Updated: Sep 22, 2019
Hopefully you’ve already read the first in this mini-series on stretches. If not, I would totally recommend reading it, it’s a thrilling read… rivalling the likes of JK Rowling (maybe not, but still give it a read if you’re interested!) This next piece is on how best to warm up for cardio and weights.
Obviously, a good place to start is with the stretches (yes, another plug at my previous post :P but mainly because it’s important!!). Then we need to talk about warm up sets for weights and warming up for cardio.
First, stretch! Yes, I’ve said it about 100 times already, so hopefully it’s really sinking in! Then do some mobility exercises.
Mobility exercises consist of doing some movements to loosen up joints. You may have been told to do these in P.E without ever realising they were mobility exercises. If you’ve ever been told to make circular movements with your arms, pointing out from your body, this is an example of a mobility exercise.
The best thing to do is limber up the joints that you will be using in your work out. For example, if you are going to do some running, start off by just doing a few bodyweight squats, some high knees (where you do some very light jogging on the spot, bringing your knees up to a higher than normal level), and some bum kicks (again, light jogging on the spot but making your feet touch your bum). The idea of these is to stretches the muscle, create movement in the joint and get the blood flowing, without putting too much impact and strain on them.
Then do some gradual warm ups of the exercise you’re about to do. For example, when I’m going for a jog, I like to walk for the first minute or so, bringing up my speed gradually. Doing this gets your body warmed up and the joints moving in preparation for the way you will be using them during your work out. This will help reduce your chance of injury. Going back to the example of my runs, I only start the actual run once I’ve done a bit of walking. Not only does this approach reduce the risk of injury, it can also improve your running time! Think of it like this, the first few minutes of running isn’t you warming up… it’s you crushing the run! Likewise, if you’re doing rowing just spend a couple of minutes gradually working up to the speed you will want to row at.
Warming up is vitally important (if you hadn’t realised yet, that’s the message I’m trying to get across here). It’s especially important with weight training. If you try and lift 100kg off the ground cold, you are very likely to sustain a serious injury. Even if you’re able to lift 200kg, you would still want to do some warming up first! Again, start with stretches then do some mobility exercises.
Mobility exercises for weights are similar to those for cardio. In fact, it is quite a good idea to do some light cardio before lifting. Even if it’s just 5 minutes on the rower at a slow pace, it will increase your heart rate, get the joints moving and increase blood flow. However, you definitely want to do some extra mobility movements for weights (which movements you do will depend on the muscles you are going to use).
For example, if you’re going to do some deadlifts, then do some ‘good mornings’ with just the empty bar on your back. This will mobilise the lower back and abs and engage the hamstrings. You need to think about what muscles are going to be engaged in the weight’s exercises, and focus on mobilising those.
Warm up sets are next on the agenda. Once you’ve done your stretches, mobility exercises and light cardio, you still don’t want to try and lift that 180kg straight away. I would always suggest just doing the movement with an empty bar first of whatever exercise you’re about to do. Do it controlled and slow with an empty bar to stretch out and engage the muscles, then gradually build up to your working weight.
Your working weight is the weight you’re going to do as your top weight for a few sets. So, if you’re wanting to do a working weight of 60kg on the bench press, I would start with 20kg (an empty bar), then do a few reps at 40kg, then do your working set at 60kg. The heavier the weight, the more warm up sets you’ll probably want to do. The key, however, is to not tire your muscle out before the working weight - it’s meant to be a warm up, not the whole session! I would say you want to do maximum of 4 warm up sets, minimum of 2 (including empty bar) and your last set before working weight shouldn’t be so close that it knackers your muscle out (aim for around 15 - 20% lower than the working weight). So if I’m warming up to 180kg, my final warm up set would be 150kg. You also want to reduce the reps you’re doing each time you go up. If you’re doing 4 warm up sets, aim to do 5 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps, 3 reps. Again, the aim is to not knacker your muscle out! You may need to play around with warm up sets to find out what works best for you.