The Right Way To Warm Up


The Three Principles for a great warm up for strength training

There is a huge controversy on training warm ups, in general don’t get caught in extremes. On one end of the spectrum, you have population that just jumps right into heavy strength training cold. On the on the other end of the spectrum you have someone doing 20 minutes on the treadmill then, 20 minutes of light stretching, then 20 minutes of specific warm ups. There is a saying, everything in life is better with moderation and this applies very well here. Warm ups are based on two main factors, the type of workout you are about to tackle and your current mobility/flexibility levels. For instance you warm up for a heavy Olympic Weightlifting session is going to be different than a 30 minute jog. But there are some concepts that do apply to any and all workout styles.

Principle 1: Duration and Environment

Here is a simple rule: If the recommended warm up takes as long as the actual workout, then your probably starting off on the wrong foot. In general, a warm-up serves two major purposes—to enhance performance and prevent injury. A third major purpose is for skill development and movement prep for specific athletes (Olympic weightlifters, gymnasts, etc) Most of the small blood vessels (capillaries) within your muscles are closed when you are just sitting around. After 10 to 12 minutes of total body exercise, blood flow to the skeletal muscles increases to some 70 to 75 percent and the capillaries open.

Along with more blood flow comes an increase in muscle temperature. This is good because the hemoglobin in your blood releases oxygen more readily at a higher temperature. More blood going to the muscles, along with more oxygen available to the working muscles, means better performance. An increase in temperature also contributes to faster muscle contraction and relaxation. Nerve transmission and muscle metabolism is increased, so the muscles work more efficiently.

Research shows that for best results in optimal hormonal production, the gym temperature should be 70 Fahrenheit. So if your gym is really cold, maybe you train in your garage, or you live in Maine, wear multiple layers, which you can take off as you warm up. If the gym is real cold, wearing a skullcap or wool hat helps, since roughly 10% of your body heat is lost through the head.

Principle 2: Warm ups should be specific and work on weakness

In a successful warm-up you need to teach the body two things: the range of motion, and that the weight or movement will be challenging. Hence, you do the lift/movement you are going to do for multiple sets of low reps. The best warm up for squats is squats. The best warm up for deadlifts is deadlifts…pretty simple concept. But if your warming up for football practice, then use this time for technical drills that involve whole body movement. You not only get specific warm up but your working on drills that will increase speed, footwork, hand eye coordination, etc. Now if you have very specific mobility issues or under-firing muscles then find a way to incorporate specific stretch/activation movements for your condition. I personally love drills that make you think, balance, and activate all at the same time.

According to flexibility guru Ann Fredericks, author of “Stretch to Win“, PNF, not static stretching is the best type of stretching to perform before lifting weights, and I fully agree. Fredericks believes that PNF stretching is superior to static stretching before a workout since it helps to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response). You should perform static stretching post-workout since it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This would therefore help to relax the body following an intense workout.

In case you are not familiar, PNF stretching, an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation has been used for years and is most used by physical therapists and athletic trainers. PNF stretching is performed by first performing a static stretch for the target muscle and then contracting the muscle to be stretched isometrically, followed by performing the same static stretch for the target muscle. This type of stretching will allow you to stretch through a greater range of motion than with a traditional static stretch. The other benefit, as mentioned earlier, PNF stretching helps to “prime” your nervous system, allowing for a more productive strength-training workout. If you want example of PNF stretching,  simply click here to see Chris Frederick in action with pro football client Ni’al Diggs.

Stretching is recommended to be done after the first warm up set, if need be. That first set should tell you what needs to be worked on.So for example, you are squatting, and you feel you ankle extensors and quadriceps are tight. Go do some PNF stretching. Save static stretching and longer foam rolling sessions for after workouts!

Your warm up blue print should mimic the following and last no longer than 10-15 minutes:

-3 Minutes on a bike, rower, treadmill, etc.
-Quickly foam roll any tight muscles
-2-3 specific mobility movements you need to address
-2-3 specific activation drills
-specific warm up for task at hand

Principle 3: Number of sets is a function of motor complexity, number of reps in work sets, and levels of maximal strength

The more complex the exercise, the more warm up sets. So power cleans need more sets that bicep curls. The lower the number of reps in the work sets, the higher the number of work sets. Thus a strong person needs more sets.

So here it is in application:

Example 1: Rookie doing 20 reps of standing calf raises at 100 lbs

Warm up

3 reps @ 40 lbs, rest 10 seconds

3 reps @ 60 lbs, rest 10 seconds

2 reps @ 80 lbs, rest 1 minutes

Work sets: 3 sets of 20 @ 100 lbs

Example 2: 205lb Olympic weightlifter warming up for work sets of 300lbs power cleans

Warm up

3 reps @ 45 lb, rest 20 seconds

3 reps @ 115 lb, rest 20 seconds

2 reps @ 155, rest 20 seconds

1 rep @ 205 lb, rest 30 seconds

1 rep @ 235 lb, rest 1 minute

1 rep @ 255 lb, rest 90 seconds

1 rep @ 275 lb, rest 3 minutes

Work sets: 6 sets of 2  @ 300 lb


Enjoy and apply this knowledge to your next training session!

-The Evolution Lab