Are you doing a conditioning workout prior to your strength training workout and calling it “warmup”? Maybe. Lots of people think it is necessary to get some degree of exhausted before every workout, so that they can more effectively perform the workout. Let’s examine this idea, because it wastes lots of time and potential progress.
The purpose of warmup is to prepare the body for the workout. That’s all it’s for. Conditioning day is a separate issue and a separate activity, and fatigue from unnecessary warmup is obviously detrimental to the training effect of the subsequent workout. Effective warmup prepares both the tissue – raising the temperature of the components of the kinetic chain to be used in the workout if they’re cold – and the movement pattern involved in the workout. Both of these aspects of warmup must be considered in the context of the workout in question.
Proper warmup therefore depends on the nature of the workout for which you are preparing. If you are going to jog 5 miles, sprint 200m x 10, or squat, press, and deadlift, it is reasonable to conclude that each of these different types of workout require a different warmup. Jogging may well require an elevation of body temperature if the jog takes place outdoors, but the movement pattern involved in jogging is short, repetitive, and not very complicated. In contrast, sprinting is more technical; if trained outdoors, it may also require some temperature elevation. But it involves a longer range of motion, a timed burst of acceleration, and a shorter duration that permits fewer errors in execution.
So it’s not surprising that jogging and sprinting require different approaches to warmup. Jogging gets warmed up by putting on your sweats if it’s cold, and starting to jog, slowly at first and then up to pace after a few hundred yards. Sprinting, depending on the event, may require some specific stretching, some practice starts out of the blocks, and a few float-outs before the first effort at 75%. Anything more extensive and non-specific to these workouts is a waste of time.
Squats require that you do some position stretching for the bottom of the movement, a few light squats, and an appropriate progression in weight from the empty bar up to the work sets using proper technique. And that is all. No jumping around in the floor, no 100 air squats, no goofy walking, no stretching other than assuming the bottom position a couple of times. Just get warm under the bar, add weight, and squat.
There is no evidence, in either The Literature or in the objectively evaluated experience of coaches or lifters, that 30 minutes of stretching before a barbell workout is anything other than a detrimental waste of time. We have demonstrated for the past 10 years that a below-parallel squat is not dependent on flexibility, but rather correct positioning of the stance, knees, and back angle. The bottom position stretch I mentioned is not really a stretch in the sense that the Mobility People use the term, but a practice of the position to be assumed at the bottom before you start squatting.
In fact, the vast majority of the studies on the subject show a decrease in power development if stretching is performed prior to the movement being tested. Stretching does not prevent injuries, and it doesn’t increase performance. The full-ROM barbell exercises constitute their own stretch, and if you are already flexible enough to execute the barbell movements over their full and effective range of motion – and if you are not engaged in a sport that challenges your existing ROM during the movement patterns used in the sport – then you are sufficiently flexible to train without stretching. Stretching need not, and in fact should not be a part of the warmup, because it’s a waste of your time.
Training time is valuable. Paying for a coach to supervise an unnecessary half-hour of pointless warmup is one of the more obvious examples, but so is personal time spent away from work or family in the gym or on the track. Wasting that time is costly, and doing so simply because you have heard it is important reflects badly on your credulity.
Think about it: you may have become accustomed to a long warmup prior to your workout – you may even enjoy it quite a bit. But it’s just not necessary. Next time you train, experiment with how little warmup you can do to adequately prepare for the workout. Effective training, not unnecessary warmup, provides the benefits of productive programming.