Warm ups used to be considered “soft” by serious strength athletes. Seeing a guy prancing around with high knees and butt kicks would be a comical relief for the “real” athletes that got straight to their heavy lifting once in the gym. Fast-forward to present day, and mobility work and warm up popularity are at an all time high. Walk into most gyms and you’ll see more bodies scattered across the floor than a Walking Dead episode. Foam rollers, mobility bands, more groin stretches than a professional contortionist.

Make no mistake, a proper warm up is certainly prudent for any athlete looking to minimize injury risk and enter their training sessions at their best. That said though, the mobility movement quickly became a full-on takeover. A takeover that once started with positive intentions but now appears to often hinder physique athletes’ performance more than it helps.

 

Warm Ups & Time Sucks

What’s the most used excuse you hear from athletes on why they missed a workout or fell off the wellness wagon altogether? Bingo, time. We live in a fast paced world and in most cases, time is an ever-elusive resource. Particularly if someone has a family to take care of, between work & family responsibility, training time seems to constantly be on the chopping block when schedules need more room. In most cases, for us online physique coaches, developing the “best” training program tends to be dependent on the time clients have available as much as actual training principles.

If time’s the ultimate determinant in training periodization, it may be important to ask yourself just how much of your “training time” is spent simply warming up. I see this in a variety of people, but especially in younger athletes. It’s great to see younger athletes taking more interest in warm ups and prehab, but it’s equally disappointing to see more time spent warming up and “improving functionality” than actually lifting heavy weight. 30 minutes or more pass before athletes actually start their leg training, then somehow time constraints are elected as the reason for cutting the session shorter. If you’re focused on strength and physique development, it’s important to keep in mind just why you’re warming up in the first place.

Benefits of Warming Up

  • Improved muscle elasticity (greater force production & reduced injury risk)
  • Increased blood to working muscles (reduced oxygen debt)
  • Increased focus & mind-muscle connection before working sets begin

There comes a point where additional warm up time is simply deterring from your actual workouts. Both in total time spent training each session, but also total energy availability to go toward the movements that are actually going to stimulate the changes in strength & physique improvements that we’re all working toward. If you’re starting to plateau on the increased strength in your workouts, consider reflecting on your total warm up time and see where you may be able to make it more time and energy efficient.

Fatigue Accumulation

Speaking of fatigue, this holds particularly true for warm up or “acclimation” sets. Once you’ve reached the stage of performing acclimation sets prior to your actual, first working sets, you can either warm up effectively, or blow your energy with additional, unnecessary sets. The benefit of performing warm up sets is mostly just to get re-accustomed to the feeling of a specific movement and get into a solid groove with that motor pattern before getting into the heavy loads you have planned. It’s not the easiest thing to go straight from a general warm up right into a 400lbs+ squat session.

Naturally, we want to perform a few sets of squats working up to our programmed sets. We get used to the feeling of heavier loads, get back a solid groove with our motor patterns, and cap off our work to get optimal blood flow and elasticity into our working muscle groups. The problems arise when we reach a point of diminishing returns with those sets. We eventually work past warm up sets and enter a situation where sets just prior to our first working sets are just serving as pre-fatiguing, submaximal working sets.

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