How to Warm Up for Weight Training

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Sometimes at CraigTuttleFitness.com we like to review fitness and nutritional products (like our total primate care review) and other times we like to give advice and tips that have helped us along our fitness journey. This is one of those times. A proper warm-up will not only reduce your risk of injury, but it fires up the nervous system so that it can activate muscle fibers more easily. But many people get it wrong. You can’t just windmill your arms and then throw 200 pounds onto the bench! The key to a good warm-up is a gradual increase of the load over multiple sets. Here’s how to do it.

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Initial warm-up

You can go straight to the weights to warm up, but if you’re feeling stiff, or if the gym is cold, you might want to start with 2-3 minutes of light cardio, followed by light stretching or mobility drills on the tight muscles.

Weights Warm Up – Unilateral Movements

If you’re doing unilateral (with one arm or one leg) exercises like bicep curls, and your target weight is 20 pounds or less, do your first warm-up set with 50% of your target weight and the same number of reps as you plan to do in your first set. If your target weight is greater than 20 pounds, do your first warm-up set with 10 pounds.

Then add 20 pounds to the weight of your previous warm-up set. If this will reach or surpass your target weight, the next set will be your work set. Otherwise, do another warm-up set, but decrease the reps. The reps should decrease gradually through the warm-up sets. Keep adding 20 pounds and decreasing reps until you reach your target weight.

In terms of rest, when you’re within two warm-up sets of your work set, use the same rest you intend to use in your work sets. Otherwise, take 1-2 minute rest periods.

Here’s an example — say you’re doing 8 reps with 70 pounds on the dumbbell press, taking 3 minutes of rest. Warm up as follows:

  •   Set 1 – 10 pounds for 8 reps, 1-minute rest
  •   Set 2 – 30 pounds for 4 reps, 3-minutes rest
  •   Set 3 – 50 pounds for 2 reps, 3-minutes rest
  •   Work set 1 – 70 pounds for 8 reps

Note the gradual reduction in reps — you don’t want to be doing more than one or two reps in the set before your work set.

Weights Warm Up – Bilateral exercises

For bilateral exercises like the bench press, squat or deadlift, the system is the same, except you start with the empty bar, weighing approximately 40 pounds, and increment by 40 pounds each warm-up set.

Here’s another example. Say you plan to bench 300 pounds for 6 reps with 5 minutes rest. Warm up like this:

  •   Set 1 – empty bar (40 pounds) for 6 reps, 1-minute rest
  •   Set 2 – 80 pounds for 6 reps, 1-minute rest
  •   Set 3 – 120 pounds for 4 reps, 1-minute rest
  •   Set 4 – 160 pounds for 4 reps, 2-minutes rest
  •   Set 5 – 200 pounds for 3 reps, 2-minute rest
  •   Set 6 – 240 pounds for 2 reps, 5-minute rest
  •   Set 7 – 280 pounds for 1 rep, 5-minute rest
  •   Work set 1 – 300 pounds for 6 reps

Remember, warm-ups are just there to prepare you for the work sets. If you feel weak going into your work set, you’ve either done too many reps or not rested for long enough.  

The warm-up is perhaps the most neglected aspect of weight training. This is sometimes due to laziness, or it might be due ignorance, but you can no longer use the latter excuse. Don’t skip your warm-ups!

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