The subject of warming up is both very impactful but also non-glamorous. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to this topic, and so this week I thought I’d share my recommendations on how to best warm-up for a resistance-training session.
The first step in our discussion is to distinguish between the general warm up and the specific warm up. Relative to a lifting session, a general warm up up would pertain to any non-lifting activity performed before the lifting portion of the workout, designed to prepare the body for said lifting. A specific warm up on the other hand, would be lighter/easier sets of the actual lifting exercise you’re warming up for
If you chose to use both warm up methods before a squat workout where your goal is to lift 185 pound for 5 sets of 5 reps, it might look like this:
General Warm Up:
1) Stationary bike: 15 minutes
2) Stretching/limbering: 10 minutes
Specific Warm Up:
45 Pounds x 10 reps
95 Pounds x 8 reps
135 Pounds x 6 reps
170 Pounds x 1-2 reps
Although using both types of warm up (as shown above) is what most people probably consider correct, I’m going to argue that in many, if not most cases, the general warm up is probably not the best use of your time.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed the comparative differences between how men and women operate in the gym, but I sure have. And even though I’ve long noticed these different approaches to fitness, it’s only recently occurred to me that perhaps we should pay attention to how the opposite sex conducts themselves when it comes to fitness.
After all, there might be something we can learn from each other, right?
One key difference between men and women can be seen through the very activities that they choose in the first place. Now there are exceptions to the phenomenon I’m about to describe, and trends are slowly shifting, but in general, women tend to gravitate toward activities that involve higher levels or endurance and mobility, whereas men tend to be attracted to things that allow them to display strength.
There are a few reasons for this, and the first involves physiology: in general (and again, there are exceptions), women tend to have more slow twitch muscle fibers and motor-neurons than men, and they often have better mobility then men do. So in essence, people tend to play to their strengths.
That’s not a bad thing — after all, choosing things that we’re good at give us the greatest chances for success and therefore, personal satisfaction. The problem is when we only do the things we’re good at, while avoiding our weaker areas of development.
The second reason that women often take the endurance/mobility route and men steer toward the strength route has to do with process versus outcome orientation. When it comes to training, many men (myself included by the way) are motivated by what they can accomplish during a given session — what numbers can they brag about to their buddies the next day? This is why you so often see men leg-pressing every 45-pound plate in the gym, using a 4” range of motion while pressing against their legs with their hands. It’s also why you’ll often see women doing exercises with weights that are well below their capability.
Quite often, women are much more tuned into the qualitative experience of whatever fitness activity they’re doing, whereas men are prone to focusing primarily or exclusively to quantitative outcomes.
Now with all of that analysis in hand, I think we can all learn a little something from the habits of the opposite sex.
Men, despite how fun it is to lift big weights and smash PR’s, if you’re ignoring technique, if you aren’t tuned in to the “mind-muscle link” when you’re training, and/or if you ignore those warning signs that you’re pushing too hard, you won’t make the progress you could be making otherwise. The amount of weight on the bar is super-important, but it’s not the entire story.
Take a few steps back once in a while and ask why you’re doing the things you do. If you want bigger legs, it might very well be that squatting 185 for full-range of motion reps will add more muscle to those wheels than leg pressing 1000 pounds for those itty bitty partial reps that you’ve been doing. And while you might not find yourself bragging about front squatting 185, in time you’ll grow a pair of legs that’ll speak much more loudly than your leg press PR’s.
Think a bit more about your underlying goals, and the best processes to get you to those goals. Don’t be so obsessed with quantity that you ignore quality. And finally, spending a bit of time on your work capacity and mobility will only help the lifting that you love so much.
Women, your inclination toward quality and process-orientation serves you well. One “hidden” key to additional progress however, involves taking a cue from the guys — specifically, look for opportunities to put weight on the bar. Just this morning I saw a perfectly healthy adult woman bench pressing 8 pound dumbbells when she could have safely used at least 25’s for the same sets and reps. This is far more common than you’d imagine.
Women, studies have shown that you can, and actually need to outwork your male counterparts in the gym. This is partly due to your slow-twitch muscular wiring, and also to your strength levels — a man who can squat 500 pounds for 8 reps will need perhaps 5-6 days to recover from that effort. If your best set of 8 is with 115, you’ll be ready for more in 48 hours.
This means that women not only can, but should train more frequently than men. And while you shouldn’t abandon the endurance and mobility-related activities that you love, you’ll certainly benefit from an increased emphasis on heavy lifting, and also by keeping close track of your progression over time.
Learn To Reconcile The Things You Love With The Things You Need
Whether you’re a gal or a guy, there’s no harm in doing the things you love to do. In fact, those are the very activities that keep you in the game long term.
In addition to playing to your strengths however, those weaknesses must be shored up before they start limiting your overall progress. The key to a successful fitness program is finding that balance. Yes, it’s a struggle, and speaking personally, I’m very much a typical guy who loves living heavy weights and bragging about my exploits to anyone who I think might be impressed ;-). I do at least recognize the need to start attending to my less-developed attributes, and over the coming weeks, I’ll share my continuing efforts to find balance in my own training program
And with that, please note the complete lack of endurance and mobility work in this week’s training journal. Thanks for stopping, by, and if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this week’s topic, I’d love to hear from you below.
This Week’s Training
Training Volume: 115,148 Pounds
This week is the beginning of a new training block designed to promote (or more likely in my case, prevent the decline of) muscular hypertrophy. It’s also a chance to introduce a few movements I haven’t done in a while (such as double kettlebell swings and deficit deadlifts) and at least one exercise I haven’t done in many years (seated dumbbell overhead presses). So in addition to the goal of muscle growth, the change in exercise menu has adaptive advantages all by itself
For 4 weeks, I’ll be attempting to increase both the weight and the total volume of each exercise, culminating at week 4 which, if all goes according to plan, will be pretty much as hard as I can safely go. Then, on week 5, I’ll deload by maintaining my training intensity, but also significantly reducing the volume. This strategy should allow me to maintain fitness while reducing fatigue buildup.
My weekly split for this training block looks like this:
Reps will be mostly in the 8-10 range, and sets will range from between 2-6 per exercise over the course of the cycle. Below are my results from the first week.
And finally, I neglected to mention that I’m looking at competing at an upcoming powerlifting competition in October. I’ll keep you posted as we go, and if you have any questions or comments about what I’m doing, I’d love to hear them below.
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