Warm-up sets are an important and often under-emphasized part of the effective bodybuilding workout. Done properly, they will help you to have the most productive workout possible.
Unfortunately, many people fail to warm-up effectively.
These sets can have a positive impact on your results. However, do not let them become part of the actual workout. They should be quick and accomplish the goals of warming up the targeted muscles and joints as well as providing the opportunity to perfect exercise form.
They should not prematurely exhaust your muscles.
First off, understand the proper steps to warming up the body in preparation for a workout…
The Three Steps To Preparing For Your Best Workout
General Warm-Up –The first thing you should do when you get into the gym is a general warm-up for the entire body. This is accomplished with a quick aerobic type exercise. Five or so minutes on the stationary bike or similar equipment (jump rope or even jog in place if at home and without such equipment) will do the trick. The purpose of this is to get the blood flowing to the muscles and heart. A warm body will be able to perform better in the workout.
- Stretching – The next thing you want to do is a few minutes stretching (stretching comes after the general warm-up – stretching warm muscles is much more effective than stretching cold muscles). This is some light stretching with a concentration on those muscles which are about to be worked. This helps with coordination, injury prevention, muscle soreness and also increases blood flow.
- Warm-up Sets for Specific Exercises – Now you are ready to get into your bodybuilding workout. But your warm-up is not yet complete. Before the work sets for any particular exercise come the warm-up sets for that exercise. So, if you are doing a chest workout and the first exercise in your routine is the bench press, you will want to do a couple of bench press warm-up sets.
The Three Primary Purposes For Warm-Up Sets
- Drive blood flow to the targeted muscle groups (allowing you to lift heavier in your work sets)
- Lubricate the joints (helping to head off injury)
- Allow you an unstressed opportunity to work on your weight lifting form
If you have accomplished these three things with your warm-up sets, than you have effectively prepared yourself to have the most productive work sets possible. Your muscles are warm and prepared to handle the intense work sets and you are confident and comfortable with the proper form required for the exercise.
As equally counterproductive as not warming up enough is warming up so much that your warm-up has become part of your workout.
Many people make this mistake and have their results suffer because of it. By the time they actually get to their work sets, after performing a large number of warm-up sets or sets with excessive reps, their targeted muscle groups are already significantly fatigued and therefore unable to work as intensely at the weights and sets that actually build the muscle.
Remember, the ability of your workouts to build muscle will be directly related to your ability to work intensely at the heavier weights. If you are fatigued before you even begin your work sets, muscle building will suffer.
Sets, Reps, Load and Tempo For Warm-Up Sets
Warm-up should generally be done with 2 sets containing 6-8 reps per set. Doing more than 8 reps in your warm-up sets can start lactic acid build-up in the targeted muscles.
The load (weight used) should be one that is challenging enough to get a little pump but not one that will tire out the muscles (you should not be straining to complete the final reps of any warm-up set). The actual weight that will accomplish this will vary by individual based on muscle fiber makeup but some general guidelines to use as starting points would be:
50-60% of your 1Rep Max or…
your 10-12 Rep Max
Don’t use the above numbers as anything more than a starting point. Instead, use what your body tells you as your definitive guide. If you aren’t feeling a pump with 8 reps at 60% of your 1RM then up the weight a bit. If you strain reaching the sixth rep with your 10RM, lower your weight.
In cases where your routine has you going directly into heavy sets (i.e., a 1-4 rep set) you may wish to up the weight for your second warm-up set. For example, if you are doing a reverse pyramid routine of 4,8,12 reps, you may find it advantageous to up the weight on your second set to 70-80% your 1RM and then do just 3 or 4 reps to better prepare yourself for the immediacy of the heavy load.
With routines that have multiple exercises which primarily work the same muscle groups, it may not necessary to do warm-up sets for any but the first exercise in the series. However, doing them can still provide the opportunity to improve form as well as help prevent injury with the exercise’s differing accessory muscles.
The tempo used during your warm-up sets should be one that is quick and to the point. Using a tempo of 1/0/1 with one minute rest intervals between sets and before starting your work sets will allow you to get all the benefits of the warm-up without sacrificing too much of your valuable one hour workout window.
You’re warm, now what?
Well, it is time for work sets. While you are deliberately trying not to expend all your energy during your warm-up sets, you go all out on your work sets. You leave nothing for later. When seeking mass gain, you perform each work set like it was your last.
This is the intensity that is required to get your muscles to react in a major way. Check out the Mental Bodybuilding Techniques article for more on how to include this important component in your mass building program.