The importance of warm up sets before lifting

|

Kevin Mangelschots

You should compare warm-up sets before lifting heavy, with walking and stretching before going for a run.

It serves the purpose of getting our body ready for intense and heavy physical activity. Warm-up sets are essential to prevent, and even to rehabilitate injuries.

That’s why the importance of warm-up sets before lifting can’t be overstated.

Are warm-up sets necessary?

Warm-up sets aren’t necessarily required, but it’s still highly recommended to do so to prepare your body for the upcoming physical activity and to reduce the risk of injury.

Not to mention that they’re a great way to practice your technique at a slow pace.

Should you do warm-up sets before exercising?

You should do warm-up sets before exercising. That way, you’re giving your body ample time to loosen up and get ready for the physical activity at hand.

It’s critical to perform enough sets before starting your main exercises since it takes a while before the body is prepared properly.

Should you do warm-up sets before every exercise?

Image of a man shoulder pressing with a barbell.

It depends. If you do multiple exercises that target the same muscle group, then performing warm-up sets before your first main exercise that hits that muscle can be sufficient.

If you’re performing an upper-lower split workout, then that means you will alternate between upper-body training, and lower-body exercising each session.

It’s not required to keep warming up the same muscle group that you’ve already warmed up before. It’s also not required to perform warm-up sets for your legs when you’re training your upper body that day, and vice versa.

If you’re performing a full-body routine, for example, then you will probably need to do warm-up sets before every exercise since each lift typically hits a different muscle group.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are warm-up sets?

Image of a man lifting a light, pink weight with one finger standing up.

A warm-up set is a program of motions that you perform at a low to moderate intensity with low resistance before performing your working sets when weightlifting.

Your working weight is the weight that you will use to perform your working sets. These are often challenging enough to stimulate growth in one way or another. Be it to gain strength, muscle mass, and/or endurance.

Are warm-up sets important?

Image of the word “important” written in red letters on a white envelope.

Although warm-up sets aren’t necessary, they’re still very important for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, they loosen up the body and prepare the muscles, tendons, and joints for the activity that’s yet to come.

Secondly, they reduce the risk of trauma when exercising. That’s because your muscles are loose and warm.

And lastly, they’re an excellent tool to practice your technique at a low tempo. Going too fast and training too intense typically means our technique gets worse, and that’s an issue we don’t have when warming up.

Should warm-up sets be hard?

No, warm-up sets should not be hard since their purpose is to prepare your body for exercise. It’s not the main activity itself.

Warm-up sets should never be too challenging, tiring, intense, or too high in volume. That’s because we don’t want to be fatigued before we start lifting weights.

How should you warm up before exercising?

Picture of a woman stretching in front of a field of grass.

There are primarily two ways of warming up before you start training:

  1. General warm-up

    This is a general, non-specific, and overall warm-up that people sometimes perform before lifting weights or running for that matter.

    A couple of examples of general warm-up exercises are walking, riding the bike, foam rolling, and static or dynamic stretching.

  2. Specific warm-up

    A specific warm-up refers to using the specific weightlifting exercises as warm-up sets with light weights as part of our specific warm-up routine.

    These are called our warm-up sets. For example: Bench pressing a lightweight as a warm-up set before bench pressing our working sets which will be heavier.

    Another specific warm-up can be walking slowly before practicing fast walking, and jogging/slower sprints before sprinting intensely.

Both ways of preparing the body for intense activity have their place before starting your workout.

The goals of warm-up sets

Image of the word “goals” written on a small blackboard with chalk.

Many people, including me in the past, underestimate the usefulness of warming up properly. I believe that everyone should exercise, but not before taking the time to prepare properly.

Not performing a sufficient amount of warm-up sets can, and will over time cause significant joint and muscle-related problems.

There are other purposes to these warm-up sets as well:

  • Preventing injuries
  • Preparing specific muscles of our body
  • Set up our target joints for physical activity.
  • Preparing ourselves mentally for the upcoming physical activity.
  • Readying our central nervous center for physical activity.
  • Learning and correcting our lifting technique.

Warm-up sets should accomplish all the above without accumulating mental and physical fatigue.

How many warm-up sets and reps should I perform?

Picture of a man performing static stretching exercises on a track.

How many warm-up sets and reps you should ideally perform is debatable and no exact science. But you should perform enough warm-up sets until you feel that your body is loose and warmed up.

It’s different for everyone, and using your common sense is what I would advise. It’s meant to be used as a warm-up, so make sure you start with light weights, perform a low amount of reps, and work your way up to heavier weights and a higher amount of reps.

Using your common sense would be to perform a higher amount of warm-up sets if you are getting up there in age. That’s because you get more injury-prone as you get older since you’re not in your physical prime anymore.

Scale up the weight of your warm-up sets until you are at least 50 % of your working weight.

An example warm-up sample would be:

  1. Start with just the barbell for 10 reps.
  2. Use 20-40% of your working set weight for 8 reps.
  3. Use 50-70% of your working set weight for 5 reps.

You can add more or fewer warm-up sets where the weight increments are lower to warm up more thoroughly.

However, make sure to perform at least 2–3 sets to make sure your body is at the very least warmed up decently.

How long should a warm-up set be?

How long a warm-up set should be is not set in stone, since it’s not an exact science.

But it should be long enough to warm up your body enough so that it’s prepared for the physical activity that’s yet to come and to loosen the muscles, tendons, and joints to prevent injuries.

Your heart rate should be slightly elevated and is usually a good indicator that you’ve warmed up long enough.

Logic suggests that people of advanced age should warm up longer than younger athletes since they’re generally more injury-prone in addition to being less resilient.

Static or dynamic stretching before weight lifting?

A young woman stretching dynamically in a cave.

We’ve established that warm-up sets are ideal to prepare the body for lifting weights.

How to warm up before lifting weights?

For weightlifting, I recommend performing specific warm-up sets before performing your working sets and a dynamic stretching routine.

When we compare dynamic stretching with static stretching, we find that dynamic stretching exercises are a much better way to get your body ready for physical activity than static stretching.

Why you ask? Weightlifting is a sport where maximum strength and even more importantly, explosive strength are very important. And performing static stretching exercises right before weightlifting reduces our maximal strength output.

Another reason why I would choose dynamic stretching over static stretching is that it requires more physical activity. This makes it more effective to prepare your body for exercise. All the while reducing the risk of injuries and increasing your ability to deliver explosive bursts of strength.

Black and white image of a person sweating.

Static stretching will have negative effects on strength training when performed right before lifting weights because it decreases your maximum strength output when performed right before strength training.

That’s because the tendons and muscles that are being stretched relax too much as a consequence. Due to this, there’s an increased risk of injury. Take note however that static stretching after lifting weights is perfectly fine.

Long story short, static stretching is not ideal as a warm-up before weightlifting. Performing warm-up sets and dynamic stretching are.

Should I stretch before or after lifting weights?

Image of a man stretching on the street.

Ideally, you should stretch before and after lifting weights. But the most important one is stretching before weightlifting.

That’s because we don’t want to get injured when exercising. And that’s why those warm-up sets are so critical to our performance and longevity concerning our physical activity.

The best thing to do is stretching dynamically before lifting, and statically after working out. That’s because we don’t want to negatively impact our strength before our main lifts.

Conclusion

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

Warm up sets are critical before lifting to reduce the risk of sustaining injuries, to prepare our body for physical activity, and to practice our technique.

There’s no conclusive consensus about how many warm up sets you should perform. But you should do enough so that your body is prepared sufficiently, and your heart rate is slightly elevated.

Just make sure to warm up with a light weight in addition to a low volume of reps so that you’re not too fatigued before your working sets.