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The Warmup

A good warmup will accomplish the following:

  • Help prevent injuries. 
  • Increase the removal of lactic acid and other waste products of exercise. 
  • Increase the efficiency of contracting muscles. 
  • Increase neuromuscular coordination. 
  • Improve the coordination of muscles. 
  • Increase heart rate, speeding up blood circulation. 
  • Increase the delivery of oxygen to the muscles. 
  • Increase the body’s cooling mechanisms. 
  • Increase the muscles’ range of motion. 
  • Mentally prepare you for the workout.

Walking a Fine Line

There is a fine line between a warmup that adequately prepares the muscles and one that reduces your training intensity. A good warmup should increase your heart rate, produce alight sweat, increase your body temperature and loosen up the muscles. On the other hand the warmup shouldn’t drain your energy reserves to the point that you can’t complete the desired number of sets and reps with maximum weight. Here are a few guidelines: 

  • Modify the warmup so it increases body temperature and produces sweat, but does not deplete your energy level or cause fatigue. 
  • Include stretching exercises to help loosen muscles. 
  • Include lighter versions of the exercises you’ll be doing in your workout to prepare your muscles for more intense training. 
  • Stop the warmup after about 10 minutes. 

Generally speaking, warmups can be divided
into three categories, or phases.


Phase One

Phase One can be considered a full-body warmup. Even if you are only planning to work one part of your body, say chest or back, your heart and lungs play a major role, and you want them operating at peak efficiency. For most bodybuilders, five to ten minutes will be a sufficient warmup. There’s no need to pedal the Tour de France! A few minutes on the bike will get the heart and lungs pumping and will ensure the muscles will receive sufficient amounts of oxygen and nutrients.

Other machines you can use are the treadmill, rower (called an ergometer), and StairMaster. If cardio machines are not your thing, try skipping rope, doing a quick jog up and down your street, or running up and down a few flights of stairs. Any of these activities will prepare your body’s major systems for the work ahead.

Phase Two

The second phase of your warmup should focus on preparing the muscles for injury prevention and efficient functioning. Probably the best form of exercise for doing this is stretching. Stretching is one of those activities that can be performed before, during and after your workout. It both warms up the muscles and relaxes them after a workout. It also increases blood flow to the muscles and speeds up the removal of waste products. Ideally, you should stretch the whole body, but if you can’t, perform a few light stretches for the muscles that you will be training that day. I’ll deal with stretching in greater detail later in the book.

Phase Three

The third phase focuses on performing a few light sets of a given exercise before moving to your heaviest weight. If you’re working up to 200 pounds on the bench press, start off with just the bar and do 15 to 20 reps. Then put 100 to 120 pounds on and do 10 to 12 reps. You could then go to your top weight of 200 pounds on the next set, or you could do a thirdwarmup set with about 150 to 160 pounds. Always do at least two good warmup sets beforelifting your heaviest weight.

In fact, you may need to do three or four warmup sets once you can manage 400 pounds or more. No matter how strong you become, you’re still at risk for injury. In fact, the stronger you get the higher the risk, because of the huge poundage you end up using. So far you may have been skipping warmup sets with no ill effects. However, I warn you that one of these days you could be repping out when rrrrrriiiiiippppppp! There you go – a massive tear has occurred that could require surgery and many months of therapy. It has happened to some of the top pros, so it could certainly happen to you.


On average, your warmup – both cardiovascular and muscular – should take no more than15 to 20 minutes. This is long enough to prepare your body for more intense training without depleting your energy reserves too much. For those who consider 15 to 20 minutes too long,look at it this way: investing this small amount of time could prevent months of potential griefand misery – not to mention muscle atrophy.

Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008
Nick Evans: Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013

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