Warming up properly before you do weight training is important in helping to avoid injury to your muscles, and may reduce post-workout aches and pains. A proper warm up increases circulation, giving your muscles more oxygen and conditioning the muscle fibers so they become more pliable.
Though warming up is important, you may be surprised to find that your usual ways of warming up for other forms of exercise may not be optimal when applied to warming up for weight training. In fact, your current warm up routine may contribute to decreased performance and a greater risk of muscle injury.
There are four common mistakes people make in preparation for weight training, which are:
- Doing 5-10 minutes of cardio - While cardio is great for you to do on a regular basis, it is not ideal before a weight training session. Cardio will burn whatever glycogen is currently stored in your muscles, which is precisely the fuel that you will need for your weight training session. So by doing cardio you are basically going into your exercise session with your energy reserves already partly depleted.
- Stretching before your weight training session - Because muscle fibers are at their optimal contraction length when resting, when you stretch them they become temporarily weakened, which is not what you want before demanding a lot of work from them. So the best time to stretch is actually after your weight training session. An exception would be to stretch a muscle that is chronically tight, as it is not normally at its optimal length while at rest. You can also help the muscle group you intend to work by stretching its antagonists (opposing muscles). For example, squatting exercises use your quadricep muscles, so you would want to stretch your hip flexors.
- High rep warm up with low weights - This adds unnecessary lactic acid to your muscles before your workout begins, causing them to burn out more quickly, and reducing performance.
- Low reps with heavy weights - Doing this will shock your nervous system, muscles and joints, which are not prepared to work at full capacity at the beginning of your workout.
A good warm up for weight training that will set you up for optimal performance consists of completing five sets of reps as follows, resting for 45 seconds to a minute between warm up sets:
Set 1) 12 reps using 25% of your target weight
Set 2) 8 reps with 50% of your target weight
Set 3) 5 reps with 75% of your target weight
Set 4) 3 reps with 85% of your target weight
Set 5) 1 rep with 95% of your target weight
Following this technique should prepare your body for the workout it is about to receive without unduly tiring your muscles before you even start, contributing to better performance and fewer injuries.