I wanted to share with you my routine to warm up for a leg day workout. I receive a number of questions asking me how I warm up before a training session. Most of these exercises that I am going to share can be used for any leg day session that you have regardless if you are going to hold a barbell or not. Warming up your body before any workout is key to preventing injuries and your body’s performance for the day. I remember skipping a warm up once and I injured myself pretty badly. From that day, I have never skipped it. Warming up, using drills and exercises, before a session in and out of the gym should be a consistent part of your session as well as cooling down and stretching…we will get to that part in an upcoming post. I know that there are so many ways to warm up and each athlete and coach have their own methods to it. However, there are consistencies within the powerlifting community. I’m going to share my routine with you that I do before I train legs. Although I have been lifting for over 8 years, this is based off of my experience and knowledge.
Starting A Warm Up
The goal for a warm up for any sport and any training session is to prepare your body for the upcoming session and not pre-exhaust it. I aim to break sweat during my warm up sessions by making sure that my body temperature and my heart rate are elevated by warming up in a warm environment. Warming up in this kind of environment helps ready your muscles and joints. If you don’t warm up correctly, your body will remain tight and stiff which can cause injuries once you start working out.
Body Temperature & Heart Rate Elevation
The majority of the time, I like to start my training sessions with a five minute ride on the bike machine to warm up my joints and to increase my heart rate slightly. Sometimes, I may switch it up by doing some barbell complexes with just the bar (Barbell Row, Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs), Hang Cleans, Overhead Press, Good Mornings and Front Squats). Then I do some jump squats on a high box to ensure that both my body temperature and heart rate are elevated before moving onto the next series of drills to prepare my muscles for my session. Going into a session cold turkey without a sufficient warm up is a recipe for disaster and could cause you a preventable injury. The last time that I did not do a warm up properly, I had my wrist wrapped in a bandage for a week. Take your warm up routine as serious as your actual training sessions.
Dynamic stretches or movements, such as leg swings and arm swings, are ways in which we move our bodies from one place to another by using our muscles. This includes moving side to side, back to front, diagonally and rotationally. I do leg swings as dynamic stretches before every training session regardless if I am training upper body or lower body as I use my legs for everything. Leg swings stretch the calves, the quads, the hamstrings and the groin muscles to ensure that the muscles are not tight and flexible to give you the range of motion that you need. They also help generate more force and energy as well as improving your ability to react.
Once I have done these stretches, I move into a quadruped sequence to warm up the rest of my body. A quadruped sequence is a sequence of drills that are done on all fours to engage the body. This sequence helps me to loosen any tightness in my shoulders from sitting by a desk, release tension in my back, hips and pelvis as well as activate my glutes and core for the upcoming workout.
Priming The Working Muscles
Band assisted movements such as squats and RDLs helps with mind-to-muscle connection. Mind-to-muscle connection is a conscious and deliberate muscle contraction. It requires you to focus the tension that you create during a movement pattern specifically on the muscles or muscle group that you are working on. Essentially, it’s the difference between passively training and actively training. I use both of these banded assisted movements to get my mind right and focused on the muscles that I train. I do these very slowly to make sure I’m feeling them in the right places, practicing the movements correctly as well as improving on my knee joint and hip hinge patterns.
Barbell Warm Up Sets
Never. Never ever jump into your working sets without doing a load progression of warm up sets. I see it all the time in the gym and I hurt for those that do it. You didn’t do all that warming up so you can hurt yourself with a huge load. It wastes strength, energy and endurance; over time, you’ll wonder why you are plateauing. To prime your body for strength and muscle gains, you need to ramp up by decreasing the number of reps as you increase the weight. That is load progression for warm up sets. How do you do this?
Start with the bar. That’s the first step. Starting with the bar helps you focus on speed and technique. It also helps to fire up your CNS (nervous system) to push heavier weight without fatiguing muscles. I do roughly 8 to 10 reps before moving on. How you progress from there depends on your working weights. Let’s say that my working weight for back squat is 95kg, I would increase by these percentages, 30%, 50%, 70% 82.5%. I only do one set, remember that this is a warm up. It would look like this :
- Start with the barbell which is 20kg/ 45lbs x 8-10 reps
- Warm Up set 2 (30% of 95kg) is 28.5kg x 5 reps
- Warm Up set 3 (50% of 95kg) is 47.5kg x 3 reps
- Warm Up set 4 (70% of 95kg) is 66.5kg x 2 reps
- Warm Up set 5 (82.5% of 95kg) is 77.5kg x 1 rep
Having done that load progression, your body is more acclimated to the heavier loads and it is not fatigued. The warm up sets also require you to be more aware of your body. If that last set felt too heavy for me and it could feel heavy for many reasons such as lack of sleep, insufficient rest or energy, I may not use 95kg as my working weight for the day and drop it down to 90kg or 85kg. Like anything in training, you need to be aware of your body and also your mindset. Taking care of your body is a prerequisite for training.
And there we have it! Everything that I do to warm up for a leg-focused training session and tips to help you know the benefits and reasons for these movements. If you do anything different or have any questions, please feel free to share and drop them in the comments below. I’d love this to become a resource for all of you. An Idea Pin (video) of this will be live on Pinterest on Sunday evening so you can be prepared for your next leg day. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Pinterest for more.
Until next time,