Warming up for heavy lifts

This post is geared more towards those who lift weights and is actually off of a suggestion from one of my clients (thanks Chris).

What’s the best way to warm up for heavy lifting? And particularly lifting towards a 1-rep max?

First off, I’ll say that for more experienced lifters this becomes a very individual thing and will differ from person to person. I know of some lifters who don’t enjoy taking too much time and will try and warm up fairly quickly but I also know of others who can take a very long time warming up and building up mentally to lift heavy.

“(Warming up) is a very individual thing and will differ from person to person.”

Both approaches can and do work. It just depends on the person.

Before I explain some guidelines for warming up to lift heavy let me first explain what an effective warm up will do.

First thing a warm up needs to do is just warm you up. This will be a slight increase in your core temperature and the temperature of your muscles. A warmer muscle is more supple, less susceptible to injury and able to contract faster and with more force. This can be done through a light cardio type movement (think skipping) or just some full body bodyweight movements.

“A warmer muscle is more supple, less susceptible to injury and able to contract faster and with more force.”

Second thing a warm up needs to do is lubricate your joints. Again, lubricated and warm joints are less susceptible to injury. The best way to do this is through full range movements. Think about things like shoulder rotations and deep squats.

The third thing a warm up should do is prime your central nervous system to lift heavy. This basically means preparing your neuromuscular pathways (connections between your brain and muscles) to fire quickly and preparing your muscles to contract with as much force as possible. To start this can be done with fast bodyweight movements (think about fast push ups or jump squats) but as you start to actually lift weight this is done by moving the lighter weights as fast as possible while maintaining good form.

The fourth thing a warm up should do is mentally prepare you to lift heavy. As you’re warming up, begin to think about how the heavy lifts are going to feel and how you’re going to move through them. This takes a lot of practise but is really beneficial.

Generally a warm up will start with some form of low intensity bodyweight/light movements. Things that will work your core and start to get blood to the muscles around your shoulders and hips.

“Generally a warm up will start with some form of low intensity bodyweight/light movements.”

Once this is done you’ll start to get more specific to the particular lift that you’re doing. Think back to the push ups/jump squats example.

After this you’ll begin to lift a barbell. Below is a format sets x reps @ % of current max that I use when bulding up in weight towards a PB.

1/2 x 15-20 @ an empty bar

1 x 5-8 @ 30-40%

1 x 3-5 @ 45-55%

1 x 1 @ 60%

1 x 1 @ 75%

1 x 1 @ 85%

1 x 1 @ 93%

1 x 1 @ 102%

As you can see the total number of lifts isn’t that much. Remember; the goal of warming up is just to prepare to lift heavy, not to fatigue ourselves too early.

One other thing to consider when warming up is speed of lifts. A slow lift will fatigue you a lot more than a fast lift so try and keep all warm up lifts as fast as possible.

All of these are guidelines and can and should be tweaked for each person.

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