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The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

If you want to know how to warm up for your workouts properly, so you decrease the risk of injury and improve performance, then you want to read this article.

Like most everything related to health and fitness, there are quite a few opinions on warming up for your workouts.

Some people say it’s vital. That skipping it not only impairs your workout performance but greatly increases the risk of injury.

Others say it looks like a waste of time because it is. I mean, have you ever seen a lion “warm up” before it takes down a gazelle?

Who’s right?

Well, both are, to a degree.

What many people do to warm up is rather pointless. You know, twenty minutes on the treadmill, followed by stretching, rubber banded twisting, hopping, and bending, and so forth.

There are much more productive ways to use that time, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.

As you’ll soon see, a proper warm-up routine is an essential part of gaining muscle and strength safely and effectively.

You can take heart, too, because it’s easier and faster than you probably think. A good warm-up is short and simple, and helps you have noticeably better workouts.

So, let’s get to it.

Does Warming Up Help Prevent Injury?

warm up exercises prevent injury

Most people think that you warm up to make sure that your muscles don’t tear when you work out. That, by raising its temperature slightly, you’re muscle tissue less injury prone.

It seems to make sense on the surface, but how true is it, really?

Well, animal studies have suggested it’s accurate. When rabbits’ muscles and tendons are warmer, for example, they can handle more force before they tear.

We’re not big rabbits, though, which is why animal research can’t be applied directly to humans.

You see, when you work out, your body isn’t just whistling Dixie while you load it with heavier and heavier weights until it breaks. It has a complex system to manage how its muscles contract, and it involves a lot more than muscle temperature.

In other words, we don’t know if warming up muscle tissue before loading it actually makes it more resistant to injury.

Some studies indicate that it does, while others suggest otherwise. When viewed as a whole, there seems to be a slight trend toward the former position, but it’s insignificant in the bigger picture.

That doesn’t mean that warming up can’t decrease your risk of injury, though.

While warming up may not help prevent an acute injury to muscle fibers, it absolutely does help prevent injury on the whole.

The reason for this is simple: it helps you improve your technique.

If you’ve ever done any heavy compound weightlifting, you know how hard it can be to maintain proper form as the weight gets heavy.

You’ve probably felt your knees cave in while you squat, your wrists go crooked while benching, and your lower back go round while deadlifting.

These common mistakes can lead to serious injury and should be carefully avoided.

Well, one of the best ways to do this is to use warm-up sets to troubleshoot your form and “groove in” proper movement patterns.

Think of your warm-up sets as practice, which is, of course, the best way to get better at just about anything.

The more times you squat, bench, and deadlift perfectly, the more that becomes your default way to squat, bench, and deadlift. It’s that simple.

This is especially important for beginners, by the way.

When you first start weightlifting, you can get away with bad technique because you’re not strong enough to cause major damage. It’s hard to get hurt when you’re squatting half your body weight for 10 reps.

As you get stronger, though, that all changes. Weights get heavier, and poor form becomes more dangerous.

So, think of your warm-up sets as insurance against injury. If you want to get as strong as possible without getting hurt, you want to keep paying that bill.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Does Warming Up Help You Gain Muscle and Strength Faster?



Studies show that a short warm-up routine can significantly boost performance levels.

Your muscle cells are powered by tiny chemical reactions that are affected by temperature, and a little warmer than normal appears to be better.

In other words, your muscles are able to contract more effectively when they’re warmer.

Warming up also increases blood flow to your muscles, which enables your body to deliver them more oxygen and nutrients that are needed for generating energy.

Basically, warming up your muscles is similar to letting your car warm up on a cold day. It works best if all the moving parts are warm and the oil is flowing smoothly.

So, that’s how warming up helps you gain strength. What about muscle?

Well, as the best way to gain muscle is to get stronger, the connection here is obvious.

The better you perform in your workouts, the better you can progressively overload your muscles over time, and the better they’re going to respond to your workouts.

It’s that simple.

Do You Make These 5 Warm-Up Mistakes?

You now know that warming up is worthwhile…when done correctly.

We’re going to talk more about that in a minute, but first, let’s look at the five most common warm-up mistakes that people make.

1. Failing to warm up the muscles about to be trained.

Most people think that the best way to warm up is to simply get their heart rate up.

That’s why they do things like walking or jogging on the treadmill before heading over the weights.

Well, while this may be slightly better than nothing, you now know it’s far from ideal.

The best way to get your muscles primed to do a certain exercise is…you guessed it…doing the exercise.

Anything else more or less wastes time.

2. Doing too much warm-up.

This mistake usually goes hand-in-hand with the first, because many people believe they should “break a sweat” before getting into the meat of their workouts.

This is not only a waste of time, but a waste of energy, as well.

The same can be said for doing an extensive mobility routine before hitting the weights. Mobility exercises are a fantastic tool for improving form and performance, but doing twenty minutes of mobility work before stepping up to squat is silly.

This mistake includes doing too many warm-up sets on a given exercise, too.

Most people do this by starting with very light weights and slowly move up in 10- or 20-pound increments toward something heavy.

This can entail a dozen or more warm-up sets before the workout really begins, which is great for practice, but not so great for performance (by the time you get to your heavy, muscle-building sets, you’re worn out).

Doing too many warm-up sets also eats up tremendous amounts of time that can be used on other things, like working sets, accessory work, cardio, or, uh, not being in the gym.

3. Doing special “core” exercises.

examples of warm up exercises

I’m not sure why, but many personal trainers have a strange obsession with core exercises.

Back pain, you say? Let’s strengthen that core.

Creaky knees? Must be core instability.

Squat problems? Not firing your core hard enough.

Exhausted halfway through your workouts? Gotta step up that plank game.

This preoccupation is silly.

Yes, you need a strong core to do many different exercises well, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend much time training it.

Studies show that any exercise takes your hips through a full range of motion, like squats or lunges, engages the core, so if you’re following a halfway decently programmed workout program, this just takes care of itself. Your core gets stronger with the rest of your body.

That said, core exercises do have one legitimate use: for bringing up your core, and especially abdominal, definition. Check out this article to learn more.

4. Doing a bunch of stretching.

We’ve been hearing that we should stretch before exercise since elementary school gym classes.

Well, it turns out that it’s basically useless.

Studies have shown again and again that stretching before exercise doesn’t reduce the risk of injury.

One of the reasons for this is many muscles and connective tissues involved in exercise can’t even be stretched, like the iliotibial (IT) band. They’re just too strong and rigid.

Stretching won’t improve your performance, either.

In fact, research shows that holding stretches longer than about 60 seconds before doing an exercise can impair your performance.

Now, one reason to include light stretching (which won’t harm performance) in your warm-up routine is if it helps you improve your technique.

For instance, if stretching your shoulders out helps you get them in the right position for your squat, then it makes sense to do it.

5. Going too heavy.

Some people claim that simply holding heavy weights in the beginning of your workout will improve performance.

This is known as “post-activation potentiation,” or “PAP,” and the idea is that it primes your nervous system for what’s to come.

Well, while the theory sounds interesting, there isn’t much evidence it works.

There also aren’t any standardized, evidence-based guidelines on how to do it, which means you have to just wing it and see what happens.

So, as there aren’t any clear benefits or standard methodologies, I’d say there’s no reason to include PAP in your warm-up routine.

The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

You’ve probably already figured this out, but the key to a proper warm-up is to warm up the muscles you’ll actually be using.

Jogging on the treadmill for fifteen minutes isn’t going to help your bench press. Bench pressing will.

The same goes for any other exercise, of course.

You warm up for a squat by squatting, for a military press by pressing, for a deadlift by deadlifting, and so on.

This will help you refine your technique, reduce the risk of injury, and get more out of your working sets.

In terms of how to do it, exactly, here’s a simple and effective method of warming up for a given exercise:

  1. Do 12 reps with about 50% of your working (heavy) weight, and rest for a minute.
  2. Do 10 reps with the same weight at a slightly faster pace, and rest for a minute.
  3. Do 4 reps with about 70% of your working weight, and rest for a minute.
  4. Do 1 rep with about 90% of your working weight, and rest for two minutes.

And that’s it. You’re now ready to do your working sets.

If you’d like to include some light stretching or mobility work as well, do it while you’re resting in between your warm-up sets.

Oh and I should also mention that you don’t necessarily need to warm up for every exercise that you do in your workouts.

The idea is to warm up the muscle group before training it, so if you’re moving from one chest exercise to another, for example, you only need to warm up on the first.

The Bottom Line on How to Warm Up for Your Workout

warm up exercises before workout

A good warm-up routine improves exercise technique and performance and reduces the risk of injury.

In this way, warming up can help you gain muscle and strength faster and get more out of your workouts.

Unfortunately, most people get it all wrong.

They spend too much time warming up, do the wrong types of exercise (cardio), and often get in their own way with things like excessive stretching.

Well, if you follow the simple advice in this article, you’ll not only avoid those mistakes, you’ll reap all the significant benefits that warming up properly has to offer.


What’s your take on how to warm up for a workout? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Jas J

    Great article Mike.

    I’m cutting & following the 5 day split in BLS (Chest/Calf, Back/Abs, Shoulders/Calf, Upper body/Abs, Legs/Shoulders/Calf). For the Strength Week (in the journal/year 1 challenge bonus) how many sets should I do (instead of 3) and should I still follow a 5 day split or reduce this as well (change split)? Thanks

    • Read over the Strength Week section again. It calls for 3 sets and lists the exercises as well.

      • Jas J

        Thanks for reply Roger.
        Which page/chapter is the Strength Week section in BLS or BLS The Year 1 Challenge Bonus so I can re-read it. I read about the Strength Week on page 27 in The Year 1 Challenge but it only says to do fewer sets & recommends to rest one day in between workouts, but not exactly how many sets to do or how many days to workout (split).

      • Jas J

        Thanks for reply Roger.
        Which page/chapter is the Strength Week section in BLS or BLS The Year 1 Challenge Bonus so I can re-read it. I read about the Strength Week on page 27 in The Year 1 Challenge but it only says to do fewer sets, rest one day in between workouts, but not exactly how many sets to do or how many days to workout (split).

  • OK – I’m guilty of doing some light cardio for my warm up with some quick ballistic stretches. Looks like I have to pay some more attention to this area and start with practice moves instead. Great info.


  • Nicholas Ollerich

    I am following the BLS program, and being a newbie was wondering what do you do with the couple minutes of rest time suggested between sets

    • You can review form and technique, enjoy some music, fire off a few texts, or load/unload weights for your next set or exercise.

      • Sam

        Nice article. But please don’t encourage people to text between sets. Only douche bags do this.

        • Well, as long as they stay within their timed break period instead of hogging a bench for half an hour, nothing wrong with it IMO.

    • I often do Captain’s of Crush or I’ll practice some of my guitar licks, no joke 😉

  • Jonathan ‘Jk’ Kha

    Hey great article – as always nicely backed up with some science. One thing I would ask is what would be the most appropriate way to incorporate mobility work. I know you mention that an extensive one before strength training isn’t needed but how about soft tissue work and mobility work for opening up hips and loosening up hamstrings etc?

    I ask this because despite some warm up sets I tend to feel still a bit stiff and think that I should work out when to do all this? Would appreciate your guidance Mike.


    • If you’re stiff, I would open up your hips, lumbar, and loosen your hams prior to deads and squats. Helps my lifts tremendously and helps get the right muscles engaged.

  • Mallory

    Thank you for this – it’s always in the back of my mind that I should warm up properly but for some reason I never do 🙁
    What are your thoughts on a proper workout before circuit training and/or HIIT? I do a circuit training class 2x a week (10 stations – 50 seconds on, 25 seconds rest between each circuit – for a total of 4 rounds)…that’s a combo of strength and cardio… I usually treat the entire first round as my warm-up, then go harder the last 3. Do you think that’s sufficient? Thank you

    • Glad you enjoyed the article! You can do a brief bodyweight warmup of the exercises involved, or warm up with the first round as you are doing now.

  • Lisa Dolder

    Hi! After completing the warm-up sets, do you repeat the exercise as part of your workout routine? For example, would I do my 4 warm-up sets with a deadlift and then start my actual workout with 3 sets of deadlift as well? I use the thinner, leaner, stronger workbook and was wondering.


    • Yup, that’s right. Warm up and THEN your working (heavy) sets begin.

  • Dave Rosati

    Hi, I know this warm up routine is what you recommend for your typically recommended rep ranges of 4-6 and 6-8. Should the protocol be varied at all when doing power sets (1-3 rep range) or sarcoplasmic sets (8-10 rep range)?

    • Hey Dave! Good question. You can stick to the same warm-up routine.

  • Brandy

    Hey Mike,
    I had someone at the gym tell me today that I should do stretching between my sets. Do you have any research that says this is beneficial and what are your thoughts? Thanks!

  • Amy

    Hey Mike, this is a very interesting article. I was training with a coach and doing 20 minutes cardio before and after weigh training and after 2-3 months my stomach pop out. Can you tell me what could have happened and what should I do in order to reduce? I’ve read other articles and the solution is lots of cardio, the more sweat the better but as you say, cardio shouldn’t be the larger part of the workout. I’m recently doing from 45m-1h of HIIT cardio (45 min warm up and 15 at the end of the workout) and lifting light weights because i started going to the gym about 2 weeks. I’m already seeing results but I’m afraid I’ll reduce my muscle mass but I still want to reduce the stomach poping out. Thanks!

  • Evgeni Penchev

    Hello Mike, i am an athlete and i run 100m & 200m.
    I have problems with my muscles warm up. No matter how many exercise and runnig exercise i do, i cant reach optimal condition for my sprint training.
    What i have to do?

    • Hey Evgeni, it really comes down to matching your warmup to the demands of your race. That could even entail doing some sprints that are close to race pace for almost 100 meters or so, though likely at a slightly slower pace.

  • Valentina Goren Loguercio

    Hi Mike, I have a question, in your book TLS you say on arms day you warm up bicep and immediately tricep and then rest 60 sec., why is that? And when you finish your warm up you continuo alternating bicep and tricep excersice?

    Thank you!!! Your books are awesome!!!

    • Hey Valentina, doing the two back to back during the warmup before resting 60 seconds is just a good way to save time. I don’t superset my working sets like that, but you could do something similar. For example, you could do a heavy set of triceps, rest 90 seconds, then do a heavy set of biceps. Since they’re different muscle groups, you can rest less time by alternating between them. You don’t have to do it this way, but it’s a good way to speed up the workout if that’s your goal.

      Check this out: https://www.muscleforlife.com/best-arm-exercises/

      • Valentina Goren Loguercio

        Thank you Mike!!!

  • Briscan Andrei

    How to warm up for the arms day in BLS ?
    ,,When warming up for an Arms Day, I like to do a warm-up set for biceps immediately followed by a warm-up set for triceps, followed by a 60-second rest. ”

    You mean that we should do 1 set of 12 reps barbell curls superset with 1 set of 12 reps close grip bench press ( 50 % intensity /12 reps for both exercises or how much ? ) , rest 60 seconds and then start the 4-6 sets ?

    • Hey Briscan! It’s the same warm-up scheme, you’re just supersetting biceps and triceps. So after you rest for a minute, you do the second warm-up set for biceps, second warm-up for triceps, then rest 60 secs. Continue on for the next two warm-up sets, then start your heavy sets.

      • Briscan Andrei

        Mike , I have a huge problem when it’s come about my thighs , butt and hips development . I love squating and deadlifting heavy but I love more the aesthetics type of phisyque which don’t have huge curvy legs . I saw your youtube video on how to reduce muscles size so my questions are :
        1. When I train back , if I cut out deadlifts , it’s ok to do :
        Weighted Pull ups / Chin ups : 3×4-6
        Pendlay Rows / T bar rows : 3×4-6
        One arm dumbbel row / some type of pulling motion : 3×4-6
        2. Sprinting as a form of HIIT to work the hamstring a little bit ? What’s your opinion ?

        • 1. Yup – focus on pull-ups and rows
          2. Sprinting is fine if you like it. I prefer lower-impact HIIT like the bike
          3. If you don’t want to squat or deadlift at all, you could skip the Strength Week altogether and just continue on with your normal routine.

          • Briscan Andrei

            Thank you , master !

  • Christopher Reilly

    Mike, how would you suggest cooling down after a workout?

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