“ Are free weights better than machines “ – asked every person ever at one point in their lifting career.
It is a solid and fair question.
You see some people using machines, some using free weights, some using cable machines.
So, what is the best?!
Well, we are going to talk about what the “best” is in this article.
Before you enter the Narnia of weightlifting, just promise me your b*tch a** won’t skip through the article and read it word for word.
Yes, I just called you a b*tch a**, but it is out of love.
As well as out of getting your attention to make sure you read the whole way through because we are going to dive in depth.
I want to be sure you leave this article without any shadow of a doubt knowing which is the “best” for you.
Cool. Let’s do it.
Are Free Weights Better Than Machines
Pros Vs Cons
When talking about are free weights better than machines, I think what is often missing is something called context.
You know, that thing we all are missing these days in a 24/7, quick, short social media world we live in.
There has to be context when answering this question because depending on what you are looking for, the answer is (my favorite answer) it depends.
I encourage you to not necessarily think about which is “better”.
I encourage you to think about the pros and cons of all of them, because the truth is, they all have their pros and cons.
Let’s look at some of them for each category here below. Once we go through this, I think you will have a better understanding of when one may be “better” than others.
I am going to talk about 3 main forms of equipment here.
Machines (Machines you would find in the gym)
Free weights (barbells, dumbbells)
Cable Machines (like these here below)
Let’s first start with machines.
Machine Pros Vs Cons
When talking about using machines in the gym, there can be many pros that appeal to a large amount of people.
For starters, a machine is very SIMPLE.
You get into the machine and simply perform it how it is intended. They usually have either instructions, pictures, videos, or all the above attached to them to show how to use it.
For someone who is a beginner in the gym and may not exactly know how to perform exercises correctly, this can be quite appealing for obvious reasons.
There is little error to “f*ck up” a machine for lack of better terms.
You just kind of get in and go along for the ride.
Whereas something like maybe say a squat, a deadlift, a lunge, that requires much more of a concentration on form. You will have to spend some time learning how to do that movement correctly.
Now, I don’t think you should worry about this, because we ALL were a beginner once inside the gym where we didn’t know how to do something.
Hell, I have been lifting weights for almost 11 years as I write this, and there are STILL things I do “wrong” in the gym to this day.
Yet for a lot of people who are beginners in the gym, the idea of doing a machine that is “fool proof” for lack of better terms can be a great way to get you started in the gym.
For this reason I think machines are AWESOME.
They can get you in the gym.. Get over your fear of maybe starting out.. Get you more comfortable going in…
Through coaching people the last 7+ years I have seen that a lot of people start out at the gym on machines and then feel like they can start to venture out into other areas of the gym with a better mindset.
Therefore if this is you, I think this can be great and can be a massive pro to machines.
Another Pro Is…
Remember how we just talked about a squat, deadlift, lunge, shoulder press, etc, is inherently going to be a bit harder to learn.
One of the reasons for this is that you need to be able to control and stabilize the weight (which could just be your bodyweight for now!) through the range of motion.
Imagine if you are doing a shoulder press.
You need to take two dumbbells, in each hand, and be able to stabilize that through the whole way up and the whole way down.
That takes a LOT of work for your muscles to do, both your bigger shoulder muscles as well as your smaller stabilizer muscles.
( Hint: This may be a “pro” you see later on in the article…).
Whereas with a shoulder press machine, you don’t have to stabilize the weight through the range of motion.
That’s why the machine is there, it does that for you.
Therefore you can potentially be more confident in your movement and decrease risk of injury ( especially for complete beginners).
Even if you aren’t a beginner, you will usually be able to lift a bit heavier weight on a machine.
This is due to once again the machine takes out the stability factor, allowing you to overload the weight even more.
This is often touted great for hypertrophy (muscle building) training.
The more stability you have the more you will be able to contract the muscle & create something called mechanical tension.
More Stability = More Mechanical tension = More muscle building.
Single Joint Isolation Exercises
To piggyback off of the previous pro about stability, it makes a great pro for single joint isolation exercises.
For example a leg curl or a leg extension.
In both of these exercises you have ONE joint working, your knee joint. You are intentionally trying to isolate one muscle. As opposed to say a squat where you have multiple joints working at once, working multiple muscles at once.
Therefore since you have high stability with a machine you can focus on ONE specific joint and muscle maybe a bit more than you would be able to with free weights for example.
You can hammer home that one muscle and take it closer to failure because you don’t have to worry about stabilizing your body or the weight, you can solely focus on smashing your muscle as best as you can.
Which again, going close to failure is something that is necessary to get maximum hypertrophy.
So if you are doing exercises that you are trying to focus on one joint and one muscle at at time, machines may be a great option for that.
So, machines certainly have some pros to them.
Yet, they also have some cons. Let’s cover some right now.
One con to using machines is the fact that a machine is not individualized.
Meaning, I am writing this right now as a 6’4 250lb male with long femurs (thigh bone) and long arms.
You reading this may be a 5’3 160 lb female with short femurs and short arms.
How in the actual hell is ONE machine supposed to cater to both of us?
If I was to step into a squat machine versus if you were to step into a squat machine, we would inherently need completely different set ups / executions of the movement.
Not to mention what if you are someone who has different mobility / range of motion than someone else.
For example if I don’t have the best overhead shoulder and thoracic mobility (thoracic = middle / upper part of your spine) then an overhead machine press doesn’t take that into consideration.
It can’t change the range of motion, the angle, the bar path, the hand placement, etc. It can only go in ONE direction on ONE track.
Whereas for example if you had dumbbells and you were sitting on a bench, you can adjust the bench.. You can adjust the angle at which you press up, your hands, and where the dumbbells travel..
There are so many adjustments based on your specific needs as opposed to a machine, you are really limited to what the machine can do.
This can lead to some injury over time if you are trying to force this, kind of like trying to force a round peg into a square hole.
Is going to be actually taking the same “pro” we talked about earlier, stability.
Now yes, having the machine take the stability out of the movement for you can be a positive thing, yet, it can also be a negative thing.
Remember, context matters.
If your goal was actually to build some stability in your joints so that you can have a healthy aging process, improve balance, or simply be as strong as you can in a “well rounded” manner..
Then you would actually want to train and strengthen the stability aspect of your movements and not have a machine take that out for you.
You wouldn’t want to do a machine overhead press or a machine row, you would want to do a free weight press or row to help build stability strength.
Which, for the record, I do recommend you training your stability and getting stronger in that area because this is not just about looking good naked.
Yes, that is cool, and nothing wrong with chasing some aesthetic based goals.
Yet what also matters is maintaining a high level of health. One of the main reasons people check into a nursing home is because they can’t sit up and down off the toilet on their own.
Building strength and stability in your joints is incredibly important, therefore, I recommend training it so you can have that in your toolbox.
So as you can see, are free weights better than machines can really depend on what context you are asking from.
Machines have both pros and cons.
I mentioned I was going to briefly touch on cable machines as well, so let’s do that now.
Are Free Weights Better Than Machines : Cable Machine Pros Vs Cons
One of the great pros I love about cable machines is that you can challenge the muscle from different ranges of motion.
I spoke about this in a recent article I wrote, I can link that HERE if you are interested to read after this.
Yet what cables can do is provide a different way to hit the muscle, let’s take your triceps for example.
When you are using ONLY free weights or even ONLY machines, you might be missing out on challenging the muscle in a certain range of motion.
There are 3 main portions of the range of motion throughout an exercise.
The shortened, lengthened, and middle position.
For example if you are doing dumbbell skullcrushers, those challenge the muscle in the lengthened to mid positon.
If you are doing this tricep extension machine, again, challenges the muscle in the lengthened to mid position.
Yet, when you can throw in something like a tricep pressdown, this challenges the tricep in the shortened position.
This way you can challenge the muscle in ALL areas, which can improve your strength as well as the aesthetic appearance of the muscle.
So not only does it allow you to challenge the muscle from a different range of motion, it is very adjustable as well.
You can adjust where the cable is coming from, where you position yourself at, you can add different attachments to go unilateral, bilateral, etc.
Also, you can adjust YOU with the cable machine. You could stand or kneel. You could face it or face away from it.
There are just so many options you can do with a cable machine that it makes it hard not to be able to include it in your training.
One con that cables potentially brings about is when doing multi joint compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, RDL’s, overhead presses, etc.
The reason for this is because with the cable, inherently the resistance is coming at an angle.
You can work to position yourself as close to the cable as you possibly can, but the resistance is usually NOT just a straight up and down force like it would be in a free weight squat.
If you have a barbell on your back and you are squatting, you are fighting a force that is up and down, that’s it.
You aren’t dealing with a resistance that is coming from angles because quite frankly you don’t want to deal with that while doing those styles of movements.
Reason being is it can lead to injury over time by having more or less an “unnatural” movement pattern or force resistance.
As well as with a cable machine you are usually limited on the load you can use / the set up you can perform.
A cable stack usually tops out at what maybe 200ish?
Once you get to a certain level, you are inherently going to be able to squat or deadlift more than 200lbs.
Therefore if you ONLY used a cable machine for those moves you would be limiting results.
Because of this, cable machines are usually left to accessory / isolation movements (rows, pulldowns, bicep curls, lateral raises, etc).
I would recommend leaving the compound movements up to free weights.
Now that we know cable machines are a great option to add to the debate of are free weights better than machines, let’s now cover free weights.
Free Weights Pros Vs Cons
We have already touched on a massive “pro” when it comes to free weights so I will keep this part brief, but being able to adjust it to YOU.
Remember, everyone has different..
When using a machine, it does not take any of this into consideration.
Yet when using something like a barbell back squat, even though the barbell can’t move, YOU can move throughout your range of motion.
For example if you are like me and you have long femurs, to keep your spine neutral, you are inherently going to have to lean forward more in your squat.
Yet if you are using a squat machine where the pad is completely upright, you don’t have that option.
That is going to lead to injury over the long haul, as well as simply not being able to work your muscles as much as intended.
Yet with a free weight barbell since it can move through space ( Trippy ) you can move however YOU need to to make it work for you.
Or for example with dumbbells and a chest press.
If you are someone who needs to close your shoulder joint a bit more to be able to get a proper range of motion with your chest press, you can adjust the dumbbells as needed to face each other a bit more.
You can also adjust the arch of the weight path to fit what would work for your shoulder.
With a chest press machine, you aren’t adjusting the handles or the arch of the machine. You are confined to whatever the machine is set up as.
Therefore using free weights is going to allow for more individualization to each movement.
As Well As…
Another pro to free weights is having a “functional” workout.
Now, that term is thrown around a lot, all I mean by this is you can learn how to move & control YOUR body through a range of motion.
If you are using say only a leg press, yes it can hit your muscle as intended…
But if you are going to go outside and have to take a massive step and lunge to avoid stepping into a puddle…
You can have control of your body because you are doing lunges.
Or if you are an athlete and need to make cuts on the field / on the court…
You can have control because you were doing squats.
Or if you are needing to pick up and move heavy boxes…
You can have control because you were doing deadlifts.
There is no denying that using free weights is going to translate into “functional” movements on a day to day basis.
As well as just being able to have control of your body moving through space, which I think is often underestimated by many people.
Even something as simple as falling. Again, how do most older people get injured? By falling and breaking their hip right?
Now, to be fair, ANY type of resistance training is going to help prevent this, but lifting with free weights can help teach body awareness, which may help even more.
Briefly, this also goes right in tune with what we talked about earlier with free weights being able to train the stability factor of your muscles and joints.
There isn’t to my knowledge a better way to train stability and strength better than lifting some free weights.
To piggyback right along with that, lifting free weights is inherently going to work more of your core strength / stability.
Well, you guessed it, you have to control the weight AND Your body through a range of motion!
When you are doing a shoulder press you are NOT just working your shoulders, you are also working your shoulder stabilizers as well as your core.
Or if you are doing a deadlift you aren’t just working your legs, you are working your hip stabilizers as well as your core.
Your core HAS To work to stabilize the weight and your body / limbs moving through a range of motion.
Therefore, free weights can be a great option for ANY movement really. Bigger compound ones like squats or deadlifts for sure.
Or even smaller ones like bicep curls or tricep extensions.
Though I may give a slight advantage in some scenarios to machines or cable machines for some specific muscles in this scenario, still a really good option.
Now, there are some cons to free weights.
Again, as mentioned earlier, you are going to need to stabilize the weights. This can sometimes take away from the weight you lift in SOME exercises, or make them more difficult (though, more difficult isn’t always a bad thing!).
As well as you are going to need to learn how to control the weight / your body through a range of motion.
While this may be a “pro”, it can also be a “con” because it DOES take a little bit longer to learn.
Yet, I think the payoff is worth the work.
So… Are Free Weights Better Than Machines?!
Okay, I know you came here looking for the answer to are free weights better than machines and the truth is IT DEPENDS!
Hopefully as you can see they all have their pros and cons.. To summarize a tad bit..
I would generally pick free weights to be the STAPLE of your training program. This builds a solid foundation and generally speaking gives you the most bang for your buck (works core, stabilizers, teaches you to control your body, etc)
I would leave the bigger compound movements up to mainly free weights
Machines can be great for complete beginners starting off and or if you are really looking to isolate ONE specific muscle during a single joint exercise ( leg extension, leg curl, calf raise, bicep curl )
Cable Machines can be incredibly versatile and used for a lot of compound & isolation based exercises
A “con” might be a pro, and a “pro” might be a con, depending on your goal / how you choose to utilize the equipment you are using
Point being.. You don’t need to pick JUST ONE!
You can and SHOULD use all of them in your training program.
One isn’t “better” or “worse”. They all have their benefits and when used properly can all be great tools in your toolbox you can use for seeing the best results.
I hope this article helps you see that and if you are looking for getting your training programming done for you, I can link two great options here below that myself and my team offer.
First is going to be our Clubhouse. This is where I create a new training program each month for the group. You can check that out HERE below.
Or, if you are looking for more in depth 1:1 coaching with our team, you can fill out our application form HERE.
Either way, I hope this article helped, and look to chat soon!
The million dollar question, how to warm up before lifting weights.
Should you sit and do some arm circles or slap hug yourself with your hands?
What about spending 30 minute foam rolling every inch of your body? (Well.. maybe not EVERY inch…).
Or maybe you just don’t warm up at all and say f*ck it?!
Don’t worry, in the article, you will learn everything you need to know about warming up before you lift front to back.
Well, you will know if you stick around for the whole article that is.. If you leave half way through (yea, I’m talking to you) then you won’t.
So for the sake of you actually learning how to warm up before lifting weights and for the sake of me not writing this article for no reason..
Stick around for the whole thing, mkay?
How To Warm Up Before Lifting Weights
Main Modalities Of Warming Up
Before we dive into exactly what you should do the warm up, let me first cover the 4 main modalities of warming up in my professional opinion.
Stretching ( Static vs Dynamic )
Warm Up Sets
As a bonus at the end, I will also talk about doing cardio as a warm up before your lifting.
Let’s break them down piece by piece.
If you have ever been into a commercial gym you have for sure witnessed the foam rollers.
They sit there, sometimes on their phone, laying back on a foam roller “rolling their back out, bro!”.
Kinda looks like you’re taking a nap and texting to me, bro.. But..
Now, I joke, not all people who foam roll are like that.
You will also have the guy who foam rolls his right glute medius (only his right.. Not even the left yet..) for 26 minutes before he goes and does one set of squats.
Okay, I joke a little bit more, but let’s really talk about foam rolling.
Is It Beneficial?
Yes and no.
It may be beneficial for two main reasons, both which people don’t usually think about when they think about foam rolling.
When someone thinks about foam rolling, they think you are sitting there breaking up your muscle tissue with this oversized foam cylinder.
That’s not really what happens.
According to this systematic review and Meta Analysis HERE , foam rolling changes come primarily from
Increases soft tissue elasticity
Increases pain threshold
What does this mean?
This means no real structural adaptations or changes occur, aka, your muscles aren’t getting “less stiff”, you are just in the short term changing your Range Of Motion (ROM) for that ONE particular workout session.
Also, long term differences in pain perception are noticed through longer duration foam rolling (4+ weeks) which can also lead to changes in ROM.
Which, in my opinion, can be a good or bad thing.
Okay, so foam rolling may give you a larger range of motion…
But, for that workout, do you ACTUALLY have that range of motion? Or… Do you artificially have that range of motion because you foam rolled before hand.
A lot of people will need to foam roll for 10 15 20 minutes to “get loose enough” to do a certain exercise or lift a certain weight on a certain exercise.
Let me break something to you.
If you need to foam roll for 20 minutes to hit 200lbs on your squat, you need to not be squatting 200lbs.
You need to work on improving your mobility / stability from other exercises, fix your form, or lift less weight.
Therefore in my opinion foam rolling as a tool to go lift heavy weight or gain a new range of motion so that you can overload the muscle with high intensity I think can actually do more harm than good.
If you are overloading your body with heavy weights in a range of motion you don’t ACTUALLY have, you only artificially have for a brief period of time because of foam rolling, that can lead to injury.
Your body doesn’t actually have that range of motion so for you to go there with heavy loads, usually it backfires.
Now, on the flip side, if let’s say you foam roll as a tool to gain that new range of motion and pick a weight that is appropriate for that exercise / new range of motion, I think that is a different story.
For example, foam rolling your quads to be able to get down into a front foot elevated split squat ( If you don’t know what that is, you can click HERE ) with either bodyweight or “light weight”, whatever that is for you, to strengthen your body in that new range of motion in a safe way?
Now you’re talking.
Therefore, I don’t think foam rolling is either “good” or “bad”. I think it is merely a tool that if used correctly, can help.
If used incorrectly though, can cause harm.
My Two Cents
I think foam rolling could potentially be a useful tool if you are someone who simply enjoys doing it or it “makes you feel better”.
If it makes you feel better, who the hell am I to tell you to not do it.
I would say though, I would spend at max no more than 5 minutes foam rolling. That’s for your entire body, not just one muscle group.
So maybe 30-60 seconds on your glutes, 30-60 seconds on your quads, and 30-60 seconds on your hamstrings, and 30-60 seconds of calves.
Cool, then get into your lower body workout. 2-5 minutes of foam rolling is more than enough.
There is just not enough evidence behind it for me to suggest you do anything more than that.
I know this article is about how to warm up before lifting but let me just say this.
Foam rolling I think could potentially be a useful tool for AFTER your workout.
This is because, as somewhat mentioned above, foam rolling can trigger your PNS (Parasympathetic nervous system ).
Basically this is your “rest and digest” nervous system. This helps get you out of fight or flight.
When you are working out, you are in fight or flight mode. Once you are DONE working out, you want to get out of that as quickly as possible to be able to start the recovery process from that workout.
Throwing in some again short duration foam rolling can be a way to potentially kick on your PNS, start that recovery process, and help you maximize recovery post workout.
Personally, I don’t foam roll post workout because well I’m lazy.. But I do think there is more merit to it POST workout than pre for this reason.
Stretching ( Static Vs Dynamic )
One of the most common questions I get asked is WHAT ABOUT STRETCHING?
Yes, in all caps, because that’s how people ask me.
Let me first break down stretching into the two forms, passive and active.
Passive or “Static” Stretching
Passive stretching is the form of stretching where you really aren’t actively using your muscles to stretch. You are using some sort of tool to help you stretch.
For example, if you are lying on your back, you bring your leg to your chest, and you pull on it with your arm.
This is passive stretching because you aren’t actively contracting your muscles to move the joint, you are using an apparatus to help aid you.
For this article, this can also be referred to as your “passive range of motion”. How far can you move your joint passively.
Active Stretching would be the opposite of passive. You are actively using your muscles to move your joint through a range of motion.
For example, lying on your back and moving your leg towards your chest as much as you can WITHOUT any help.
This is also referred to as your active range of motion.
Notice how in these two pictures, the passive stretching, I am getting my leg much farther when I pull on it vs when I don’t?
That’s the difference between my passive vs active range of motion.
Remember when I said foam rolling can in the short term increase your range of motion, somewhat artificially.
This is what I meant. You are using an aid to increase the range of motion, but do you actively have control over that range of motion? Those two things are different things.
Anywho, back to stretching.
Passive Vs Dynamic
To piggy back right off of this, there are two main forms of stretching.
Static vs Dynamic.
Static is pretty self explanatory. This is your standard hamstring stretch I showed you above where you are pulling your leg up, or laying on your back pulling your knee to your chest.
The second form of stretching is dynamic stretching.
This is where you are taking your joints through your active full range of motion instead.
An example may be something like a sprinter starter, here below!
One is stationary, the other is moving, to keep things quite simple.
My Two Cents
Now that we know the difference in stretching, when it comes to how to warm up before lifting weights, I would stick with Dynamic Stretching.
The reason is because you are taking your joints through an active full range of motion.
Passive stretching is cool and all, but again, you don’t actually have that range of motion you are working on.
So even if you can pull your leg back farther, that doesn’t mean you can control that range of motion.
You don’t want more range of motion just to have more range of motion. You want more range of motion that you can control.
Getting lower in a squat is of no use if you can’t control it. You will just end up rounding your lower back, caving in your knees, or compensating one of any number of ways.
You want to actively control the range of motion, therefore, dynamic stretching is going to take your joints and muscles through that active range of motion.
Again, I wouldn’t spend much time on this here either (this will be a common theme, so stay tuned haha).
I would maybe once again spend 2-5 minutes MAX dynamic stretching, if you are going to do it at all.
You don’t need much when it comes to “getting your joints and muscles ready to go”. Most people way overdo their dynamic stretching.
Now, is this a MASSIVE deal? Not sure, maybe. If you are a gen pop person, maybe it isn’t a massive deal. But if you are someone who takes your workouts very serious, then this can make or break some PR’s that day.
And overall, it just isn’t the most optimal. Therefore, I’d stick to mainly dynamic stretching if you are going to do it.
Yet personally.. I wouldn’t work in a ton of dynamic stretching work. Mainly because of what we are going to talk about in the next section. Keep reading.
The next thing we can touch on when it comes to how to warm up before lifting weights is what I call “activation”.
Well, really, I didn’t come up with this term, many other people did before me.
I also use it in quotations because there is like stigma around “activating” your muscles.
Heard of “glute activation” before? This craze you need to “activate” your glutes or else they won’t work?!
Yea, no, not true.
Your muscles are always working. Especially your glutes. If your glutes weren’t working, you wouldn’t be able to stand up from a chair and walk around.
So, your glutes are fine.
Now, with that being said, I actually personally do think there is some merit to “activating” your muscles before a workout.
“Activation”, More So “Contraction”
As opposed to calling it “activating” your muscles, I like to just simply think of it as doing exercises to contract your muscles through a full range of motion.
This does a few things
It maps the motor pattern from your brain to your muscles to get those muscles “firing” correctly for the workout ahead
It gets some blood flow to the areas you are looking to work
You can not only take your joints through a full range of motion before your workout, but you can do it in a fashion while you are also contracting your muscles with some light resistance
All of these things can lead to..
Decreased risk of injury
Increased workout performance (ie more weight lifted, more reps done, etc)
Increased active range of motion
Therefore, this is my personal favorite way on how to warm up before lifting weights.
Let’s go over some more in depth examples below.
My Two Cents
This is the main modality of “warming up” I would do before your workout.
I think this is the most effective, most time efficient, and best bang for your buck way to warm up before a workout.
I usually split this up into two sections of the body. Lower and upper.
This coincides with the way I program for all of my clients and Clubhouse members, we usually run 3 or 4 day splits where we do a lot of lower and upper body workouts.
I will cover some examples of warm up exercises for both lower and upper body.
There are a main few muscles you should be looking to warm up before lower body are going to be..
I put hamstring as a maybe because most people usually can get away with just focusing on the first 2.
Adding in core here because when you think about lower body exercises.. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, RDL’s, etc.
That usually involves a lot of core bracing and strength, right?
Activating your core before a lower body workout can be a great way you can not only be stronger, but also keep your lower back safe and injury free.
What are some ways you could warm up each of these?
So glad you asked, I can link some examples below.
A simple glute bridge is a GREAT way to warm up your glutes before a lower body workout.
This may be somewhat of a “dynamic stretch”, but you are adding resistance with the band. One of my fav glute warm ups.
This exercise is a great way to add in some stabilization component to your glute bridge.
For these exercises, 2 sets of 6-10 reps would work just fine.
Many exercises can work here for core, but I like working in some anti movement exercises like these plank transfers
The pallof press is another favorite of mine.
You could even work in some reverse crunches as a way to get your core “firing” before your lift.
For these exercises, 2 sets of 5-8 reps would work great.
As I said, most people will be golden with glutes and core, but the elevated hamstring bridge is a great way to get some contractions of your hamstrings.
This can be a great warm up (or even a great regular exercise, LOL!)
For these exercises, 2 sets of 6-8 reps would work great.
I put 2 sets of 6-10 reps for most of those exercises.
Remember, this is a WARM UP.
The whole point of how to warm up before lifting weights is to get READY for the workout, not start the workout!
You aren’t supposed to be killing yourself with super high intensity here. You are supposed to be simply WARMING UP your body for the upcoming intensity.
Yet you don’t want to burn yourself out by spending too much time in your warm up exercises.
Sample Warm Up
Therefore a very simple warm up could be
Glute bridge 2 sets of 8 reps
Pallof Press 2 sets of 8 reps each side
That would take you maybe 5 minutes max.
That’s about how much time I’d spend on a warm up before your workout. Your time spent during your workout should be spent working out, not, warming up.
Upper Body Warm Up
For how to warm up before lifting weights for your upper body, here are the main muscle groups I would look to.
Upper back (traps, rhomboids, scapula as a whole )
Shoulder joint complex (simply moving your shoulder joint through a full range of motion)
Core ( maybe)
I wrote core in there because you could in fact add in core if you wanted to as well. I won’t create a separate tab for these as the examples are above.
Some examples of each would be…
For each exercise, 2 sets of 6-8 reps would be plenty.
Remember, the important part here is you are not trying to “tax” your muscles. Simply contract and be controlled with your moves.
For each exercise, 2 sets of 5-8 reps is more than enough.
For each exercise, 2 sets of 6-10 reps is more than enough.
Upper Body Warm Up
A very easy and quick upper body workout could look like..
1a. Band Face Pull 2×8
1b. Band Up & Over 2×6
1c. Tall Kneeling lat pullover 2×8
That rounds as the “Activation” section of the warm ups.
If you do that for each of your lower and upper body workouts, you will be setting yourself up for some major success.
Now, onto the other very important part I like to include in my “warm ups” for myself and my clients.
Warm Up Sets
Another critical piece of how to warm up before lifting weights is to be sure you include warm up sets into your training.
If you aren’t familiar, there is a difference between a working set vs a warm up set.
Essentially let’s say you are supposed to 3×6 reps on your squats.
That is three WORKING Sets you are supposed to be completing with your workouts.
A working set is a set you take 1-3 reps shy of failure. This is a very hard, challenging, and almost grueling set.
Yes, that is every working set, not just the last set of that 3×6.. If it says 3×6, that is 3 working sets taken very close to failure.
That is what a working set should be.
But, I don’t expect or want you to head into your 3×6 doing that right away.
That’s a great way to get injured.
If you are doing let’s say 200lbs for 6 reps on squats and that is what you want to be your WORKING weight…
You will do some warm up sets BEFORE getting to that weight.
It might look like…
Set 1 – WARM UP SET – the bar for 5 reps
Set 2 – WARM UP SET – 100lbs for 4 reps
Set 3 – WARM UP SET 150lbs for 3 reps
Set 4 – 1st WORKING SET – 200lbs for 6 reps
So, your “set 4” would actually be set 1 of your 3 sets of 6 reps on squats.
Yet, you did warm up sets to work up to that working set.
You should be doing this for your exercises as well and that is worked into your “warm up”.
This is a great way to get your body warmed up and used to the movement you are doing to once again..
Stay injury free
Lift more weight
Do more reps
Work the right muscles
& on and on.
Warm up sets are something you should work into your training as a part of your warm up.
How Many Warm Up Sets Should You Do?
Well, this somewhat depends.
This depends on your..
How much weight you are lifting
There are 3 main forms of exercises. Compound, accessory, and isolation.
Compound movements are your bigger movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.
Accessory movements are movements like lunges, RDL’s, lat pulldowns, rows, etc.
Isolation movements are moves like bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg curls, etc.
For your compound movements, you will probably have 2-5 warm up sets depending on how much weight you are lifting.
The more weight you lift, the more warm up sets you will have.
For accessory movements, I would have 1-2 warm up sets.
For isolation movements, I would typically just stick to 1 warm up set and get into your working sets rather quickly.
If you need help with compound, accessory, and isolation moves, you can listen to this podcast I did HERE that goes over all of this in depth as well.
How To Warm Up Before Lifting Weights : Cardio As A Warm Up?
As promised, the last part I will talk about for how to warm up before lifting weights is speaking on cardio.
People will ask me if I think they should do cardio as a warm up before their workout.
Here is what I will say.
If you like doing 5-10 minutes of cardio on the treadmill or bike before your lift, mozeltov, go get em.
Do I think you need to do it? No, not really. I think the activation work and warm up sets are usually more than enough.
Yet if you like doing cardio beforehand, then perfect, go for it.
I wouldn’t typically recommend you doing more than 10-15 minutes though because you don’t want to burn up too much fuel or glycogen before your workout to where it is going to hinder your performance.
You lifting weights take a lot more physical and mental stress than walking on the treadmill or doing the bike does.
Therefore you want to be as fresh as you can heading into that workout. Doing 30 40 60 minutes of cardio before hand is inherently going to take away from that workout, which means your performance decreases.
If your performance decreases, then you lift less weight.. Do less reps.. Have worse form..
All of this then leads to less results and an increased risk of injury in the long run.
To avoid all of this, and to optimize your training, I would usually leave the cardio for AFTER the workout if you want to do that.
Again, 5 or 10 minutes of low intensity cardio before hand just to get some blood flowing or what not is one thing.
But any sort of longer duration or high intensity cardio work I would leave for AFTER the workout.
How To Warm Up Before Lifting Weights: Extra Note
You just learned my preferred way of warming up is through “activation” exercises and warm up sets.
Now, I will say, this I am writing this article for the general population of people.
The information in this article is what I believe a LARGE majority of people would benefit from following.
Though I am not naive that of course some individuals may need some slight extra direct work to specific joints.
For example, if someone has had a hip injury, they might add in an extra hip mobility exercise.
Or, if someone has had a shoulder issue, they may work in an extra shoulder mobility exercise.
I am not writing an article for a specific individual, I am writing an article for the masses to consume.
Yet even with this being said, I still do not believe that you need to be spending more than 5-10 minutes max total warming up.
How To Warm Up Before Lifting Weights : That’s It!
That was a lot.
If you stuck around for the whole thing, you should be damn proud of yourself. I hope you learned a ton from this article.
Thank you for reading and if this was a bit of information overload, you can feel free to look into our training options below to let us take the guesswork out of your training for you.
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Again, hope the article helped, and look to hear from you soon.