We often hear about the importance of warming up before cardio exercises such as running or doing a high-intensity interval training workout on an indoor cycling bike.
However, many recreational lifters jump right into a strength training workout without doing a warm up before lifting.
This is largely due to the fact that many of us are pressed for time and do not want to spend time doing warm ups for workouts, and beyond that, beginners are often not sure how to warm up before lifting.
So, what should a weightlifting warm-up entail?
In this article, we will discuss how to warm up before lifting weights and the best exercises to include in your weightlifting warm-up routine.
We will cover the following:
- How to Warm Up Before Lifting Weights
- The Best Weightlifting Warm Up Exercises and Routine
Let’s dive in!
How to Warm Up Before Lifting Weights
Many people have at least a vague idea of how to warm up before a workout that focuses on cardio exercise.
Typically, you will do some light or low-intensity cardio exercise to increase circulation and then some dynamic stretches to work on your mobility and to “wake up“ your muscles for the workout to come.
But, how do you warm up before lifting weights specifically?
There isn’t one single “best strength training warm up routine,” but there are commonalities that you will find in any proper weight lifting warm up.
There are several primary goals for warming up before lifting weights.
The first goal of a strength training warm up routine is to increase circulation and your body temperature so that your muscles and cardiovascular system are prepared for intense exercise.
Lifting weights when your muscles are in a “cold“ state will increase the likelihood that you might pull or injure muscle fibers with high-intensity or high-velocity weightlifting exercises.
Secondly, you want to activate your muscles and get your central nervous system and neuromuscular connections firing so that you can perform at an optimal level and reduce the risk of injury.
Lastly, an often overlooked benefit of doing a warm up before lifting weights is to get your head “in the game” so that you are focused and in a mental state, ready to give it your all during the workout.
The resistance training warm up serves to transition your body and mind from whatever you were doing before hitting the gym or your home strength training session to the present moment for your weightlifting workout.
The Best Weightlifting Warm Up Exercises and Routine
Below are some of the best exercises to include in a weightlifting warm-up routine.
Note that the best weightlifting warm up routines will include all three steps.
The specific choices for the exercises you do for each phase of the warm up before lifting will depend on the particular workout you have planned.
For example, a warm up before a lower body workout will include different activation exercises and warm up sets than a warm up before a chest or back workout.
#1: Light Cardio
Depending on your strength training goals and a specific workout you are planning to do, spending a few minutes doing some light cardio exercise can be a great way to begin your weightlifting warm up.
This cardio warm up does not need to be long or intense.
Even just 2 to 5 minutes spinning on an exercise bike, jogging on a treadmill, using an elliptical machine, or even just doing some basic bodyweight cardio exercises like jogging in place or jumping jacks can be a great way to prepare to lift weights.
Jumping rope can also be a good warm up exercise before lifting weights. This cardio exercise helps get your neuromuscular system firing and will help get your calves and glutes moving while providing a dynamic warm up for your shoulders, wrists, and ankles.
For these reasons, cardio warm ups like mountain climbers and jumping jacks can also work well before strength training workouts.
Even if your weightlifting workout is going to focus primarily on upper body exercises, it is still important to do a full-body cardio warm up.
Ultimately, the primary purpose of the cardio warm up is to get your heart rate up and start circulating more blood to your muscles before you start lifting weights.
It’s a bonus if the form of cardio you are doing uses the muscles, joints, and movement patterns you will be using in the strength training workout.
To this end, for upper body weightlifting warm ups for workouts, a rowing machine, an Assault bike (fan bike with moveable arms), or an elliptical machine can work well.
After you have done a couple of minutes of cardio exercise, you might want to do some mobility work on a foam roller if you have specific tight tissues or muscle soreness from previous weightlifting workouts that might hinder your movement mechanics during your workout.
After that, you will want to begin activation exercises for lifting weights.
Activation exercises get your neuromuscular system firing to “wake up” the muscles you will use in your planned weightlifting exercises.
Therefore, the specific activation exercises that you should perform in your weightlifting workout depend primarily on the lifting exercises that are scheduled on your training program for the day.
For example, if you follow a body part split routine and are doing a chest workout, your weight lifting activation exercises should primarily involve the muscles of the chest, shoulders, triceps, upper back, and core. There will be little need to spend much time deliberately warming up the lower body.
Here are some examples of activation warm up exercises before specific weightlifting workouts:
Squat Warm Up Exercises Activation Exercises
The warm up before squat workouts should focus mainly on hip and ankle mobility.
However, squat workouts that involve back squats or holding weights in the upper body should also include activation exercises for the upper back muscles and shoulder mobility warm up stretches.
For ankle mobility, you can do ankle circles, heel walks and toe walks, and single-leg calf raises off a step, making sure that you are maximizing your range of motion by sinking your heels as deep as possible during the eccentric portion of the exercise.
There are lots of possible hip mobility warm-up exercises for squatting workouts.
Examples include hip swings and hip circles, walking lunges, a lunge matrix, resistance band X walks, Cossack squats, and hurdle stepovers.
For shoulder mobility warm up exercises and traps and lats activation, you can do band pull-aparts, band overhead reaches, windmills, and shoulder clocks.
Walkouts or inchworms with a push-up can also be an excellent total-body warm up exercise before weightlifting for squat workouts.
It can also be helpful to do a warm-up set of bodyweight squats, holding or pausing in the lowered squat position for 5 to 10 seconds before exploding back up.
Jump squats and burpees are also excellent dynamic warm-up exercises before squat workouts.
Deadlift Warm Up Activation Exercises
A warm-up routine before deadlift workouts should include activation exercises for the posterior chain muscles.
Good examples include glute bridges, hamstring curls with a stability ball, and walking single-leg Romanian deadlifts with a light weight.
It can also be helpful to do ankle mobility exercises and calf and shin activation exercises. For ankle mobility, you can do ankle alphabets, calf raises, and heel-and-toe walks.
Lastly, you want to activate the low back extensors (the erector spinae).
Good warm up exercises to get these muscles firing include bird dog on your hands and knees, Superman, and bodyweight back extensions on the hyperextension machine.
Upper Body Weightlifting Warm Up Activation Exercises
For upper body strength training workouts, such as workouts that focus on pressing, pushing, or pulling with your back, chest, arms, or shoulders, try upper body activation exercises and shoulder mobility dynamic stretches.
Good examples include arm circles, windmills, push-ups, pull-aparts, face pulls, and triceps pushdowns. You can use light weights or resistance bands.
#3: Warm Up Sets
After performing relevant activation exercises and dynamic stretches, it can also be helpful to perform a warm up set before getting into the “meat” of your workout.
A warm up set is essentially a set of reps of an exercise using a much lighter load.
For example, if you are doing a chest or push muscle workout that focuses on the bench press as the key lift, you might do a quick warm up set of 5-6 reps using 50-60% of your target load.
Then, after a brief rest (90 seconds or so), you could complete your first full set with the barbell loaded as intended in your strength training program.
Now that you know how to warm up before a workout, you may want to get even more specific with your exercises. For more suggestions on specific shoulder warm-up exercises before lifting weights, check out our guide to a complete shoulder warm-up routine here.