5 reps.
Notice how my reps got smaller? This is because I don't want to wear myself out before I get to the main work. I'm just trying to ease my body into the heavier weights I intend on lifting.
The heavier I go on my work sets, the more warm-up sets I'll do to get there. Sometimes, I will only do 2 or 3 reps in a warm-up set. I'll explain that more in just a bit.
Today, Friday, was my squat day :) I loooooooooooooove to squat :D Here is how my warm-ups went, followed by the work sets I did:
The warm-up sets and first working set were for low bar back squats. I did not do warm-up sets for the front or wide stance squats because I was already adequately warmed up from everything done prior to switching over to front squats. I wanted to point that out in case anyone was wondering why I left out warm-ups for those two squat variations.
While I highly and strongly advocate doing enough proper warm-up sets prior to your work sets, I don't feel you need to do a warm-up set for EVERY SINGLE THING you plan on doing in your workout. It really depends on what you intend to do. Had I decided to work on my bench press next, then I would have had to do warm-up sets for that. However, I finished my workout by doing a tri-set of leg extensions, leg curls, and standing calf raises for high reps (20 reps was the goal for each move).
I didn't do warm-up sets for those because my legs were already warmed up. Doing more warm-up sets for my legs would have been throwing my time away.
If I was going to do working sets of 5 reps for the squat, I would have done more warm-up sets. Similar to what is listed above, the closer I'd get to my work set I'd begin adding 20, or even just 10 lbs. to get to my working weight. When I start adding only 20 or 10 lbs. I will do 3, or 2 reps. Sometimes even just 1 rep. Again, I'm not trying to wear myself out during the warm-up sets. I'm allowing my body to get used to the load(s) I intend on lifting that day.
Pretty much any time I'm going to be performing a barbell movement, I will perform a warm-up set using the bar. For example, I do this when I'm going to do bench press or bent over rows. But, what if I'm going to use dumbbells?
Currently, I like doing one arm overhead dumbbell presses instead of barbell overhead presses. Let's say I intend on using 50 lbs. and I haven't done anything else that day using my shoulders or triceps. I would use half the amount of the working weight for the first warm-up set. I would press 25 lbs. for 15 reps. The second warm-up set would be 10 reps with 35 lbs. The third warm-up set would be 5 reps with 40 lbs.
Three warm-up sets feels adequate for this. However, I do tend to perform overhead presses after my bench press workout. This changes things.
Because my shoulders and triceps have already been worked and warmed up, I won't do three warm-up sets for the overhead press. I'll just do one. And, in the case of using 50 lbs. for the working set, I'd do 10 reps (or maybe just 7) with 35 lbs.
I feel one warm-up set is a good idea in this scenario because I haven't pressed anything up directly overhead yet. I don't want to lift too heavy on the first set and risk injury. Injuries suck. I don't like them.
If you're going to do some heavy lifting, say sets of 3, you may want to approach your warm-up sets a little different. Let's take the deadlift with a working weight of 500 lbs. for example.
Following the three warm-up sets idea (like I mentioned for the overhead press) with heavy deadlifts is not something I would recommend. I wouldn't even do 15 reps on the first warm-up set. This is how I would approach it:
Now, some of you may be asking why? Why change up the reps for this? Why not just do 3 sets and do the 15, 10, then 5 reps like other exercises?
Because of the nature of the exercise, and how heavy you're going to go, is why I don't recommend the 3 warm-up sets. If you WERE to do only 3 sets, you might start with 250 lbs. for 15 reps, then 325 lbs. for 10 reps, then 400 lbs. for 5 reps. To me, this seems like too much weight to begin with, and the jumps in weight to weight are too far apart.
On that first warm-up set (in the example just shown) you just have a 45 lb. plate on each side of the bar. Then you add a 25 lb. plate to each side. Then you'll have two 45s on each side. Then two 45s and a 25 each side. Etc. The 500 lbs. working set would consist of five 45 lb. plates on each side plus a 2.5 lb. plate. Increasing the weight like this feels like a simple and effective approach to me.
Why only 5 reps on that first set? Because you end up doing 26 total warm-up reps across all the sets. If you did 15 and then 10 reps you would have a total 41 warm-up reps. I just don't think that many is necessary. I believe you'll be plenty warmed up doing the rep scheme in the above example by the time you get to 500 lbs. If you really WANT to do that many reps, go for it! As long as you don't wear yourself out before the working set, that should be okay. We're all different, so it's always a good idea to use your own judgement when you ultimately decide how you'll warm-up. Just make sure you warm-up adequately so you don't injure yourself on the heavy sets.
I could go on and on about different warm-up scenarios. Perhaps I will someday, but I think it's time to wrap things up.
What I hope you take away from this blog is to take warm-up sets seriously. Never neglect them, even if you feel short on time in the gym. Rushing into your working sets could prove to be problematic.
Take time to experiment with different amounts of warm-up sets depending on the rep range(s) of your working sets. Typically, the heavier you go and the stronger you become, the more warm-up sets will be needed.
Speaking from personal experience, my working sets improved when I began adding in extra warm-up sets. My body and mind felt more prepared for the work I intended to do.
If you have any questions regarding the contents of this entry, please ask them in the comments section and I'll be happy to answer them!