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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Questioning Warm-Ups: Solving an Often Overlooked Aspect of Training (Part 1)

Q: You present a number of pre-exercise techniques on your DVD. If you're pinched for time, which general warm-up method would you use?

A: Make sure to perform dynamic stretching before every workout. It just takes a few minutes, but it can make a big difference in your performance.

To recap, when performing dynamic stretches, use the pendulum method: start slow and shallow, and gradually increase speed and range with each repetition.


1. Squat

2. Split Squat

3. Toe Touches

4. Waiter's Bow

5. Side Bends

6. Trunk Twists

7. Arms Horizontal

8. Arms Vertical

9. Arms Vertical Alternating

10. PNF Pattern

11. Arm Circles

12. Wrist Flexion/Extension

13. Wrist Circles

14. Shoulder Shrugs

15. Head Tilt

16. Head Rotation

Note: For a dynamic stretching demonstration, visit

Many coaches prescribe too many repetitions for dynamic stretching. For instance, if we go to Hartmann & Tunnemann's excellent text titled Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports, the following is recommended for the repetition stretching method:

"The repetition (also known as the dynamic or ballistic) method involves stretching with repetitive pulls or bounces using small intervals, rather than just one pull. An athlete begins the first repetition over a relatively small range of joint motion, gradually increasing the amplitude range, reaching after 15-20 movements, the maximal range. The process is then repeated 3-4 times, using body weight or an external force (weight, partner, etc.)"

Now, the authors are quick to point out that stretching methods should be performed after each training session; however, dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up can be useful to decrease muscle damage and improve performance. It will definitely help rev up the nervous system in
preparation for activity. Keep in mind, though, that it takes only 10-15 seconds of contractions to raise the body temperature by 1ºC and a proper warm-up should raise body temperature by 1-2ºC (1.4-2.8ºF) to cause sweating; therefore, 5-10 reps per movement is all you really

Remember, the goal of a warm-up is performance not fatigue!

Q: I'm interested to know your thoughts on overshooting the training load in a warm-up for a set of 3x3. For example, if I were to do 3x3 in the bench press at 335 (as I will be doing on Wednesday) my normal warm-up would be something like this:








Then I would do 3x3 at 335. I've done this in the past and the set of 1 at a higher load then my work sets seemed to "wake up" my nervous system for the work sets. This is only anecdotal, obviously, but I'd be interested in your thoughts and any research on the topic that you were
aware of.

A: Yes, this is a very effective method utilizing postactivation (aka post-tetanic facilitation/potentiation.) However, your jump from 315 to 365 is rather large - I would insert 1 or 2 more singles here. Keep in mind that as you ramp up the weight during your warm-up sets, the difference in load between successive sets should actually decrease.

Now if we review your scheme: 225 to 275 is a 50 lb. difference; 275 to 315 is 40 lbs; then 315 to 365 is 50 lbs. again. Rather, insert either 1 more warm-up set at 345 for a single (a 30 lb. difference) or ideally 2 more w-up sets of 335 and 355 for singles. Then, go ahead and perform
your work sets at 335 and you should notice an increase in strength.

Q: At one of your workshops, I remember you mentioning that plyometrics are good during a warm-up. Other than various jumps, hops and bounds, what other exercises can you use for the lower body? I'm especially lost when it comes to upper body plyometrics. Any suggestions?

A: Yes, it's true plyometrics can be very useful during a warm-up, but don’t go overboard! They place a tremendous amount of stress on the nervous system – if you do too much prior to training, it will kill performance. Then again, if you do just the right amount, it can potentiate your strength! In general, though, plyometrics are best reserved for your athletes.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video has to be worth at least a million, right? I’m going to save myself a bunch of typing and direct you to a sample clip from my latest DVD giving you a taste of some upper body plyometric drills. Go to http://strengthwarmup.com/images/explosiveupper.wmv. For lower body plyometrics, I highly recommend Christian Thibaudeau’s Modern Strength Newsletter series which you can still access at http://www.angelfire.com/ct3/modern-strength.

Btw, the DVD has a great application of the three-stance vertical jump test from my colleague, Chad Waterbury, that will increase your squat in no time.

Q: In your recent warm-up article, you state the following:

"Some strength athletes actually gauge their recovery by using an unloaded bar — or even a broomstick — during their warm-up. If it doesn't feel right or feels strangely heavy, then they're not ready to train yet and need an extra day of recovery."

Surely, you must be kidding about the broomstick, right?

A: No, I'm not kidding at all. Something I learned from both Poliquin and Kinakin is that Mike MacDonald would start his warm-up by benching a broomstick. If it felt weird then he would not train that day!

And for those that don't know, the powerlifting bench press world record has been held by Mike MacDonald in four different weight classes: 470 lb. bench at 181, 540 lb. bench at 198, 573 lb. bench at 220 lb., and a 577 lb. bench at 242 lbs. These were held at the same time for five years
straight, from 1976-1981. In fact, Mike set 36 world records in the bench press across those four different weight classes. And here's the kicker, he performed those lifts raw without the aid of a bench press shirt or elbow wraps. Success leaves clues...

Also (and perhaps not quite as dramatic!), a broomstick can be used during a warm-up as a diagnostic. Perform an overhead squat with only a broomstick since loading will cause compression and greater flexibility (i.e. a false measure.) Then, look for things like forward lean, heel rise, knee position, foot rotation, squat depth, spine curves, position of arms and head, etc. Address those issues with specific stretches (refer to my Stretching For Strengthening article series for more details.) This will help increase flexibility and strength, and will decrease the likelihood of injury during your workout.

About The Author

John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., P.F.L.C., is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honors Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and ealth Science. He owns and operates a private gym in Toronto, Ontario, providing training and nutritional consulting services. For additional information, visit his website at http://www.BodyEssence.ca or call 416-292-4356.

Note: John Paul has a DVD available with demonstrations of all the warm-up techniques and drills mentioned in this article. Discover some unique, cutting-edge methods like how to increase arm strength by up to 10% instantly! It has been recommended by many experts including Drs. Eric Serrano, Mark Lindsay, and Ken Kinakin as well as Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin. Visit http://www.StrengthWarmUp.com for more information.

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