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The truth about warming up and resistance training

Jarrod Testa – Principle Four Osteopathy (B. Exsc & Sport Sci, B.SC, M. Health.Sci)

When entering a gym setting, there are often two approaches to warming up. On one end of the spectrum are those who don’t, and the other being the one-hour crew. You know, the ones who warm up with all kinds of foam rollers, bands, voodoo floss, and anything else you can think of. In this article I will outline some of the key components to address in a warm up, to have you physiologically/psychologically prepared for your work out.

Some specific variables to think about prior to resistance training are local to the muscles and joints required for the particular body part / groups of body parts you are training, aswell as the nervous system. These include;

  • Appropriate range of motion requirements
  • Muscle activation / joint stabilisation
  • Appropriate movement pattern
  • Activation of motor units to prepare for heavier sets

Whilst some non-specific approaches to address prior to resistance training include general things like the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. These include;

  • Elevation of baseline oxygen consumption
  • Increased core temperature
  • Increased heart rate

Putting these principles into practice

Firstly, there is no one size fits all approach to warming up. Warm ups should be largely individualised, and here are some global recommendations to help you prepare yourself for weight training.

1.  Foam roll only if you feel you need to

Sure, day to day tasks might have us feeling stiff and sore, and loosening off prior to exercise can definitely be beneficial. A major misconception about foam rolling however is that it creates permanent change to tissue length, when it fact all we are doing is settling down the nervous system to temporarily create an increased range of motion. If we don’t then go on to use and get strong in this new range of motion, the benefits are short lived.

  •  Try spending 1-2 minutes on problem areas prior to exercise, whilst making sure your foam rolling is slow and deliberate. Be sure to test / retest appropriate ranges of motion to see if any differences have been made.

2. Address appropriate joint mobility

If you struggle to get into a position, breaking the skill down from the ground up and figuring out the demands of the skill / your limitations in getting there is a pretty good way to improve. An example of this can be seen with bench pressing – If someone is limited through extension in the upper back, and had trouble extending and bringing together their shoulder blade position together (to achieve an efficient bench press)– the rate limiting factor here might be thoracic mobility. Here it is a good idea to implement some sort of thoracic mobility prior to the exercise execution.

Over time, we rely less and less on this stage (depending on what you do throughout the day) – as we get better at the skill, and stronger in these newly found positions.

2. Ditch the static stretching prior to hard resistance training

Research has shown that static stretching prior to exercise negatively affected strength performance and sprint times for up to 60 minutes post static stretching. This is as muscle stiffness is decreased, meaning that the stretch shorten cycle of muscular contraction is impeded. Think of your muscles like an elastic band, static stretching causes less recoil when the elastic band is stretched/ then shortened rapidly.

If you really feel you need to stretch before resistance training, dynamic stretching has been seen in the literature to increase muscle stiffness, therefore increasing the stretch shorten cycle of muscular contraction. Increasing the ability of our muscles to release elastic energy at the lengthening to shortening phase. If you want lasting changes in flexibility, save the static stretching for either after your workout, or at another time of the day.

3. Address localised problem areas

This is the point of the warm up where any rehabilitation / prehabilitation work may come in to play – these exercises should not be carried out until the point of fatigue, but just to increase neurological awareness of the area. Examples of these are appropriate rotator cuff/ gluteal/ pelvic awareness exercises, or any other problem areas you may face.

The purpose of this is to aid in adequate joint positioning and proprioception prior to exercise, if efficiency during the exercise is your goal. It’s important to note that muscles do not “switch off”, they are probably weak, or not functioning as efficiently as they can.

4. Addressing the movement

This is the last stage prior to beginning your working sets. This will address the non-specific variables prior to exercise, as well as increased motor unit activation and start to reinforce what the working set should feel like. There are two things to note here; Firstly, is that we are not working until muscular fatigue (that is what the working sets are for), and secondly is to move the bar with as much speed as possible on the shortening phase (aside from new beginners – we learn better when we move slow). This aids in motor unit recruitment, and will help activate those fast twitch fibres you are trying to grow. Think about explosive on the way up, and controlled on the way down.

Practically what this looks like using the bench press for example (working up to 100kg)

  • Bar x 10
  • 60kg x 5
  • 75 kg x 2
  • 90 x 1
  • Working set – 100kg – 5 x 5

And there you have it

Consider these 4 basic steps when designing your warm up protocol, to ensure maximum time efficiency. Finishing off, here is an example of a warm up routine prior to an upper body session.

Example warm up prior to an upper body session

  • Foam rolling / Spikey ball – 2 minutes each on problem areas (Commonly seen in the pecs and lats) and upper back extension
  • Upper body dynamic stretching – Arm circles x 10 per side
  • Specific rotator cuff exercise – Internal / external rotation with therabands 2 x 10 per side
  • Specific exercise warm up – IE as above

To finish up the thing to note is that all warm ups should be tailored to the individual, as there is not a one size fits all approach to working out or warming up.

For any individualised warm up requirements, contact us at Principle Four Osteopathy so we can tailor a plan towards your goals. Book here; https://principle4.cliniko.com/bookings#service

Jarrod Testa Square E1542674375645 1 The Truth About Warming Up And Resistance Training

This article was written by Principle Four Osteopath Jarrod Testa. Jarrod also holds a degree in Sports Science, has been resistance training for nine years and has been working as a personal trainer / strength and conditioning coach for 5 years. Jarrod also has competed in powerlifting, and has worked alongside some of Australia’s best powerlifters in the Powerlifting Australia’s federation.