Over the years I have gotten asked several times about what makes the perfect warm-up, or what a warm-up should include for a given day. Just as there are infinite possibilities for exercise selection in the book of a work out, the same is true for a warm-up. So it can be very overwhelming to narrow down what exactly is a necessity, and what is not. But today we are not stopping at warm-ups. We are going to go through each individual section of a complete lift and define what happens in each of those, and what the intent of each of those sections is.
I use a daily warm-up for myself and my clients. Perhaps this is because they come from a sports based background where the same warm-up is done before practice no matter what is happening that day. It’s a way to get the entire body prepared for the exercise that is about to take place.
That’s the value of a daily warm-up in my opinion. It just touches on each area of the body, it brings familiarity and routine to your training, and it also allows you to check in with your body and mind to see how you are doing that day before you head into your main sets. I want to be clear that the daily warm-up should not take any longer than 5 to 7 minutes.
This would include a full body flow. So you would see things like some T spine mobility, warming up the wrist, a spinal flow of some kind, getting into the end ranges in the hips and ankles, and dynamically stretching the quads, hamstrings, and any other area of the body that you think is important to stretch daily. More often than not these are not going to be static stretches. They’re going to be dynamic as we are prepping the body for movement. But if a static stretch is included, whether it be in the daily warm-up or the movement prep, it would be in order to increase the end range that you are Going to use that day. So the static stretch would be preemptive of a dynamic use of that range of motion.
After the daily warm-up you would move into a more specified movement prep.
It’s called movement prep because it is prepping the body specifically for the movements being performed that day. I don’t see a huge need for movement prep if you are doing a more body part style split, commonly thought of as a bodybuilding split. But if you are doing any large compound movements, or the nervous system needs to be prepped for any of the exercises you are doing, I suggest implementing a movement prep.
Movement prep is going to have a far less movements involved in comparison to the daily warm-up. Movement prep might have 3 to 5 active mobility or core exercises. And again these are put in place in order to prime the patterns, or work on deficiencies that are common in that day‘s movements.
For example, if it’s a posterior chain focused day, or a dead lift day, you might have some glute work ahead of time, some bilateral or unilateral hinging, even some lat and core work in order to draw attention to the muscles that are going to be used within the dead lift.
For a 1:1 program, movement prep would be much more specified to any deficiencies or discrepancies that the client has. But more generally speaking, it’s going to prep for the programming ahead.
The warm-up doesn’t stop after movement prep. Warm-up sets are not needed for many lifts depending on the intensity. But for most compound movements, like the squat, dead lift, bench press, overhead press, and any variation of these, even a hip thrust, will likely require warm-up sets before you’re working sets.
Warm-up sets, like movement prep, are meant to prime and prepare the body for heavier working sets. This primes the muscles and the central nervous system.
Your warm-up sets are going to be at lighter loads than your working sets. Again, if your working sets are at a light enough load that it doesn’t require a warm-up, you are free to jump right in. But I typically encourage even just a warm-up set with an empty barbell before any working set.
If you happen to perform a set that is supposed to be a working set, whether it is a main exercise or an accessory exercise, and you were not challenged by the way, I would consider this a warm upset. And then encourage you to increase the load and start your working sets from there. But of course, depends on the scheduled RPE or percentage.
As far as sets and reps go, your warm-up sets can be the same or different rep ranges than you’re working sets. That will be up to your coach to determine. But also, the higher your training age, the more you will know when you feel prepped and warmed up by your warm-up sets.
Your working sets are your schedule that sets and reps more often than not. So this is where you will have a percentage, and RPE, is that in reference you are trying to hit at a given load or intensity.
Not much to be said here. The intent is definitely to push your working sets. Whatever the stimulus your training program is after. So that might be work capacity, hypertrophy, strength or a combination of these.
Back off sets
After working sets, you can also add back offsets. I’ve mentioned these and other podcast episodes has ways to spice up your strength and hypertrophy training. I am a huge fan of back-off sets. Especially if the working sets are pretty low volume and high load. Back off sets can give you a bit of that higher volume, pump that you won’t get from low-volume working sets.
There’s really no limit here on sets or reps. But the purpose is often to just get more volume in at a slightly lower load to fatigue the muscles. I would say this is most often used with a compound movement.
Not every program needs, requires or includes a cool down. But it is certainly something that can help bring your body from a highly sympathetic state to a more parasympathetic state after you’ve left. There is a little research suggesting that any static stretching decreases muscle soreness, or improves actual recovery time. But it can be a nice transition back into your day. And, like I said get your body to relax a bit after having turned up the volume for your lifting session.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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