They say it takes 10,000 reps to perfect an exercise. And that’s 10,000 good reps. You can’t perform good reps without ensuring that your muscles are properly oxygenated, warm, and activated. So in this post we’re going to ensure you know how to do that. This is especially important for strength training if you’re looking to build muscle.
Even BEFORE your warm up, you need to think about:
Alright, so let’s start our warm-up!
Step 1: Get your heart rate up
This can be done with any form of light cardio (i.e. running, rowing, skipping, etc.). Make sure your heart rate is higher than it was when you first walked into the gym, but you can still hold a conversation and don’t feel tired yet. Aim for a ranking of 3 - 5 out of 10 for anywhere from 3 - 5 minutes. This will help to pump fresh oxygenated blood to your muscles to get them warmed up and ready to work. Without this, you have a greater risk of injury, such as muscle tearing. Think of it as the equivalent of warming up your car on a cold winter day. You need to warm it up for your car to run more efficiently, use less gas, and keep it in tip-top shape.
Step 2: Roll.
Foaming rolling is an essential to any warm up (and cool down). The goal of foam rolling is to massage your muscles and the myofascial tissue that connects them to spread hydration and blood flow to increase range of motion. When foam rolling during your warm-up you want to focus on the largest muscles you’ll be using and ones that are tightest.
When rolling remember to:
- Focus on tight muscles.
- Don’t roll directly over major tendons, joints, or the spine.
- Roll at least 3 times up and down the full length of the muscle.
- Take your time with each roll
- Discomfort is ok, but avoid excessive pain. Think no more than a discomfort rating of 7 out of 10.
Foam rolling will aid to increase mobility and range of motion so that you can work the whole length of the muscle and therefore have more strength. For example, tight calves, hamstrings and hip flexors are common limitations to ass-to-grass squats. By adding foam rolling to your warm up, it can make getting deeper into your squat easier. This will take you from a quad-dominant squat (at parallel or less), to a quad, hamstring and glutes-dominated squat (below parallel). Using more muscles = more bang for your buck in your workout. And who doesn't want a squat booty?
On the downside, some studies have found that a single bout (60 seconds) of foam rolling may not cause much a difference in terms of muscle contractility and temperature (Murray et al., 2016). Therefore relying on foam rolling strictly to aid in muscle activation, may not be your best bet. Instead, using it in addition to other warm up tools will help and consistency is key to increase flexibility and range of motion for muscle groups (rather than individual muscles).
If you’re looking for a how-to guide to foam rolling, check out these instructional videos from TriggerPoint.
Step 3: Floss.
Now that your muscles are oxygenated, warm, and hydrated, you want to ensure there’s adequate mobility within the joints you plan on working. This is done with an additional warm up tool with bands and is known as ‘flossing’.
When flossing, remember to:
- Maintain the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and really breathe into it. Think lengthening your muscles as you inhale, and deepening the stretch as your exhale.
- Breathe slowly to avoid bouncing in the stretch.
- Again, discomfort is ok, but avoid excessive pain. Think no more than a discomfort rating of 7 out of 10.
Step 4: Smash.
If you’re not new to foam rolling and flossing, the next step you can take to ensure your muscles are happy and healthy is ‘smashing’. The goal with smashing is to finely massage into the muscle to loosen any knots or blockages. This is usually done with small balls, either the size of a softball or lacrosse ball. The smaller the ball, the more finely you’ll be working and also (as fair warning), the more it can hurt.
A side note on ‘self-myofascial release’ (i.e. everything mentioned up to this point): research is still coming up showing the effectiveness of this form of mobility work, but no consensus has yet been reached on the best type program (Cheatham et al., 2015). So the key message with this type of warm up (and using it as a cool down) can be to find out what works for you.
Step 5: Activation, dynamic, and static stretching.
Now that your muscles are ready to go, make sure your body is. This means focusing on a combination of static stretches that will prep your muscles for the extension portion of your exercise and dynamic (moving) stretches that will prep your entire body for complex movements. Since your warm up doesn’t include major weight, you want to focus on your technique and activating the major muscle groups you’ll be working through a combination of static (holding), dynamic (moving) stretches and activation exercises.
For this portion of your warm up, remember to:
- Hold static stretches a minimum of 30 seconds, focus on breathing, and don't exceed a discomfort rating of 7 out of 10.
- For your activation warmup, perform a minimum of 1 activation exercise for the major muscle you’ll be targeting in your workout.
- For your dynamic warmup, perform an additional minimum of 2 exercises similar to the one you’ll be doing in your workout.
-Perform these exercises for 2 to 3 sets, with 1 minute of rest in between if needed.
This part of the warm up should also get your heart rate up and get you into a light sweat. You want to feel like you’re at a 5 out of 10 before you start adding weight to your movements.
Step 6: Building up to a heavy weight.
Building up to the target weight on the bar requires its own set of warm up. It doesn’t necessarily need to take a lot of time or reps, but you do need to give your body a preview of the kind of work it’s about to do.
When building up to a heavy weight, remember to:
Incase this seemed like a lot, we've provided you with an example of what a common warmup would look like for a workout that consisted of a superset of squats and pull-ups.