I wanted to share with you my warm up routine for an upper body day. Recently I shared my warm up routine for a lower body/leg day. This is what I do whenever I am about to train the bench press but I use it for upper body in general as it primes the working muscles, joints and my cardiovascular system. As the days get colder and darker, warming up our bodies becomes more important as our muscles get tighter due to the cold temperatures. You should never jump into your training sessions without warming up your body properly and risk getting injured. It’s not worth it. I remember skipping my warm up once and I injured myself pretty badly. When we train, it’s not only the actual session that counts but also the warm up, cool down and stretching. I know that there are so many methods out there on how to warm up your upper body but I am going to share with you what I do. I have been lifting for nearly 9 years but this is based off my personal experience and what has worked for me.
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.
Prep The Cardiovascular System
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. You can use the treadmill, elliptical or any cardio machine that is available at your gym or home gym. 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). Once I have done that, I move into doing a series of dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches or movements, such as band pull apart and shoulder cars, are the ways in which we move our bodies 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 a series of dynamic stretches to ensure every muscle in my upper body has been warmed up efficiently. I do leg swings regardless if it is a lower body or upper day as legs are used for everything. For my upper body, I specifically do band pull apart: chest level and overhead to ensure that all areas of my chest are flexible enough to give me the range of motion that I need. Next I do band pullovers to stretch out my chest and back. Then I move onto warming specific parts of the upper body such as my front and back shoulder muscles and my triceps. I have listed the series of dynamic stretches and their reps below:
- Chest-level band pull apart: 20 reps
- Overhead band pull apart: 20 reps
- Band pullovers: 10 reps
- Band front raise: 10 reps per arm
- Banded rear delt fly: 10 reps per arm
- Banded overhead tricep extension: 10 reps per arm
Priming The Working Muscles
Priming the working muscles means doing a dynamic mobility routine that is designed to encourage the muscles to prepare for the big lifts, lubricates the joints and helps with mind-to muscle connection. Mind-to-muscle connection is a conscious and deliberate muscle connection that requires you to focus the tension on the working muscle. I have found that in my years of lifting that when I think or focus on the muscle that I am working, I have seen better growth and strength gains in that area.
To prime my upper body, I like to do wide grip lat pulldowns to warm up and recruit my lat muscles as my back plays an important role in bench press. I use a low weight and focus on the engaging my lats throughout the movement. I do 12 to 20 reps. If I struggle with pausing the bar at my chest for bench press, I would do inverted rows to practice that contraction. I would do 5 to 10 reps.
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 bench press is 50kg, I would increase by these percentages, 30%, 50%, 70% 85%. 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 50kg) is 16.3kg x 5 reps
- Warm Up set 3 (50% of 50kg) is 27.2kg x 3 reps
- Warm Up set 4 (70% of 50kg) is 38.1kg x 2 reps
- Warm Up set 5 (85% of 50kg) is 46.2kg 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 50kg as my working weight for the day and drop it down to 45kg or 42.5kg. 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.
So there we have it! My warm up for a typical upper body day. I know that it looks like a lot but it takes me 10 to 15 minutes maximum to warm up for any training session. From my experience, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you do any other exercises or drills to warm up, please share them in the comments so we can all learn from each other. I’d love for this post to be resource for all of you and others who find their way to the blog. Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest Idea Pins for the dynamic stretches, the barbell complexes and barbell warm up sets.