A topic many people don’t seem to understand is the difference between a general and specific warm-up. Most people are familiar with the general warm-up which is simply performing any activity which will increase your heart rate and prepare you for workout so you aren’t starting out completely “cold”. A specific warm-up is a warm-up for the specific activity that you plan to perform. In the last few decades, the emphasis on strength training has greatly increased. I get questions from people about small injuries or problems with certain lifts that can be easily prevented with knowledge and application of how to warm-up for the workout that they are about to do.
A few things to remember about warming up:
- The older you are, the more you have to warm-up.
- The stronger you are, the more you have to warm-up.
- The less frequently you train, the more you have to warm-up.
- The less active you are in everyday life, the more you have to warm-up.
- The more complicated the movement, the more you have to warm-up.
Everyone is different in the amount of warm-up that they need so keep in mind the sets listed are just for example. For this example, we will use someone performing the following work out.
Split Squat 3×8
Leg Press 2×15
40M sprints x5
We won’t worry about the logic of program design or anything for this example. Let’s say our trainee is planning to use 310lbs or 140kg for his first set of 5 in the squat. His specific warm-up may look something like this.
(Weights in Lbs)
310×5 (first work set)
The key is to have enough blood flow to the right muscles and prime the central nervous system (CNS) enough so it is prepared for the work sets. If this person didn’t do this properly and instead their first set was 275lbs, then they are selling themselves short and not working to their full capabilities. Let’s look at another example. Let’s say that this person has been training longer and will use 500lbs or about 225kg for their first set of 5.
(Weights in Lbs)
500×5 (first work set.)
As you can see there were a lot of sets but not many repetitions. This is because the goal to prepare the CNS rather than exhaust the athlete before the workout even began. It’s a good idea at this strength level that if you are not feeling right to take an extra set of two. For example, this athlete if he wasn’t feeling good using 425lbs he could simply do it again which often is enough to get you back on track. The point is that work sets are exactly what they sound like; performing work. If you are not prepared, then you won’t be using enough weight to challenge yourself properly.
So let’s say our first athlete is finished with squatting. The next exercise is a split squat. This is a very similar exercise to back squats but still may require a little getting used to. So if he plans to use 125lbs in the exercise for his work sets, he may want to do a few quick reps with just the bar to find his balance and get familiar with the movement.
The next exercise, leg press, is much more controlled than squats were split squats and the repetitions are much higher. It’s likely he won’t need any kind of specific warm-up for leg press. However, after leg press, he’s decided to perform short sprints. Running is a much more dynamic action than lifting weights. Going to the track with tired legs and trying to run as fast as you can, is immediately a mistake. It would be a good idea for him to take a few easy sprints working up to top speeds then performing his real sprints.
The problem many people have who have worked out for a long time is that they don’t understand that they cannot warm-up the same way they did when they were 18 years old. No matter how hard we fight it, we all get older. The key is to not fight but to adapt and keep moving. When people start to get injuries from working out, they often give up. They don’t consider it was possibly their fault by having an improper form or not warming up properly. Both of these mistakes are two you can get away with at a young age with less consequence but eventually it catches up to everyone. Create good habits now so you don’t pay for bad habits later.