Going straight into your first set immediately from the changing room without warming up properly is not only a sure way to get you injured it’s also the best way to make your workout harder.
A proper warmup prepares your muscles for an intense workout by firing up your central nervous system (CNS) which means your muscles will contract quicker, making you stronger and prepared when the real work begins.
A general warm-up is an individual choice. Jogging or cycling is typical but not ideal if you’re warming up to lift weights. It’s very popular to do a few sets of 15-20 reps as a warm up which is great and will raise body temperature, dynamically stretch the muscles and joints, and increase blood flow but it won’t activate your central nervous system fully which is needed to help you lift your optimal weight for your chosen rep range.
A light cardio session will also warm the body but not prepare you for serious lifting. Can a power walk prepare you for a set of bench press?? I don’t think so…
How to warm up for a weights session
The most effective way to warm up your muscles is to perform progressively heavier versions of the exercises you are going to be doing, working the muscles through their full range of movement (which sometimes reduces your need to do any stretching). Start with a few reps at an easy weight then slowly increase the weight, while keeping the reps low to minimise fatigue. Keep going until you work up to your target work set weight. Here’s the formula you should stick to which will ensure you select the right weights for each warm up set.
Say your first move of the workout is bench press and your target work set weight is 100kg for 10 reps
Warm up set 1: 8 reps at 30% minimal rest
Warm up set 2: 5 reps at 50% 30-60 seconds rest
Warm up set 3: 3 reps at 70% 45-75 seconds rest
Warm up set 4: 2 reps at 80% 60-75 seconds rest
Warm up set 5: 1 rep at 95% 60-90 rest
Start first working set
Depending on your rep range or target weight you may not need to do this number of warmup up sets. If I have a client working at 12-15 reps per working set I may get them to warm up with ten reps, increase the weight then do 5 reps, increase the weight again and do 2 reps, then start the workout.
You only need to do this for the first two exercises of your workout. For all other subsequent moves for the same or similar body parts select a weight that is about two thirds that of your work set rep and perform 4-6 reps to get the motor pattern right but if you are moving a totally fresh body part you should begin this warm up sequence again, you’ll not only be protected from injuries, you’ll also be stronger.
If you are doing a heavy body weight exercise such as chin-ups or dips in the first two exercises then use a resistance machine to warm up these body parts instead.