Warming up or working out?

We’re all looking for ways to be more efficient and productive, this also applies to our workouts. Some recent studies have shown that all that time spent warming up might not be as beneficial as once believed. There has to be a balance struck between, preparing the mind and body, increasing muscle temperature and fatigue. We obviously don’t want to go from sitting in a cold room to a 315lb squat right out of the gate. But we also don’t need to spend 45 minutes warming up, before we step under 135lbs.

I remember my High School Phys Ed classes would always start with a warm-up which went as follows: slowly jog one lap around the field (est. 800 meters) and then spend about 10-20 minutes of static stretching, then organizing for whatever event was taking place that day. This probably took a total of 30-45 minutes.  This was a very inefficient way of ‘warming up’, keeping in mind, PE class wasn’t exactly the mecca of sports performance, however, this warming up mantra has inertia in today’s fitness world. How do you warm up?

There are two studies that have reported that strength was reduced up to one hour after static stretching (Fowles et al. 2000 and Kokkonen et al. 1998). Another study that focused on peak torque during concentric isokinetic leg extension discovered that after one active and three passive stretches, strength decreased at both high and low speeds (Cramer et al. 2004).

There is some consensus that passive warmup and static stretching isn’t the ideal way to warm up for any workout, with a trend towards active warmups, including mobility drills, dynamic stretching, plyometrics. Even with modern day interpretation of warm ups, some people can still interpret this as a 30-45 minute warm up, and if you only have one hour in the gym, that only leaves 30 minutes of actual work.

An article on the Bret Contreras website, had almost every scientific study conducted on warming up, in relation to untrained, trained, men, women, different sports, explosiveness, muscle fiber recruitment. I would recommend reading through that list to see each study broken down and summarized. I’ve pasted some quotes from the conclusion of studies that related to muscle force development:

“Research shows that these performance variables can be reduced only in total stretch durations lasting longer than 60 s but it is only a “moderate effect” and those lasting less than 45 seconds seem to have no effect on subsequent performance. There is only a minor difference in muscle contraction and no substantial effect of movement velocity.”

“Warm-up increased muscle temp by 1.4 ◦C but has no effect on reducing decreased muscle activity or decreasing DOMS in eccentric exercise for elbow flexors.”

“Passive stretching did not effect maximal anaerobic power but did seem to inhibit effect of AWU [Active warm up – 8 minutes of running using 60-65% of theoretical maximal heart rate] “

A warm up serves a few purposes:

  1. Increase the temperature of the body/muscles
  2. Prepare mentally for the exercise ahead
  3. Reduce chance of injury

Keeping in mind, my thoughts are specific to weight lifting. I am not concerned with sports, running, cycling, swimming, or any other activity. This makes a weightlifting warm up protocol pretty simple and straightforward.

Recommended Warm Up Protocol

  • If cold, or mentally fatigued – 5 minutes of rowing (preferable since it is full body, virtually no impact & mimics the motion mechanics of a squat or a deadlift) Second choice would be cycling or the elliptical. Avoid running as this adds a lot of unnecessary impact and stress to joints.
  • 2 Sets of 5-10 reps with the bar of the specific movement. Always start with the empty bar! (Watch any big lifter workout and they’ll start with an empty bar). This is the perfect time to feel how your body is moving and if there are any points of discomfort. If there are some sticking points or mobility issues, a few more reps should work them out. If not, you may need to adjust your workout accordingly. Try a light weight but high volume day.
  • You then take incremental jumps in weight (within reason) until you reach the weight required for working sets. At the same time decreasing the reps.
    • E.g., 315lb squats are prescribed for 3 sets of 5 reps:
      • 2×10 empty bar squats
      • 135lb x 5
      • 185lb x 5
      • 225lb x 2
      • 275lb x 1
      • 315lb x 5 x 5 x 5
    • On the warm up sets, really concentrate on your form,  this is where you can really groove the move and focus on technique. Understandably, form at 90% will be totally different to form with an empty bar, but your goal should be to treat the empty bar like it is your heaviest, so that you can treat your heaviest like an empty bar. With this mental framework in mind, you start to train the body to move in a specific pattern for a squat, so that every time you squat it’ll look identical to the last, this only happens through consistent repetition.
    • Another thing that can be done during the warmup sets, are different techniques. If you want to try a new method of squatting, then try one tweak at a time during the warmup stage and see how that feels.

The total time from walking into the gym to lifting the empty bar should only be 10 minutes. Rest between the early warmup sets shouldn’t be too long, think under 2 minutes. As the weight increase, so to should your rest time. Remember we’re not working on conditioning, but development of strength. The warm up should not be a work out.

 

References:

http://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article027.htm
http://www.active.com/triathlon/Articles/The_Real_Reason_You_Should_Warm_Up.htm
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12744717

What Does Sports Science Research Have to Say About Warming Up?


https://startingstrength.com/training/warmup
https://phdeadlift.teachable.com/blog/1579095/uywarmup

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