This all-purpose gym warm up will ensure that you are prepared for any workout. Whether you’ve got a gruelling 20-minute HIIT session planned or strength training is on the menu, you need to be well warmed so that you can perform at your best.
Besides boosting training performance, warming up is an important part of physical activity – be it in the gym, an exercise class, or when playing sports.
‘Before starting any exercise session, it is essential to warm up.'
But, while we know it’s important, many neglect the warm-up and instead skip straight to the weights room. Reasons abound for why people don’t warm-up prior to exercise.
One often reported reason I’ve heard over the years is that many exercises simply don’t know how to warm-up properly. Well, if you’re not sure how to put a warm-up together, you’re in the right place.
This article will provide you with a gym warm-up template and a tuitional guide that you can use to create warm-ups for future workouts. But first . . .
Why do a gym warm up?
The author of the Royal Marines Fitness Manual answers this question candidly. ‘As well as the obvious reasons why we warm up, such as to help avoid injury, there are a number of other major benefits to taking 10-15 minutes to conduct a full warm-up.’
This sentiment is echoed in the book Personal Training. Mark Ansell reminds us that the warm-up should not be moved from the workout process. ‘A warm-up,’ he states, ‘is essential to any programme and ideally should last at least five minutes.’
But why is the warm-up so important? And why should we always warm-up prior to exercise? Below I have briefly outlined two of the major benefits.
A gym warm up can improve performance
In The Complete Guide to Stretching, the author outlines a number of studies showing how warming up improves exercise performance. For example, a group of trained males was required to run at a moderate intensity for a few seconds. They performed this run twice, one with a warm-up and one without.
Concluding the study, participants reported that they felt far more comfortable completing the run after a warm-up, which is no surprise. Other outcomes researchers noted included both improved regulation of body systems and exercise performance.
Warming up achieves these positive outcomes through a number of mechanisms. Arnold Schwarzenegger succinctly explains these mechanisms in The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
‘Warming up,’ he tells us, ‘pumps fresh, oxygenated blood to the area, raises the blood pressure, and increases the heart rate. This provides a maximum oxygen supply to the body and helps to eliminate the waste products of exercise from the working muscles,’ (EofMB – p141).
Reduce injury risk with a gym warm up
‘A good warm-up also reduces the amount of muscle and joint soreness that you experience during the early stages of the exercise program and can decrease your risk of injury,’ (Physiology of Sport and Exercise – 265).
Warming up before engaging in any form of physical activity can significantly reduce injury risk. This benefit is well understood. Scores of scientific studies have demonstrated the relationship between warming up and decreased injury.
In The Complete Guide to Sports Training, professional coach and author John Shepherd discusses a prominent study that investigated the impacts warming up had on reducing hamstring injuries in footballers. The outcome of the study suggested that injury rates reduced when players were put through an active, sports-specific warm-up before participating in a football match.
How to warm up properly
Of the few exercisers that do warm-up before their workout, many fail to follow a proper process. A few light lifts will not sufficiently prepare the body before a weight training session. The same can be said of a short walk or quick stretch before a run.
If we’re going to observe correct training principles and warm-up prior to exercise, we should ensure to do so properly. What’s the point otherwise?
One simple way to maximise your time warming up is to apply a process. Once you have a process (see below), your warm-ups will remain consistent. In addition, they will more likely achieve the following outcomes:
Raise core temperature
Increase resting heart rate
Increase blood circulation
Improve muscle elasticity
Improve training focus and motivation
Gym warm up process
The process of a warm-up can be broken into specific components. Each component has been outlined including exercise examples and timings.
Component 1: Cardio – 3- to 5-minutes (low intensity)
An essential component that all warm-ups should contain is a cardiovascular element. Cardio exercise is a superior method of raising muscle and core body temperature. Five minutes of light- to moderate-intensity rowing, for example, will tick the first three points on the above list.
In addition, cardio does not stress the muscles and joints like lifting weights do. It is for this reason and the one above that you should begin every warm-up with a few minutes of cardio.
Component 2: Resistance – 2- to 3-minutes (low resistance)
When you experience a rise in core temperature – you’re feeling warmer and there is a light lick of sweat across your brow – you are ready to integrate resistance exercises. When doing so we must remember Watson’s advice and ensure that our warm-up is of an ‘appropriate nature’ (Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance).
What this means is that the resistance exercises that you’ve selected for your warm-up should be similar, if not the same, as those exercises that feature in your workout. For example, if you planned to complete this Upper Body Strength session, you would – after the cardio element – progress through a few light sets of deadlifts, bent-over rows, and bench presses.
Component 3: Cardio – 2- to 3-minutes (moderate intensity)
Concluding the resistance phase, we’ll go back to the cardio exercise, but this time raise the intensity. Previously we maintained a low intensity for five minutes. This precursory warm-up served to engage the major body systems while waking us up psychologically to the demands of training.
Now that we’re wide awake and rearing to go, we should begin to increase the intensity and turn up the heat.
Gym warm up extension
At this point in the warm-up you will be more than prepared for a standard sets and reps gym session. Your core temperature and heart rate will be elevated, and your muscles and connective tissues will be ready for resistance exercise.
But if you have a tough workout planned, like this 5x5 Strength Session, you might need to extend your warm-up. To do this you would go back to Component 2: Resistance then to Component 3: Cardio, and again increase the resistance and intensity a notch or two.
Gym warm up
The following gym warm up has been tailored to suit any resistance workout. You will notice that there are blank spaces by the resistance sections and that there is a range of cardio exercise options.
If the warm-up were too prescriptive it would lack the flexibility required to accommodate a varied range of training sessions. This design feature enables you to adapt the warm-up effortlessly. How to do this is explained in more detail below.
My personal experiences using the gym warm up
To make sure that this gym warm up is fit for purpose, I gave it a few test runs. The first time I tried it was when I completed this 20-Minute Kettlebell Workout. I followed the warm up as per the plan. However, the slight modification I made was to change the resistance stations from barbell compound exercises to kettlebell movements. I kept the sets, reps, and resistance suggestions the same.
A week later I used this gym warm up for a very different workout. After putting together this physically challenging Running HIIT Session, I decided to use the above plan as a pre-workout warm-up. The modifications I made included completing intervals for the cardio sections and replacing resistance with bodyweight exercises – air squats, burpees, and plyo jumps in place of barbell squats, rows, and presses.
To sum up the warm up modifications
First, you can follow the warm up process as per the plan. The cardio exercises and resistance movements selected engage the major muscle groups of the legs and back. This will ensure that the whole body is engaged and that core temperature is raised.
Second, use the gym warm up plan as a blueprint. Stick to the timings and ensure to progressively raise exercise intensity. But customise the plan by removing and replacing exercises. For example, if it’s legs day, and you’ve got a Lower Body Strength session planned, it makes little sense to perform sets of bench presses or bent-over rows.