The Best Way to Warm Up Before a Weight Lifting Workout
Warming up your body before a weightlifting session increases muscle and connective tissue elasticity, blood flow, body temperature and nervous system activity. Since weightlifting comes in various forms -- including Olympic lifting, kettlebell training and cable machine training -- the best way to warm up would depend on the type of weightlifting you do.
Movement, Not Muscles
Although most textbooks and fitness certifications still recommend that you stretch different muscles in your body before you work out, much research has shown that stretching can inhibit your performance and doesn't reduce your risk of injury. One study performed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that subjects who performed dynamic warm-ups had higher performance in the vertical jump test than those who just did standard stretching. Dynamic flexibility, which is moving your muscles and joints within your full range of motion repetitively, should be performed before weightlifting because it stimulates higher neural activity and increases tissue elasticity. Static stretching, which is holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, decreases neural activity and doesn't prepare your muscle and nervous system to move.
Sample Warm-up Exercises
Dynamic stretching can emphasize one or multiple muscle groups. For example, you may choose to warm up by doing squat or lunges, which work on many muscle groups, or do jogging butt kicks that emphasize the quadriceps. Other lower-body dynamic stretches include lateral leg swings, clockwork lunges and even specific martial arts kicks and footwork like the capoeira ginga. Upper-body dynamic stretches include arm swings, standing trunk twists, quadruped trunk twists and figure-eights with a light medicine ball. Always develop a steady breathing pattern and movement rhythm when you perform dynamic stretches.
Be Specific With Movement
Rather than picking different warm-up exercises to do randomly, choose the ones that move similarly to the movement patterns of the workout. For example, if you're going to do some heavy kettlebell swings or barbell deadlifts, warm up with Sun Salutation and shoulder retraction exercises instead of stretching your legs and hips while sitting on the floor. This is based on the SAID principle, which stands for specific adaptation to imposed demands. This refers to your body's ability to get better and adapt to specifically what it's trained to do, says physical therapist Tony Ingram. In a study published in the April 2013 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, found out that subjects who performed passive or assisted stretching exercises showed no improvements in how they performed functional movement patterns, such as lunging, reaching and extending their hip from a standing position. They concluded that even though stretching did improve hip flexibility, there was no carryover to how well they move.
Mix Different Warm-ups Together
Doing general warm-ups, such as cycling or skipping rope, with specific warm-ups can help you increase more strength. Researchers at Bandeirantes University of São Paulo in Brazil had one group of subjects perform specific warm-ups prior to performing a leg press exercise, while the other group performed 20 minutes of cycling and the specific warm-ups. The second group had an average of 8.4 percent higher performance than the first group. The researchers stated that the general warm-ups, even though they were not movement specific, increased the body temperature, which increased the amount of force the muscles and nervous system produced.
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Stretching -- A Research Retrospective
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Strength Training Class Warm-Ups
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Combination of General and Specific Warm-Ups Improves Leg-Press One Repetition Maximum Compared With Specific Warm-Up in Trained Individuals
- Bboy Science: The S.A.I.D. Principle
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Improvements in Hip Flexibility Do Not Transfer to Mobility to Functional Movement Patterns
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: A Dynamic Warm-Up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.