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Warming Up - Set Yourself Up For An Awesome Workout

Believe it or not, not many people know how to warm up effectively. Don't get me wrong, by the time they get to their first working set they are well and truly warm, but that's the problem. Many people simply over do it. Before you even pick up a weight, you must have a clear objective in mind of what you are going to accomplish during that set. It doesn't matter if it's a warm up, the 1st set, or last set, you must be focused on the task at hand. That's why the best way to view a warm up is the way you view your actual works or whatever. What you need to do is distinguish what you are there for, and what is classed as acceptable behaviour. If you are there for the sole purpose of building some quality muscle, then leave the chit chat for after the session. You need to start switching on NOW.

Start by visualising your upcoming workout, your exercises, sets, reps, weights, how it feel etc. This will give your mind a clear picture of what you want to achieve.


Cardio Warm Up

Physically, this is not really needed as specific warm ups are more effective, but is a great way to increase your focus and re-evaluate your goals. After your pleasantries with your training partner (that's if you have one), jump on a piece of cardio equipment for a brief 2-5 min session. During this time start to block all outside distractions and focus on what you are there to achieve. This is not to tire you, but to help you improve your mental state. This signifies the start of your workout.


Exercise Specific Warm Up

The best way to warm up a muscle is to perform the exercise that you will be doing. Say, if you are starting with bench press, then you warm up on bench press. This targets the exact area that you will be training, minimising injury and increasing your chance of growth. How many sets do we do? The million dollar question. Every person is slightly different in his/her needs and individual needs can vary from day to day. Generally though, it only takes 5 sets to be both physically and mentally ready to tackle the heavy stuff. For an example of an effective warm up, we will again use the bench press with a top weight of 100kg (225 lbs) for 6 reps.

Set 1 - This is the first set we do for our intended exercise and we choose a very light weight. We use this set to loosen up the joints and gauge how the exercise feels. Usually, for most people about 30% of our work weight provides ample resistance and we get 12 nice, controlled reps. Remember, we want to perform these reps exactly the same way in which we perform our work sets because we are 'preparing' ourselves for what's coming up.

Set 2 - This time we pop some weight on, again loosening up our joints and focusing on our performance/form. We load the bar to approximately 50% of our working set weight and pump out 6 east reps.

Set 3 - The tempo is picking up a little now. We load the bar to approximately 65% and pump out 4 reps. Remember, we focus on performing the reps exactly how we want to during our work sets. Slow, controlled negatives and explosive contractions. We also increase our mental focus, pushing aside all outside distractions.

Set 4 - We load the bar to approximately 75% of our work set weight, and pump out 2 reps.

Set 5 - This is our final warm up set - 90% and 1 rep only. This set is important because it is our last chance to feel comfortable with everything pertaining to the exercise, plus is a good guide to how the actual work set will feel. We are also mentally prepared and totally focused on the task at hand.

Set 6 - This is our first REAL working set and you give it absolutely everything, for up to 6 muscle building reps.


A Quick Summary Start focusing the moment you get to the gym:

  • The cardio warm up signifies the start of your training session - switch into gear

  • Set 1 - light, 12 reps

  • Set 2 - 50%, 6 reps

  • Set 3 - 65%, 4 reps (include brief stretching and increase mental focus)

  • Set 4 - 75%, 2 reps

  • Set 5 - 90%, 1 rep (100% ready, both physically and mentally)

  • Set 6 - 1st working set, going HARDCORE So as you can see, this is a lot shorter than the traditional warm up, but a lot more efficient, and effective.

Now that's just for the first set. For every other set that you perform remember that you are now as warm as you are going to be and there is no need to follow this structured protocol. All I ever do is grab a light weight and perform a few reps. What's this does is lets you get a 'feel' for the upcoming work set - and serves no other real purpose. If you are confident that you could launch straight in and perform your heavy set without this 'feel' set then there is no need to. If though you have trouble establishing the mind/mind muscle connection without this 'feel' set then I highly recommend you do one or two - I always do.

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