How To Create An Effective Warm Up Routine For Weightlifting

How do you know whether or not your warm up routine is as effective as it could be?
 
Seeing so many new mobility drills and moves out there, which ones should you actually include, and how often?
 
I was inspired to write this article after getting some requests to talk about my own warm up routines, as well as through my experience working with coaching athletes who either take their warm ups seriously, or end up strolling in late to class thinking they can just slide through the warm up hastily and mindlessly.


While the majority of the real work is done during your assigned programming, the quality of your movement is highly dictated by the quality of your warm up.


In this article, I’ll generally address: 

  • The concept and purpose of warm ups for weightlifting. 
  • Whether you should have a similar or different routine each time.
  • How to switch up your warm up routine every few weeks if youre bored.
  • Categories of warm up movements, and what to include.
  • How to start composing a warm up routine for you.
  • How long your warm ups should be (or how much time is involved to actually warming up).
 
Since I could talk for DAYS and post countless articles about warm up movements, Ill save actual movement videos and routines for another day. If you would like a brief moment of inspiration, here’s a post on my instagram page about my 10:00 warm up routine before touching a barbell, with movement demonstration videos.
 

What will help your warm ups be the most effective (and fun) are:

  • Being mindful of the movement and stimulation you are going through.
  • Including a variety of movement types to prepare you for lifting (such as active, passive, dynamic, general, and sport specific movements).
 
The way you choose to treat your warm up says how serious you are about your movement in your workout. If you are rushing through motions without paying attention to how far you are reaching each time, where your foot placement is in lunges, or where you actually feel the stretches, it will be more difficult for you to consistently assess your status beyond mood and energy levels.

 

Warm up routine for weightlifting is a controlled variable for competition - @artofbarbell_ Art of Barbell

For those of you who look to be more advanced in the sport, eventually you will need to “level up” everything you do to be above average and beyond…warm ups are most definitely included! When you assess what variables you are able to consistently control versus factors that are out of your control when it comes to training for competition, your warm up routine can be wholly controlled by you.


Alright, let's dive into the purpose of our warm up session and more reasons why warming up is important:


What is the purpose of warming up in weightlifting?

  • It primes our nervous system for feeling the load of heavier weights later and psychologically prepares athletes for physical activity [1].
  • It raises your body temperature and starts to increase blood flow to your limbs and muscles [2].
  • It raises your heart rate from a resting state to a more active state, allowing you to cycle through oxygen more effectively.
  • When done effectively, it can help increase our range of motion in our joints and muscles to achieve better positions.
  • It becomes a habitual signal to your body that "you're about to get a workout in"
  • Because of all of the above, warming up properly helps us prevent injury because our body is properly prepared for the physical stress we are about to place on it.

While we could walk in and try to pick up 75% of our 1RM while cold, simply thinking about that is a shocking sensation. If we think of our muscles like rubber bands, when cold they are stiff, brittle and easy to break. When warmed up, they can effectively achieve proper length and snap quickly with speed.

Benefits of doing the same weightlifting warm up routine all the time

Should your warm up routine for weightlifting or similar strength sports always be the same?


There are benefits to having the same movements almost every single time you warm up.
For one, your repeated warm up movements establish a baseline for your mobility each day

If you always start your sessions doing, let's say, some lizard / Spiderman hip stretches, foam rolling your quads and front rack stretches against a rig, then you'll know day-to-day whether you are feeling tighter or more restricted in that area based on how stiff you feel or how limited you are in your range of motion. You can also measure your mobility progress in those movements over time (such as being able to get both of your forearms to the floor in a lizard stretch, or your ability to touch your fingers behind your back with an over/under stretch).

Another benefit of doing the SAME thing every session is you are creating a consistent primer for every time you come into lift.
You are creating a routine and an atmosphere for yourself that you can carry into competition days to help you maintain consistency and composure amidst varied circumstances. Think of Pavlov’s dog salivating every time it heard the bell even though there was no food being served - Your warm up routine is like the bell, which primes you to anticipate active movement or heavy lifting later (the salivating). We are creatures of ritual and habit, having a good habit is habit forming.  

Doing the same warm up can bring familiarity in foreign environments during travel or competition.
When competition day comes around (or you're traveling and at a foreign gym environment), having some established base routine can help you feel more comforted going into your lifting because you have a consistent agenda to fall back on.

Why should you vary your warm up routine?

 
Now, the downsides of always doing the same thing all the time (aside from boredom) is that you don't get to experiment with new moves that may benefit you.

If you're only warming up the SAME things every time, your body will be accustomed to those same ways of moving - so when you hit a plateau and you need to break through to new goals, you could look to inserting new stimulation to challenge you a bit, pushing you further than before.

How much of your weightlifting warm up routine should be similar or familiar movements versus new ones?


That depends on how much time you have, how far away from a competition you are, and whether you feel your current warm up routine is really helping you feel primed.


If you give yourself plenty of time to warm up with your workout (at least 10-20 minutes) then you can insert in a mix of familiar and 1-2 new or occasional pieces that you've been wanting to try that are specific to the workout you are going to do later.

I personally do about a 60/40 split: 
60% of my warm ups are VERY similar movements (lunges, foam rolling the tops of my quads, lacrosse balling my pecs, doing ITYW's with small plates).

40% of my movements are rotating or varied moves (ex. on days that I need front rack mobility, I will lacrosse-ball my pecs or do a banded shoulder stretch. On days with snatches I'll knead out my back extensors with a lacrosse ball). If I have an extra 5 minutes of time, I will remember a move that I saw on instagram the other day, or do whatever is calling me in the moment to loosen up.

These percentages aren’t exact, but on average is around 60% similar / 40% varied.

I do make sure that if there is a part of my body that is feeling more restricted in terms of range of motion more that day, that I dedicate a move or two to get that part to a point where it won't limit me.

You can rotate between several of the same warm up moves across the week depending on what movements you're doing that need certain ranges of motion more, or stick with your tried & true moves entirely every day.

 

Benefits of changing up your warm up routine for weightlifting

Ways to Switch Up Your Weightlifting Warm Up Routine:

 

Substitute current warm up movements that have similar objectives

For example, if you currently use a foam roller to roll out your lats, consider substituting in a banded lat stretch, or stretching the lats against a wall whilst reaching down your back. 


Make a goal of looking up video resources once or twice a week for inspiration

Follow your favorite coaches or athletes on instagram to see what they use for warm up routines.


As I mentioned earlier, the way you choose to treat your warm up says how serious you are about your movement in your workout.
 

We can categorize weightlifting warm up movements the following ways:


These are categories that particularly help me when I’m looking at creating variety in a warm up routine. I look to incorporate warm ups from most of these categories:


General vs Specific:

General Warm Ups: Movements such as jumping jacks, arm circles & wrist circles, downward dog, or similar are general stretches that can apply to many sports, and are meant to overall increase warmth, heart rate and blood flow and create more movement in the joints.


Sport Specific Warm Ups: These are drills that are specific to the particular movement needed for your sport.


Examples of sports specific warm ups for weightlifting:
  • Snatch balances with an empty barbell.
  • Front-rack stretching elbow rotations with bar anchored on the back.
  • Banded front squats.
  • PVC passthroughs and overhead squats

Active vs Passive:

Active Warm Ups: These movements are internally stimulated, requiring you to actively push, pull, squeeze, press into, hold, lengthen or move your body into a position, or move some type of load. Active movements are helpful in warming up your joints and priming muscles to contract or fire under load or stimulation.

Examples of active movements: 
  • Forcing your chest upright with a wall squat.
  • Pulling your foot with a band to stretch your hamstring.
  • Pressing light weight in the bottom of a squat.
  • Using a foam roller.

Included with Active stretching techniques is PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) in which you go through a series of contracting and relaxing the targeted muscle groups for several seconds at a time. Although there are some studies that indicate while PNF stretching does help to increase range of motion over several weeks of doing the practice, some research says it is best done away from or after your workouts as it may decrease strength performance if done before a workout [5].


Passive Stretching: Passive movements are used to increase range of motion, increase flexibility or mobility, or stretch muscles with the aid of an external force (another object or person, or gravity).

Examples of passive movements: 
  • Having a partner press your hips & shoulders down in a laying twist.
  • Doing a hanging forward fold.
  • Doing the couch stretch against the wall with a knee pad.

Dynamic vs Static:

Static Stretching: With statically held stretches (not really “movements" since you’re not moving) you focus on the sensation of breathing and lengthening a muscle for increased range of motion. Generally, static stretches prompt your muscles (and brain) to calm down, slow down and relax, so they are usually not as ideal to include before doing a workout that involves quick coordination, power or speed. Some static stretching can be helpful if they involve active force into increasing mobility around joints, with the work involved increasing warmth throughout the body part.


Dynamic Stretching: Dynamic movements are helpful in increasing heart rate and increasing blood flow throughout your body since you are actively moving muscle groups without long, sustained pauses. To keep movements more dynamic, change your position or go through concentric and eccentric movements within seconds (no more than 5 seconds for a stretch).


Statically held movements can be made dynamic if there is active work in moving a joint around (such as doing small circles with a hip or knee while in a lizard lunge stretch).


I’ve heard that I should avoid Static or Passive stretching during warm ups...is this true?

 

You do not need to avoid them entirely - in fact, static stretching has been shown in many studies that it effectively increases your range of motion (so if your mobility limits you from an ideal overhead position or from reaching your squat depth quickly) then you can look to incorporating some movements that help improve your reach in these areas.


Does static stretch decrease strength performance?

One study compiled and analyzed results from several studies regarding static stretching and concluded that there was no reduction in performance if the stretches were kept under 45 seconds, whereas stretching over the duration of 60 seconds showed a significant decrease in muscular strength and performance [3].

 

Although, with the vast amount of studies out there with varied stretching times, sport applications and test subjects, the results are still widely varied; some studies show very little difference in power output of athletes who have used static stretching only compared to dynamic strength or a combination while other studies do show a difference.


 

What’s important is that you will have practiced and warmed up consistently enough to know over weeks or months what type of routine works best for you.

 

Warming up is important in weightlifting - Art of Barbell @artofbarbell_

Composing an Ideal Warm Up Routine For Weightlifting

 
I can’t say whether today’s warm up routine or tomorrow’s routine will be the gone that gets you on the podium…though you can definitely craft a routine that feels effective for you.


All in all, incorporating a variety of movements from the categories I mentioned above (dynamic, active, passive, general & specific) can help get past boredom of monotonous routines; It also helps prepare your body, joints, muscles and neurological system in a multitude of ways that can promote strength, speed and coordination.
 

What makes a warm up “effective”?

  • You have increased your range of motion so that you do not feel as limited when lifting the barbell.
  • You feel more acclimated to your warm up or starting weights (than if you were to not warm up).
  • You feel that you can put just as much focus and mental effort into your first few sets as with your last sets.
  • You’re not feeling as huff-puff-tired from the get go of going from the couch to a sudden sprint…you’ve given your heart rate time to adjust a bit higher so it’s not going to be as shocked when you spike it up with some powerful moves.
  • Picking up or unracking the bar for your lower-weight warm up sets doesn’t feel drastically heavier than your latter heavy working sets.

The above aren’t necessarily rules, though they are things to be mindful of and consider.

How long should your warm up routine be?

During colder days, or times where you just came from long periods of static positions (sitting, driving), you may need a bit longer of a time to get your heart rate up, increase warmth throughout your muscles and joints, and get your blood moving around. 

Generally athletes of a higher age (talking about myself now in my early 30’s) will need more time to warm up than younger athletes since our joints tend to stiffen up a bit more.

If you have been on-the-go, decided to jog to the gym, or are already sweating with a lot of humidity or heat, then you may not need as long of a time to warm up as with cooler situations.

The biggest factor for determining your warm up time is…your schedule.

How much time are you actually allowing yourself before your programmed workout? 

How efficient are you at utilizing your time once you get to the gym? (are you stretching as you start to put your shoes on, or do you chat with friends while finishing up your last instagram post on your phone for the first 20 minutes in the door?)

Warm ups can be as short as 5-10 minutes, or as long as 30-40 minutes - though the biggest factor is your TIME that you want to dedicate and what your programming entails.

I sometimes find that it takes me 20-30 minutes some days to really feel warmed up - as in my lifting sets have the focus and the precision that I am looking to have with snatches, cleans, or squats. When I take a 70kg barbell off of the rack, I know I’m warmed up when it doesn’t feel drastically heavier than a usual 5th set of say…90kg.

Putting Your Weightlifting Warm Up Routine Together: 

10 minute warm up routine for weightlifting before touching a barbell


Warm Up Ideas To Do Before Touching the Barbell

Select general movements that you can dedicate about 1:00-2:00 each to increase your range of motion and get your heart rate up.
 
Why 1:00-2:00? It can usually take that amount of time for your body to realize you’re actually working or stretching that particular muscle or joint. Ever notice how you finally feel the sensation of a stretch after 8-10 reps, or after at least 15-20 seconds of holding that position? 

You will also consider picking movements that correlate with what your programming will have you do. If you’re only doing squats (with no overhead work) then you may not need as much focus on warming up your overhead excessively since your lower body will be doing the majority of the work.

Although, if you have goals of increasing your mobility over time if it’s not ideally where you want it to be, then it would be a good idea to still incorporate some similar overhead or upper body stretches to aid in that endeavor. 

Here are some ideas for warm up movements to do before lifting a barbell: 

  • Dynamic stretches (leg swings, Spiderman lunges, toe touches, active pigeon)
  • Some static stretches (front rack back-reach against a wall/rig, downward dog, hanging from a bar)
  • Active bodyweight movements (glute bridges, push ups, jumping jacks, dead bugs)
  • Active banded stretches (lengthening hamstrings, lats or front rack with the band attached to a rig)
  • Active banded movements (banded good mornings, banded monster walks, shoulder pass-throughs and pulls
  • Light-weighted accessory movements with small plates or dumbbells (presses from a squat, YTAW’s, windmills, single leg deadlifts, shoulder & arm circles holding plates)

Click here for a post that demonstrates several of the above movements.

Warm Ideas Up Using an Empty Barbell

The movements you choose once you finally touch that barbell will most likely be determine by your programming. If your first movement is snatches of some sort, then you’ll want to prime your muscles to fire for the snatch (instead of for cleans for heavy deadlifts, let’s say). Makes sense?
 
If your weightlifting program takes you through different movements (snatches, snatch pulls, then front squats), then you may find yourself better primed to tackle your working sets with intension and effectiveness if you do a few warm up sets at a lighter weight of that movement prior.
 
I’m gonna link to the amazing resource of my own coach Greg of Catalyst Athletics for many of these videos (straight to the point, hard to beat).
 
Warm Up Ideas for the Snatch using an Empty Barbell:
Warm Up Ideas for the Clean using an Empty Barbell:
Warm Up Ideas for the Jerk using an Empty Barbell:
Warm Up Ideas for Squats using an Empty Barbell:
  • Squats (duh)
  • Pausing Squats
  • Elbow Rotations (for front rack)
  • Duck Walks (back rack, front rack, overhead)
  • Ankle Mobility (using weight of a barbell to drive your knee toward the top of your foot)
  • Presses / Jerks with Wide Grip for Overhead Squats

Lastly, what movements should be avoided or not included in a warm up routine?

 
This should be pretty straight forward, for a general idea, here’s a list of guidelines of what you should omit from a warm up:
  • Leave out movements that feel more relaxing opposed to activating. You want to be ready to make challenging lifts, not go into Savasana
  • Leave out movements that are painful for you. Stretches should create some discomfort if you’re feeling stiff or tight, but they shouldn’t cause sharp pain or distressing irritation of an injury. 
  • Leave out completely new things on competition days (this is just a good rule of thumb to not try new things in case something unexpected happens, though if you’re confident in your skills and up for the challenge, I’m not gonna stop you!)
  • Movements that require equipment that you don't have
  • Movements where you have no idea what you’re doing or what it’s supposed to do. What’s the point of doing a movement if it really has no carryover to what you’re actually gonna do? Hopefully you’ll want to make the most of your time!
Confusion, lack of mobility, inability to get into a desired range of motion, or mild discomfort should not be primary reasons to avoid including movements in your warm ups.

Learning new movements will be challenging if you’re not used to them! Think of learning warm ups similar to learning a new language…super confusing and possibly hard at first, but eventually understandable (and fluent) once you learn it and all the rules.
 
Well phew! That was a pretty long and extensive article about warm ups. If you thoroughly enjoyed this (or have any questions), please email or follow me on instagram

In the future, I will be adding in some more movement demonstrations and other routines to extend the content of this warm up routine article even further. 

Sources & Studies mentioned above in the article:
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