Amid all the conflicting information about a warm up before a training session, it’s heartwarming to know that doing something is much better than doing nothing before your workout begins. But knowing just what to do may be a bit more daunting a task. Doing the wrong warm up can be ineffective in getting the muscles and joints ready for the task at hand. There may be a superior alternative that you’re failing to acknowledge. Allow us to serve as your go-to guide.

Cardio Warmup

Jogging on a treadmill or outdoors may be good for getting the heart rate up and is probably the most commonly practiced method of “getting ready” to work out.

How Perform the Cardio Warmup

Make sure the treadmill isn’t moving at a blisteringly fast pace—a light jogging pace is your best bet (3.0-4.0 on the treadmill). Whether you’re running outdoors or using a machine, you should always be gauging your rate of perceived exertion. Simply put, if you can no longer hold a full conversation while you’re running because you’re trying to catch your breath, you’re moving too fast and need to take it down a notch.

How long to do it: Exceeding 10 minutes is more than likely going to start tiring you out. A 5 – 7 minute jog is beyond sufficient.

Note: As mentioned above, the standard jog is arguably the most commonly practiced method to warm up. That means there are several alternatives most lifters haven’t explored that could provide them with more bang for their buck than running can provide. In truth, a jog is a very one-dimensional approach to workout preparation, that won’t accomplish most of the aims for a workout – especially a weight training workout.

A group of fit people doing warm up exercises outdoors before a workout

Dynamic Warm Up/Mobility

Best for: Basically any strength or conditioning workout you can think of.

As the last subheading indicates, the importance of allowing joint to have its full range of motion available is invaluable. The good thing about dynamic stretching and movement is the fact that there are no held positions which simply emphasize the use of full ROM to help release synovial fluid and train the much needed elasticity of your muscles.

How Perform the Dynamic Warm up

Choose stretches that focus on movement at the ball and socket joints – namely, your hips and shoulders. Having proper function of these joints will, by extension, affect the health of the other joints of the extremities like the knees and elbows. A study involving competitive basketball players showed that dynamic stretching can be useful as a warm up mechanism that maintains muscle performance, rather than inhibit it. Moves like leg swings, arm circles, high knee walks, spiderman walks, and bodyweight deep squats with overhead reaches are excellent choices.

How long to do it: These movements usually don’t take too long to get the body prepared for the next part of the workout; focus on 5 minutes of dynamic work that covers the total body.

The 4 Best Dynamic Stretches for Lifters

4 Dynamic Stretches for Lifters

Use this warmup regimen to bulletproof your body.

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Movement Prep Warmup

Best for: Weight training, strength training, specific weighted movements

There needs to be a point in your warm up where you’re actually doing the movements that are required for the workout to come. That’s what makes movement prep – what we call “warm up sets” particularly in weight training—a useful endeavor, rather than going straight to your loaded sets.

Strength training in the weight room taxes your central nervous system, which is responsible for triggering your strongest muscle fibers, and releasing key hormones essential to building muscle and burning fat. Doing movement preparation with lower intensity will prepare all of the above by stimulating the nervous system using the pattern that will be asked of it shortly ahead. Setting yourself up like this can end up in your favor, since your muscles will be able to produce force more efficiently and more explosively.

How to Perform the Movement Prep Warmup

If you’re about to barbell squat, and your goal is to lift 225 pounds for your working sets, start by performing ramping sets as you gradually add weight. Begin with the empty bar, and perform as many reps as it takes you to “groove the pattern”. Perform these reps the same way you would when using a full load. After your first set, drop the rep range down to 2-5 reps per set, and increase the weight by 20% increments all the way up to your first work set of 120 pounds

How long to Do it: This depends on the lift in question, and how strong you are at it. If you’re a veteran lifter with a 500-pound deadlift, chances are your movement prep will take longer than someone who can only deadlift 185 pounds. With that said, for a single joint isolation movement like a biceps curl, the same logic doesn’t’ need to apply as strictly. A 25-pound curl doesn’t require ramp sets at 5,10, 15 and 20 pounds, since it affects fewer muscle groups and joints.

Woman Warming Up For Yoga
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Muscle Activation Warm Up

Best for: Heavy lifting, Isolation training, hypertrophy training.

As you’ve read thus far, the name of the game when it comes to warming up is “preparation.” Stimulating the muscles to ensure they’re ready to do work comes first and foremost. With that said, getting in position and performing isometric contractions against immovable objects to zero in on the very muscle you’re looking to hit that day in your workout can go a long way in getting more out of the workout. Getting “the best of both worlds” between strength and mobility by using isometric contractions before lifting weights using the same muscle groups can enhance the efficacy of your workout.

How to Perform the Muscle Activation Warmup

Position yourself in line with an immovable object (a wall, a machine, or the floor could all be suitable depending on the move/muscle in question). It’s most effective if you can simulate the movement you’re about to do. For 2-3 sets of 10-15 seconds, produce a continuous contraction against the surface, remembering to keep the form you would during your actual movement. A good example would be a 15 second wall sit before performing leg presses or squats.

How long to do it: As mentioned, focus on sets of 15 seconds, and no longer. As you perform subsequent sets, increase the intensity and use full force in your final set. This is a warm up technique that is easy to drain you, so limit the amount of actual work you do to no more than a total of 3 minutes.

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Static Stretches

To this day, static stretching is still used and even recommended for workout preparation, but in truth, it’s something you may want to think twice about doing if an effective workout is in your list of demands. According to research, static stretching can actually impair the nervous system and lead to a temporary reduction in motor unit firing rates (X. Ye, Muscle & Nerve, 2015). In layman’s terms, that means it lowers strength levels for a period of time after you’ve finished stretching, which can affect your performance in your workout. Since the idea behind a warmup is to get you to your peak strength, static stretching should be used carefully, if it’s used at all before a workout.