The Perfect Warm-up

by Neil Anderson

At conferences, many exercise experts can found arguing about what the perfect warm-up for a workout would consist of. Most go to great lengths to argue the functionality of this movement, or that. Often, the warm-up for a workout is complex and deeply rooted in science, tradition and lore.

We don't care about any of that.

The warm-up, while steeped in historical convention, is questionable in terms of function and/or efficiency.

Most believe warming up will magically help them to prevent injuries. Most of these same people believe a proper warm up helps them achieve higher levels of fitness.

But we have questions about these assertions.

First question is: How is then that folks who are warmed up still become injured? Indeed scientific studies on the subject show that incidence of injury is NO less prevalent among the well warmed-up participant. Neither are the injuries they experience (if they do) less severe. Some studies show warming up INCREASES injury to a small degree.


Of course WE have observed folks who were well warmed up suffer injuries. Small and large. We have also seen folks who weren't warmed up at all suffer NO injuries after gargantuan physical efforts. 


Another question we have is: Why would we evolve to need a warm-up? For those of us who believe in God: Why would He have designed us to need a warm-up? Wouldn't a warm-up be entirely impractical in an emergency situation? Wouldn't God know this? I mean, is it reasonable to think that the edge in an emergency situation (earthquake, predation, etc.), would go to the properly warmed-up? That the only people who should expect to survive uninjured would be those of us walking around in a perpetual state of warmed-up? So what, office workers should be running 1/2 speed wind sprints and doing situps and stretches every couple of minutes perpetually - just in case REALLY bad stuff goes down and we need to GTFO? 

Don't mean to sound sacrilegious, but "needing a warm-up" seems like a design flaw.

Wouldn't you think an all knowing/loving God would favor a design that could quickly (almost immediately) increase HR & BP while triggering improved brain, nervous system and muscular function through chemical means?

Not comfortable with the God speak? Let me ask it this way: Wouldn't you think that evolution would favor the survival of those who could quickly (almost immediately) increase HR & BP while triggering improved brain, nervous system and muscular function through chemical means?

Wait it (He) did, didn't it?

I mean, we have those functions built in already. If I were attacked by an axe wielding murderer while sitting here typing this, I am certain my body would instantaneously snap to vigorous activity with a most decidedly violent and substantial physical retort. 

Fight or flight, anyone?

Or do you think our bodies react differently to physical situations contingent upon the size of the axe? If you do, you should know, science disagrees. It is well documented that those who are about to participate in physical exercise experience the same physiologic changes as those who are attacked by axe wielding maniacs.

Another question we have: If warming up is so very important - which one should we do? You'd think that if warming-up were proven to help in any specific way, exercise scientists would all agree upon THE proper warm-up to complete for improved health and injury prevention.

The thing is, every scientific study I've read on the subject has vastly different views on what a warm-up should look like. Many are contradictory. Some even indicate that warming-up as the scientist before said to do - is inefficient, even DANGEROUS.  

Of course, this is how it should be. After all, your warm-up would be specific to the activity you are about to participate in. It wouldn't make any sense for a sprinter to warm-up by throwing pitches, right?

Despite our questions on the feasibility of the warm up, we still like the idea of it. Well, we like a minimalists idea of it. We believe that slowly ramping up to speed prior to, or during a workout will likely yield positive workout results.

However, the elaborate warm-ups of other methodologies make entirely NO sense to us.

Is a 20 minute warm up, really a warm-up? Sounds like a workout to us. I mean, if it walks like a duck ...

Our minimalist answer to the warm-up question is: Simply ramp up to speed by performing several lighter sets/rounds/reps of whatever activity you have ahead of you for the day. You may do this prior to, or during your workout. For example, if you have moderately heavy sets of biceps curls on the DW you'd be well-served by doing a few sets of the same number of reps suggested at a much lighter weight. You might also try pulling off a few lighter sets DURING the workout while you are coming up to full speed. If you are worried about losing those reps and NOT receiving the entire benefit of the workout, simply ADD back the full speed/weight reps you missed while warming-up. Pretty simple stuff.  

There may very well be some physiologic benefits to warming-up. No, we don't think these benefits are dramatic for purposes of GPP, nor do we believe that warming-up entirely prevents injury. If nothing else, warming-up may only serve to help you become focused on the task at hand. Focusing on becoming healthier, in most cases, is no small feat. It is not something to be trivialized. Therefore we do it, or at least, our minimalist version of it. 

Truth About the False Grip

Below is a pic of a risky situation. It's called a false grip, or a suicide grip. Don't do it. 

Years ago, I was spotting a friend on the bench press. He was a big guy. He was warming up with weight that was well within his wheelhouse. If I remember right, he was using about 185 lbs on his third warm-up set. Jeff weighed in at a robust 260, or so and he was STRONG for his size. No slouch on the bench. 185 lbs is a serious bench for some guys. It wasn't for Jeff. It was child's play.

Jeff was a big proponent of the false grip (pictured below). He was taught by someone "in the know" that wrapping thumbs around the bar was a fatiguing factor and doing so would cause him to squeeze the bar while bench pressing. Squeezing the bar is thought to drain energy from you and decrease your bench pressing performance. Thus weakening you and preventing you from becoming JACKED and SWOLE! It's a fate worse than death in some guys' minds.

While I was standing there spotting him (I was right there), he had an accident caused by using the "false grip." Here (right) is a video of almost exactly what happened to my friend Jeff.

It was a serious accident. He broke his sternum and several ribs. He lost several months of training while recovering.

He was VERY lucky.

What if he had dropped it on his neck. Or on his head?

Those of you who go OH with a false grip, please think about this, because if the bar rolls out of your hands while you have a heavy bar OH - your neck and/or head is likely where it is going to fall.

Please wrap your thumbs around the bar. They call it the "safety grip" for a reason. Any (supposed) meager strength gains you might experience by using a false grip will NEVER out-weigh the very real risk of injury and prolonged recovery of an accident that might be caused by using it.


Nope. BAD!!

Is Stronger Weaker?

Q:  "I'm stronger on one side than I am on the the other.  Should I do more weight on my weak side to compensate?"  

A:  Not usually.  However, if you notice VERY large differences in development or strength, it might be a good idea to get checked out by a medical professional.  There could be potentially serious underlying reasons for severe muscular imbalances (disease, nerve damage, injury, etc.).  Once cleared by your med pro, consider the following:

1 - Sometimes we develop imbalances due to form faults (cheats), or lack of experience on a particular movement.  Have a friend or trainer (we know some good ones) watch you do movements where you notice the most weakness occurring.  Maybe, another set of eyes will see these form faults and show you where you can make improvements.

2 - Weight machines are notorious for contributing to weak-side imbalances.  Weight machines give you very little feedback in terms of knowing whether or not you are pushing harder on one side vs. the other.  If you are working out with weight stacks to the exclusion of BBs and DBs, you have almost surely developed imbalances.  Not to mention a very poor quality of fitness devoid of functionality (HA! But, that is a subject for another post).  

3 - Prior injuries you've suffered may contribute to a lack of flexibility in certain joints.  This lack of flexibility may cause strong-side compensations.  Again, another set of eyes can help you discover this.  Have someone watch to make sure you aren't shorting the ROM (range of motion) on a particular side, or leaning away from an old injury.  If you are, it will be well to consult an expert to help you learn stretches to improve your functional flexibility.  

We are all naturally strong sided (right, or left handed).  Our dominant side usually dictates strength and development.  It is perfectly natural to be SLIGHTLY stronger/more developed on one side vs. another.  

When it comes to getting the most out of your workouts, balance is key.  Creating deliberate imbalances by going heavier on your slightly weaker side is more likely to mess things up, than it is to help.