They may seem trivial, but warm-ups are an important part of the strength training process. Unfortunately many people either fail to do them properly (or at all), or they overdo them, missing the point that warm-ups are, well, a warm-up. Popular slogans like “our warm-up is your workout” don’t help the matter, implying that the warm-up must be an intense, drawn out matter. The warm-up serves one purpose: to prepare us for the work sets, where we will actually impart the stress necessary to drive adaptation.
Physiologically, the warm-up increases circulation and oxygen flow to the muscles, improves lubrication in the joints (movement causes synovial fluid held in the cartilage to squeeze out and lubricate the articular surface of the joints), and prepares the neurological system for the complicated task of lifting. The last point is an overlooked one. As Scott argues, the center of mass in the barbell-lifter system changes rapidly during the warm-up process, as the lifter progresses from the empty bar toward his work weight. For a two-hundred pound man, the center of mass when squatting an empty bar isn’t much different from squatting bodyweight. When his work sets get north of the mid-300’s, however, the center of mass moves upward toward the bar, and therefore demands significantly more attention to balance. Scott argues that this is primary reason for the warm-up: to prepare your neuromuscular system for the task of producing force under very different circumstances than normal activity.
Unfortunately rank novices, and even some experienced trainees, often fail to warm-up properly. They perform too few sets, or too many, or they make the wrong weight jumps. As the Blue Book prescribes, the warm-up should comprise:
- Empty bar (45)x5x2
- Jump #1x5x1
- Jump #2x3x1
- Jump #3x2x1
- Work sets
For a 315lbs squat, the warm-up would look something like this:
- 315x5x3 work sets
Many novices get hung up on the jumps. They should be roughly equal, so that you don’t make too large of a jump between sets, although most lifters prefer to get a certain weight on their back early in the warm-ups to help them stretch and reach depth. It’s also OK to perform more warm-ups than indicated above. If you’re feeling stiff, take an extra empty bar warm-up set (or two or three). Another problem lifters run into is over-complicating weight selection for warm-ups. Unless your work sets are close to the empty bar in weight, you shouldn’t have to use change plates for your warm-ups. Use 25’s and 45’s, maybe 10’s for your pressing movements. Don’t rely on a calculator (or the Starting Strength app) for your warmups; figure out a progression that works for you and commit it to memory as well as your training log. Every so often, as your work weights climb, you may have to increase the jumps, or even add warm-up sets at the end of the warm-up progression.
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