Why a Warm-Up is Important

When I’m in the gym, I see countless people walking in and start hitting the weights heavy immediately.  They don’t do any warm-up whatsoever and think that they will be able to lift a lot of weight?  Most of us know that warming up by jogging or something similar will raise your heart-rate and get the blood flowing, right?  So then why do we need to waste our time doing anything else?  This article will explain all that.

Warming up is very important to anyone trying to gain muscle mass.  Basically, we warm up for three reasons:

  1. It makes a lot of blood go to the muscle(s) that is/are going to be used in the upcoming exercise.
  2. It makes you feel comfortable with the the exercise that you are going to do.
  3. It makes your nervous system ready to fire BIG electrical impulses that tell the muscle(s) to push harder.

The first reason is the one that many people already know about, or at least, think they do.  See, when you jog or do some type of aerobic activity in order to warm up, you are not actually pumping blood into the muscles you are going to use (unless you are doing leg exercises but even then jogging is a very little stimulus).  In order to pump blood into the muscles you are about to use, you have to do the exercise that you are going to do for your working sets.  This means that if you are going to bench press for your normal sets, then you should warm up by benching!  When you pump blood into your muscles, it makes them ready to take on more stress than normal.  It gets them ready for a fight.  One way it accomplishes this is by adding fuel and removing waste during your workout.  See, when you lift your muscles will first start by using ATP and later energy from your glycogen storages which produce a toxic waste product called lactic acid.  Having more blood in that muscle will allow the lactic acid to be taken away easier.  Also, in order to regenerate ATP your body must use anaerobic metabolism first and later aerobic metabolism.  Oxygen from the blood regenerates phosphocreatine and metabolizes (clears) the excess lactic and other acids produced during the anaerobic type (weight lifting) activity.  Phosphocreatine is used to generate ATP.  In simpler terms, having more blood in your muscles will make you recover quicker after the first and subsequent sets are over.  Many times if you do not warm up before hand, you will be able to lift a lot your first set but then you will need to drop the weight or reps a lot the next sets.

Besides just put blood into your muscles, warming up allows you to feel comfortable with the exercise that you are going to do.  In this benefit, there is a psychological part and physiological part.  Being comfortable makes you have more confidence when you start your actual set.  It tells your mind, “OK, I’m done warming up, time to hit it FOR REAL”.  Moreover, this makes your central nervous system (CNS) comfortable as well.  See, the CNS can actually be “warmed up” as well in the fact that your muscles will be able to react faster to the stimulus given, allowing you to “balance” easier.  Think of it like this:  Imagine that you are trying to do a handstand or stand on one foot.  The first time that you do it, you might fall very quickly.  However, if you practice for a few minutes, you will normally be able to balance longer than you did the first few times you tried.  It is the same way with lifting.  After warming up, your stabilizer muscles will be able to respond better to the stimulus given and it will be easier for you to push that barbell up in a straight line, which will drastically help you push more weight.  Don’t believe me?  Try a normal pushup and then a pushup on a big yoga ball.  Even though the weight is a lot lighter on the yoga ball (because of the angle difference), many people still report it being harder.  Keeping control of those stabilizer muscles can help more than you think.

Even if your muscles are now ready for the type of exercise that they are going to do, warming up the right way allows them to be ready to give it all they got! See, even if your stabilizer muscles will perform better, that doesn’t automatically mean that your CNS will push out a HUGE neural stimulus telling your muscle to contract with all their might.  If you want this to happen then you should follow the directions that I’ll give you in just a bit.  See, once your body knows that it has to fight, it will start to prepare itself.  If you are just using light weights to get blood flowing in your muscles and get your stabilizer muscles ready, then your body is still not preparing for a fight, it thinks you’re just going to do something light and easy.  In order to prepare your body, you need to use heavy weight.  Now you might be thinking, “But Sean, if I use too heavy of weight then I will use up some energy that is needed for my working sets,” and you would be right.  The point here is that you have to use heavy weight but very low reps so that you won’t use up that energy.  In order to do this and still get the following two benefits from above these are my recommendations:
First start with a light weight that you would be able to do about 20-25 times and do 12-15 slow reps. Wait 30 secs.
Next pick a weight that you would be able to do 12-15 reps with, and do 8 slow reps.  Wait 30 secs.
Finally, take a weight that is just under the weight that you are going to use for the exercise and do 3-5 slow reps.  Wait 1 minute to 2 minutes depending upon how you feel.

Now you should be ready to go!  The higher reps pump blood into your muscles, the medium weight gets you ready mentally and lets your stabilizer muscles adjust, and the heavy weight gets you more mentally ready and tells your CNS to pump out stronger signals on the following sets.

Let’s start warming up so we can blast those muscles into growth!