Warming Up Like A Boss

Do you warm up correctly?

Do you skip your warm up or better yet, jump on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes to get the ‘heart rate going’?

It’s boring and I know you’re in a hurry but warming up correctly you will help improve your performance and decrease the chances of picking up injuries. Spending 5-10 minutes warming up can save you months of rehabilitating a sore shoulder or dodgey knee. Think about it.

“Prevention is the best cure”

It is common for people to confuse warming up with getting ‘warm’. It is definitely one of the goals of the warm up but it should be so much more than just breaking a sweat. I have had clients come into the ABS Gym and say:

Ah I’m warm, I walked here from work.’ – That doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.

Warming up the body should do a number of things including: raise your metabolic rate, get your body ‘firing on all cylinders’, and lubricate the joints. The raise body temperature will also reduce the risk of straining a muscle, ligament or tendon.

Warming up, if done correctly will also prepare the nerves that ‘innervate’ or power the muscle and prepare the muscle to be contracted forcefully by increasing the receptivity of the muscle cell to a signal. This sensitivity means the muscles/nerve connection will be enhanced and have a greater ability to fire faster impulses to the cell resulting in stronger contractions.

There is also a structure in the junction between the muscle and tendon called a Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO). It basically tells the muscle when there is too much strain on it and will prevent any excessively forceful contractions. I.e. If you are cold and you haven’t warmed up the muscle/tendon junction then your body will not let you tense the muscle fully to try prevent injury and you will be weaker. If this structure detects that it is warm, the result is  an almost instant strength increase because it isn’t inhibiting the muscle. Problem is; just increasing body temperature is not much use in warming up the GTO. You need to warm up that range of motion that you are about to put the muscle through and apply some stress to get it going.

So we’ve established that we are not just doing a general warm up and the purpose of the warm up is to get the core temperature of the working muscle up, but it is also to get the nerves firing to the muscle too. How do you implement this into your workouts?

So What Should I Do First?

Your warm up should be based around mainly dynamic bodyweight exercises and mobility work. In the ABS Gym in Dublin the basic warm up will include the following exercises:

Band Dislocates

Bodyweight squats or Over head squats

Band pull-aparts

Wall slides

Mountain climbs


Plank get ups

Hamstring flexibility exercises

These exercises are performed no matter what type of personal training session a client is about to do regardless if it’s lower body or upper body. Executing these exercises in this back to back fashion will create the effect needed to elevate the body temperature. Try it if you don’t believe me. (use a towel instead of a band)

What’s the difference between mobility and flexibility?

They are similar as they both help with improving range of motion. They both aim to improve your range of motion and both will help you get in to the correct position to perform the exercise correctly.

Mobility is performing a certain range of motion with a body part that doesn’t require an aid. For example: actively swinging your leg out to the front whilst keeping it straight would be classed as hamstring mobility, lying on your back whilst pulling your leg back towards you using a rope or band would be hamstring flexibility because it was passively brought through that range of motion.

Long story short, flexibility is passively attaining a certain body position. Mobility is actively being able to get your body part into a certain body position and be able to move through a range of motion with no external help.

What else can I do to warm up?

If you’re strength training then I would look to keep all your repetitions low when warming up. By performing higher reps you will release lactic acid in your blood which will hinder the activation of high threshold motor units. This is something you don’t want if you’re about to lift heavy weights.

Increase the weight as you warm up and  then decrease the reps. For example if you were squatting, benching or deadlifting then you should perform the general warm up then perform 4-5 light warm up sets consisting of 2-3 reps with the weight increasing gradually as you build up to your working sets.  If my first working set was 140 x 2 then my warm up sets would look something like this.

Warm Up Set 1 – 3 reps x Barbell
Warm Up Set 2 –3 reps x 40KG
Warm Up Set 3 – 3 reps x 70kg
Warm Up Set 4 – 2 reps x 100kg
Warm Up Set 5 – 2 X 120KG

This is a rough idea of what a warm up would look like for a heavy compound lift. I would do this for most exercises like bench pressing and deadlifting.  By performing plenty of warm up sets you’re giving your nervous system time to prepare and get ready for the heavier lifts.  It’s similar to a person leaving a dark room then walking in to the sunlight. You need to gradually adapt before jumping straight in to the heavier reps.

With lighter exercises and isolation exercises such as a lat pulldown or a bicep curls this type of warm up is not necessary. One warm up set at about 70% of the working weight is usually fine depending on the training/ injury history of the individual.


Stretching pre workout is generally a bad idea unless you have to do it to allow you to get in to the correct position to perform you lifts.

For example many of my personal training clients suffer from tight hamstrings. I’d allow them to stretch them before training as this allows them to adopt a better posture for exercises such as the deadlift.

One of the reasons you shouldn’t stretch pre workout is that it temporarily weakens muscle by activating the Golgi Tendon Organ that I spoke of earlier.  Stretching post workout or on a rest days whilst including foam rolling and soft tissue work is my preferred and recommended option.

Foam rolling and soft tissue work can be also be done pre workout and post workout with your warm up and cool down as it will increase blood flow to the area.

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