Focus Your Warm-ups And Maximize Your Workouts

Do you know the real goal of a warm-up session? In this article Maik Wiedenbach helps you to improve your results by focusing your warm-ups and pre-workout nutrition.

Today's topic may not be all that exciting BUT the warm up process can actually make or break your whole workout and limit gainz. This is a reality I found out myself, and I did so in a rather painful manner.

Not to bore with my sob story, but it might explain where I am coming from.

I am what you would call a hardgainer. For years I struggled with putting on quality mass. I would either get strong and fat, injured, or both. As for programs, you name it. I tried them all. 5x5, HIT, HST, volume training and even 2-a-days.

In short, my results were abysmal until I found out what I was doing wrong:

  • I was training too long
  • I wasn't training with enough intensity
  • Lastly, I was never ready to train. Not mentally nor physically.

I simply did everything wrong, from pre-workout nutrition to stretching to picking warm-up exercises to warm-up weights to hydration levels...you name it. Every aspect of my training and nutrition was broken.

The term warm-up is a bit misguided, in my opinion. "Getting warm " is the least of your worries. You should be using this time to get ready to train at your maximum capacity within your actual range of motion.

Here is what usually happens during a warm-up session:

  • 10 minutes stretching (chatting with a lifting buddy). This accomplishes little, other than making you weaker (more on that later).
  • 10 minutes on a treadmill.
  • Some light sets to get the blood going.

While this is not terrible, it will - by no means - put you into awesomeness mode, prepping you for a great workout.

Pre-workout stretching

The term warm-up is a bit misguided, in my opinion. "Getting warm " is the least of your worries. You should be using this time to get ready to train at your maximum capacity.

The real goal of a warm-up

The goal of a good warm-up should be to create length in a muscle and optimize the force-couple relationships. This will allow you to have a high-performance workout and stay injury free.

How to go about it? I prefer a three pronged approach.

1. Get right of trigger points

This is done by foam rolling to get an active release. In turn, your body will be able to move as it needs to move. Yes foam rolling hurts, but surgery and rehab will hurt much more.

The usual suspects are: front delts, triceps, lats, hamstrings, piriformis, glute minor and calves. Spend about 5-10 minutes foam rolling prior to each workout.

2. Create length in the target muscle

Why would you want to do this? The more length you have in the muscle, the better it will fire. You have more real estate to build upon.

Normally this is done via static stretching (holding on to the bench in between sets in order to open the pecs up). The issue here is that static stretching weakens you by about 30% while increasing the risk of an injury. Not a great idea!

Instead I propose focusing on dynamic stretching, where the muscle is elongated in a natural motion. The easiest way to do this is to train the antagonist first with a few light sets.

So if you are training biceps, do a couple of light sets of triceps press downs first. This way the biceps get stretched out at the bottom without losing tension. You can do rows for chest, hamstring curls for quads etc. You get the idea.

3. Maximize neural output aka get your central nervous system ready

Before starting any workout, perform one exercise that creates an optimal mind-muscle connection with your target muscle. Here are my favorite exercises for this particular task.

  • Chest - Floor flyes on the cable, or flex push ups where you attempt to push the floor together.
  • Back - Deadlifts, bascially a partial deadlift where you assume standing relaxed pose thereby flexing the lats. An alternate would be the stiff arm pulldown with a hold in the bottom position.
  • Shoulders - Either a light clean and press or seated (on floor, not bench) shoulder press.
  • Quadriceps - Sissy squats.
  • Hamstrings - Single leg presses with a downward intention.
  • Triceps - Kickbacks at the cable, bottom third of the motion only.
  • Biceps - Slow underhanded pull ups.

Once you are done with these "warm-up" exercises you can move on to your first work set.

Warm-up sets

Before starting any workout, perform one exercise that creates an optimal mind-muscle connection with your target muscle.

This covers the training part. As for the treadmill warm-up, you can keep it as is. It won't do you any harm. 10 minutes will suffice though.

Pre-workout nutrition

The goal of pre-workout nutrition is twofold:

  1. Fuel the workout.
  2. Help with recovery or stop catabolism i.e. muscle loss.

So let's cover the fuel part first. This breaks down into two components: carbs for energy and protein to prevent muscle breakdown. Both nutrients take about 60-90 minutes to get into the bloodstream, so it's advisable to eat before training. If you train very early in the morning (like yours truly), at least have a protein shake on the way to the gym. Make sure to add some carbs to your dinner to help restore muscle glycogen.

By the same token, whatever you eat before a workout is your first line of defense against muscle breakdown post-workout, so training on an empty stomach is simply not advisable.

Hydration is another factor that is often overlooked. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. Dehydration leads to a lower strength output as well as fatigue and loss of concentration. This can cause injuries. Try to start drinking 2 hours before a workout to the tune of 7-10 ounces every 15 minutes.

That does it from my end. Give this new warm-up a go and let me know how you do!