Picture this, you get out of work at 9 pm, later than expected and the gym closes at 11 pm. You thought you had more than enough time to go home eat, grab your gym bag and head out to the gym being that you were scheduled to end work at 6 pm. Now time is not on your side and you still have to get your workout done. I’ve heard this scenario plenty of times. I can understand how someone will think of exercises they can skip in order to have enough time to just focus on lifting which ultimately ends up being the warm up exercises. This isn’t always the smartest idea. Resistance training definitely has its benefits but its also has its disadvantages. If you focus of the disadvantages, you’ll continue to reap to benefits. But if you ignore the disadvantages, you could potentially be at risk of injury during your training session. Let’s first understand the difference between “warm up sets” and “working sets”.
Warm up sets are typically exercise that you perform to activate your muscles, loosen up your joints and/or create a muscle to mind connection with the muscle(s). These aren’t meant to fatigue you in fact, they are meant to prime your body prior to starting your actual workout. Think of injury prevention next time you’re thinking a skipping your warm up. After resistance training for a long time, muscles get tight, joints get stiff and if you work at a desk for long hours, we need to get our blood flowing around our body before beginning an intense workout session. Let’s say for example you suffer from tight shoulders and then go on to perform the bench press, it will be extremely difficult to keep your shoulders behind the chest while pressing because you haven’t properly loosen or warmed up that muscle. There’s always a way to improve if you put the effort to get better and prioritize what needs more focus.
Working sets on the other hand is where you want to fatigue your muscles. Typically working sets can be 4 sets of 5 reps or a pyramid for 4 sets for 4-8 reps while increasing the weight gradually after each set during an exercise. This is where the magic happens or should I say where muscle break down happens. I’ve said this before in a previous article that in order to build muscle, you need to put your muscles through stress so that they grow bigger, stronger and better through rest, recovery and proper nutrition. The main issue is that a lot of us obsess about the working sets and fail to realize how a small warm up can increase the efficiency of our working sets and prevent injuries.
A weak muscle to mind connection is common for a lot of beginners. Its not necessarily a bad thing at first but without focusing on developing a stronger muscle to mind connection each session, you could be wasting precious time in the gym with little to no results to show for it. This is where a lot of fitness professional utilize the “pre-exhaust” method which means exactly what it sounds like. You choose an exercise to perform first, typically one that causes the greatest contraction to get your mind to contract the muscle with every repetition. Using the “pre-exhaust” method not only warms up your muscles, but now that you’ve established a solid connection with the muscle of focus, it makes it easier to feel every exercise throughout the remainder of the training session. This is just one example. There are many different ways to properly warm up.
Warm up sets should be prioritized first and should never be ignored. Squats is an amazing exercise to develop the lower body but not everyone is able to perform them. This may be due to an injury suffered in the past, mobility issues, bad form or just the way a person has been created just to name a few. I personally warm up everything when I’m preparing to squat. From ankles all the way back up to my shoulders. Might sound a bit over the top but I understand that I’m not getting any younger therefore better safe than sorry. For the average person, I will highly suggest focusing on warming up the hips and knees. This can be 5-10 minutes on the leg extension machine. Set the weight about 20-30 lbs lighter than what you would choose for your working set, perform 10-15 repetitions of leg extension focusing your mind to squeeze the quads muscles. Then immediately perform body weight squats for 10-15 repetitions to warm up the hips for 2-3 sets total.
Doing a warm up set such as this can be a bit boring compared to the working sets. But its one of the major keys to squatting right into your hips to generate the most power to come back up. If you don’t perform any kind of warm up, you may be surprised when you realize tightness in your hips joint during your working sets. This can create additional tension to your knees and lower back that you could have probably prevented by just warming up properly. The gym is great place to redefine who are but if you don’t take every aspect of fitness seriously, you could be at risk of hurting yourself performing an exercises you done plenty of times in the past. DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR WARM UP!