The Nuts And Bolts Of What You Need To Know…
If you’re married to your warmup, but it’s robbing you, it’s time for a divorce
A warmup should be used to “rehearse” and prime the body for the work to come
Your energy is best suited for efforts that will contribute to further progress, not as a reminder that you can still do what you’ve always been able to do
An All Too Familiar Situation
We’ve all seen it – that guy who saunters into the gym on international chest day (AKA Monday evening between 5 and 6 pm), and makes his way over to the bench press station on cue to proceed to bang out the same old routine for the thousandth time, and looking no different than any other year as a result.
First he puts a plate on the bar and proceeds to knock out ten reps with ease. Then he adds a quarter, and knocks off another ten with almost the same degree of ease. Then he replaces the quarter with another plate, and performs another ten, but starts to show a large force decrement by the tenth rep, as evident in the ever decreasing bar speed. Feeling strong he throws a quarter on top of the two plates, asks a random bystander for a spot, struggles to perform one rep without assistance, and then encourages the spotter to help him “get a few more,” which ends up being 5 or 6 reps “curl-upright row-deadlifts” for the spotter. From there he’ll either take a quarter off and perform a drop-set with two plates, followed by one plate, which he manhandles to let everyone know what a beast he is, or just “quits while he’s ahead” after the max effort, and moves onto either incline dumbell presses, or some sort of machine press that allows him to further pad his ego by lifting as much weight as possible.
Now, I don’t know about you, but a large part of me hates “this guy.” Not because of who he is, but because of the fact that his warmup is literally robbing him of results, and he’s too dumb to see it! This guy undoubtedly has a 300 pound bench, but performs such a high volume of low quality work during his warmup, that he has nothing left in the tank to build upon his decent foundation, and what happens is his results are checkmated by his warmup.
But you know what pisses me off the most about this guy? When he talks about how he can’t seem to shake that “275 lbs. monkey” off his back and increase his bench! I’ve tried to tell many of “these guys” that their warmup is robbing them, right before their eyes, but they don’t want to believe it for a second, because they’re married to their warmup. And since their warmup is part of the process that brought them their results in the first place, they don’t want to believe that their precious warmup would be high-jacking further progress.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Let’s for a second take a look at what’s really going on here – we have a guy with a roughly 300, maybe 315 lbs. bench, struggling to perform 275 lbs. for one rep on his own, and unsure as to why his strength is stuck, and his results have been held at a stalemate for the last however many weeks/months/years.
He begins every workout by performing 10 “effortless” reps with 135 lbs. This equates to a “tonnage” of 1,350 lbs. This means that he kicks off every single workout by subjecting himself to lifting 1,350 lbs. Even if it’s “light”, it’s still over a thousand lbs. before HE DOES ANYTHING ELSE!
From there, he proceeds to perform another 10 with 185 lbs. Obviously the tonnage of this set is 1,850 lbs, and when we combine this with the first set, we’re now at 3,200 lbs. But he doesn’t stop there, oh no, he then goes on to perform another 10 with 225 lbs, and when we add this 2,250 lbs, to the 3,200 lbs. that have already been lifted, we arrive at 5,450 lbs, divided over 30 reps, before even attempting to perform a set with a weight that would best contribute to progress! You’re starting to see why I can’t stand this guy, aren’t you? But it gets better…
Let’s be conservative and say that the individual in question has a 300 lb. bench. Keeping in mind that strength, and/or size, is largely dependent on both load AND time under tension, it’s apparent that this warmup is robbing this guy blind, of his results, let me explain.
With 300 lb. bench, his first set of ten with 135 lbs. is performed with 45% of his max. His second, and third set are performed with 61 ½%, and 75% respectively. By the time he gets to his heavy set with a weight that represents roughly 91 ½% of his max, he’s already performed 30 reps, for a tonnage of 5,450 lbs! No wonder he can barely perform a rep with a weight he should likely be able to perform for 2 or 3 clean reps under more normal conditions.
Rehearse, Don’t “Warm Up”
The term “warming up” is often misinterpreted, and for good reason. The words themselves imply that the purpose is to increase the core temperature of the involved musculature to increase the capacity to perform, and what better way to do that than performing 30 reps? But if you’re warm up is robbing you (much the same as it is in the example above), then what’s it worth?
A better way of framing it would be to look at a warm up as more of a rehearsal – much the same way that a choir rehearses before a big recital. Do you think a choir performs an entire recital at 45% of their peak, followed by doing it all again at 61 ½% and 75%? NO CHANCE! They perform a small series of drills to enhance their capacity to perform at a high level when it counts most – in front of a live audience. This example allows us to draw a parallel to how a warmup, or rather rehearsal, should be for a workout.
Instead of overkilling the warmup and underperforming when it counts, a better approach would be to use lower intensities as an opportunity to “rehearse” and prepare the brain and body for the work to come – not bury yourself, and test your resiliency/ability to bounce back.
If we took the example above and limited the amount of work performed with submaximal loads, which in this case will represent anything below 75% of max, it’s likely that there’d be more “left in the tank” for when it counts.
For example, instead of performing 10 reps with 135 lbs, stop at 3. Same goes for 185 lbs, and 225 lbs. Now, when it’s time to get to work, only 9 reps have been performed, for a tonnage of only 1,635 lbs. That’s 3,815 lbs. LESS than in the example above, equating to 70% less total volume BEFORE performing the work that is going to best contribute to progress. With 70% more energy to use toward sets that count, one can only imagine what the rest of the workout could look like, and the results that could be had.
Want the ultimate warm up so you become bigger, faster and stronger? Watch this:
Making Sense Of Nonsense
I think where a lot of guys go wrong, in that they get hooked on performing the same redundant routine over and over again, is that there are unwritten benchmarks that are regarded as “badges of honor” in gym folklore – those being:
Benching a plate for “X” number of reps
Benching a plate and a quarter for “X” number of reps
Benching two plates for “X” number of reps
Benching two plates and a quarter for “X” number of reps
I use the bench press as an example, simply because of the popularity of the movement (and as a result, the likelihood of you being able to relate to the example above), but the fact of the matter is that a warmup like the one illustrated at the onset of this article is performed by many, MANY, trainees on a daily basis, irrespective of what they are training.
Performing a warmup like the one in the example does nothing more than remind you that you “still got it,” and that you can still hit those benchmarks you first achieved long ago. But the better question is, “what’s the point in proving to yourself you can still do something that isn’t helping you make any further progress?” In fact, what’s the point in investing time into a marriage that is robbing you from attaining what you desire most (that being results)?
I’ll leave you with this – what got you there, will only keep you there. If your job is currently paying you a hundred grand a year, but you want more, you’re going to have to increase the amount of value you provide. Doing more of the same thing you’re already doing will not warrant a raise. What got you that hundred grand a year will only keep paying a hundred grand a year – in the same sense, what got you that 300 lb. bench, will only maintain that 300 lb. bench, and if you want to bench more, you’re going to have to do something different, and better.
Is your warmup robbing you of results? Or have you found a strategy that enables you to perform at your best each and every workout? Feel free to share your experiences below!
Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24 (2010): n. pag. 10 Oct. 2010. Web.
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