Many people warm up either way too much before a weight workout or way too little. You must fall between these two. Not only will a proper warm-up lessen our chances of becoming injured. It will increase our strength the very first day we put this principle into practice. Physiologically speaking, there are very few reasons to lift weights. The biggest two are to increase muscle size and to increase strength. Who does not want more lean, toned muscles and also to be stronger?
Weight training also will help prevent bone loss and deterioration. This is of great benefit to women who want to offset the likelihood of osteoporosis. Most people, even though there are exceptions, do not lift weights because they find it an extremely fun and enjoyable experience.
Therefore, if there are physiologically only a few reasons to lift weights, then every single time we put our hands on those weights, shouldn't the purpose be to either get stronger or more muscular. Not just for the act of bringing a weight up from a rack and to your chest? Lifting weights do not have a direct impact on fat burning. It does have an indirect effect, for the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you will burn.
So if we want to build muscle, shouldn't we be lifting progressively heavier weight to force new muscle stimulation? So doesn't that rule out lifting light weights for high reps to try and tone up? Weight training is anaerobic, not aerobic; so do not try to perform an aerobic workout by lifting weights. So, how does this relate to warming up correctly?
Simple. Most people spend way too much time and energy warming up to the point that when it is time to perform their heavy, muscle-building sets, they are too wiped out from their warm-ups. This has defeated the purpose of weight training. Lighter weights lifted, less muscle stimulation. This means less muscle growth as a result.
The single biggest mistake I see people do time and time again is that they warm up with too many sets and too many reps before attempting their heavy, results-producing sets. Take the bench press for example. Just the other day, I witnessed someone performing the following routine.
This person started with the bar, which in most gyms is 45 pounds. They busted out a quick, easy set of 10 reps. They then put on 45-pound plates and did another set of 10. So far, so good. Then they went up to 155 pounds and did another 10 reps. Here is where we are starting to go wrong. They are beginning to use way too much energy on these warm-ups.
They then did another set with 175 pounds for 10 more reps, then 200 for a set of 8 reps. So far, 5 sets and this person hasn't even started their "heavy and intense" sets yet! They have wasted time, energy, and intensity all before it really even counted.
On the 6th set, they notice they were starting to tire quickly and could only handle 210 for 5 reps. So this is where they stop the bench press portion of their workout figuring that since they are fatigued, they have worked the muscles sufficiently. After talking briefly with this person, I realized they had been at this weight and unable to break past this plateau for months. They just assumed it's where they were meant to be, that they couldn't get any stronger.
People often come up with many excuses instead of stepping back from the picture and learning what it may be they are not doing correctly. If you are not progressing forward, something may be wrong.
If the only way a muscle will grow is through increased overload (weight) why expend so much needed energy on warm-up sets? We need to save it for the productive sets, the last one or two of the set where the weight being used is the most you can handle for four to six repetitions. Here is where true muscle stimulation occurs.
Adding 20lbs To Your Bench
Now I will show you how I added over 20 pound to a person's bench press, THE FIRST DAY I WORKED WITH HIM!
An important term I learned several years ago was the term "weight acclimation" set. This simply means performing a set to get used to a certain weight, acclimating to it. This principle is important because it should be used in each and every exercise that you perform.
Warming-up correctly means you should acclimate your muscles to be able to handle additionally heavier weights while progressing through your sets. This means doing just enough reps on a warm-up set without tiring yourself to the point where you have no juice left to finish your heavier sets. You are allowing the muscle group being trained to acclimate to a heavier resistance and more overload without unduly fatiguing.
Any Repetition That You Perform Has One Of Three Purposes:
- It is a warm-up set.
- It is an acclimation set.
- It is your heavy, muscle-building sets.
If you cannot categorize a set you are about to do into one of these three, you should not do the set. It is wasting your time and energy.
Back to how I added 20 pounds to a person's bench press the first day. After this person warmed up on the bike for 5 minutes, I met him at the bench press (it seems everyone uses the bench press as a gauge for how things are going). I had this gentleman place 135 pounds on the bar and had him perform ten smooth, easy reps. After resting for a couple minutes, we placed just 20 pounds more on and he did an easy set of eight reps. Then we bumped it up to 175 pounds and he did six reps. He was starting to work harder, but he was not tiring because he was starting to decrease the number of reps he was doing. This is very important. As you go heavier, decrease the warm up reps.
After a couple minutes rest, we placed 200 pounds on the bar and he only did three reps. Then we went to 210, his previous best, and I had him only do two reps.
"Gasp", I hear you going. Why only two reps, I thought you were going to help him lift more? After resting a couple minutes, we placed 230 pounds on the bar and he proceeded to get six good, strict reps. Last week he was only able to push up 210 for four repetitions. In one week, by lessening his warm-up reps and sets, he had added 20 pounds and two reps. Not a bad week's work?
This illustrates the important points of this topic. Do not overdo your light warm-up sets. They are just that, to warm up, not to fatigue. As we place additional weight on the bar, decrease the reps performed so that you are not tiring out too much on your warm-ups. If staggered correctly, you will have reserved more strength and energy for those last heavy sets and you should notice an increase THE FIRST DAY YOU PUT THIS INTO PRACTICE.
Get Rid Of Wasted Reps
Learn to get rid of wasted reps and wasted sets in the gym. We are striving for efficiency. This doesn't mean you are working any less; you are just working smarter at working harder. Do not waste precious energy on repetitions that will prematurely fatigue the muscle, not make it stronger. When performing a workout for a certain muscle group, like chest, most people do more than one exercise. For example, for a chest routine, you start with flat bench press, and then proceed to incline dumbbell press, and finish with dips.
On your second exercise of the same muscle group (chest), do not start at a very light weight again and re-warm up a muscle that is already warmed up. For example, if you start with the flat bench press and then move onto the incline, do not start light again on your incline. Your muscles are already warmed up from the flat bench. Just perform a set or two of acclimation sets (six to eight reps) and then immediately get into the heavy sets. So as your workout progresses, you will become more efficient by shaving needless reps off.
Stop doing too many reps and sets before getting to the heavy ones. Involve acclimation sets on all of your exercises to get your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints ready for the progressive overload that's about to come.
Think quality of sets over quantity of sets. Its not the number of reps and sets that count, it is how you perform them.