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You make or break your workout before it even starts. Before you grab that barbell and before you pile on the plates, you need to warmup your body to perform your best every time. But are your warmup exercises helping you reach your full potential? Better still, are your warmup exercises even helping your body resist muscle strain and injuries?
“The biggest mistake is to gloss over warmup exercises,” says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, co-founder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. “That does nothing to increase body temperature, increase neural activation, warm up the joints, or get the nerves ready to go.”
Instead, a great warmup routine helps you perform better in the weight room. “It’s not uncommon to see immediate improvements in the deadlift or squat,” says Gentilcore. “There’s a strong performance incentive to have a good warmup session, not to mention stacking the odds in your favor that you won’t get injured.”
Most guys wander into the gym, do a few stretches they learned in Phys. Ed., and jog on the treadmill for a few minutes to sweat. Then, they stroll to the weights and start lifting.
But walking in and faking a few stretches never prepares you for the tenacity of an intense workout — a quick jog and a few arm swings before a 225-pound bench press is a recipe for a lousy workout and shoulder surgery.
Bad warmups leave strength on the table because you never train at your highest potential; those stretches you learned in high school actually relax your muscles, relax your central nervous system, and diminish your power output.
Also, they neglect your problem areas. “Most people have poor glute activation, poor thoracic spine mobility, weak hips, and a weak anterior core,” says Gentilcore. “Even the guys who are lifting a lot of weight.”
If you ignore those issues, you’ll expose yourself to injuries: weak glutes, for example, can lead to knee pain, lower back pain, and hamstring pulls while a tight thoracic spine can cause shoulder pain.
Instead, use the warmup to bulletproof your body.
A great warmup routine readies your body and nervous system for a hard workout, eliminates your weak links, and improves your movement quality. The result? More muscle; less injuries.
At Cressey Performance, athletes lift heavy weights and pile on strength. But during the first few minutes of every session, the coaches orchestrate a careful collection of activation drills, dynamic stretches, and movement preparation designed for optimal performance.
This gets the blood flowing, clears waste from your muscles, brings fluids to your joints, and opens your body — often, athletes who feel drained beforehand find relief with a good warmup. Research also shows that warming up with dynamic stretches, which actively move your joints through a full range of motion, enhances muscular performance.
Also, think of the warmup like getting your car aligned — the right blend of drills will improve your posture, set your muscles and joints in the right position, and keep you safe. “Don’t stop with just getting your heart rate up,” says Gentilcore. “Correct things like posture or imbalances and address what you want to improve in the weight room.”