There are three main objectives we want to achieve when warming up for a weight lifting session. Within these objectives are a couple of modifiers based on the complexity of the lifts. I’ll point out where this is important.
The lifting session is comprised of the warm up sets and the working sets. You decide how many warm up sets you do, the program decides the working sets. The quantity of the warm-up sets is predicated on how much weight we’re going to lift and the complexity of the lift. A heavy working set of deadlifts is much different than a heavy set of snatch—a more complicated lift requiring a more extensive warm-up.
Warming up the soft tissue: The soft tissue is the muscles, tendons, ligaments encased in fascia as well as the joints. This warm up is generally done in two parts: getting the parts moving without load—we do this in our general warm-up—and introducing some light load, 10-30% of our RM, and being more specific in our movement than we were in the general warm-up. We should pay attention to our form, making sure it is perfect. We should also pay attention to how we feel going through the movement: are our joints feeling like they’re working properly? Do they need more general warm-up? Can we attain the movement standards under the lighter load? We should come out of these warm-up sets feeling warmer than we went in. We move the load a little faster than normal and we may spend more time in the stress positions of the lift. When we feel we can execute the lighter lift with precision then we can move up in intensity by increasing the weight.
Raising our core temperature and getting blood flowing: In the second part of our warm-up we’ll increase the load, while lowering the reps and speed of the movement. We should experience an increase on our heart rate as well as our respiration. This combination signals that the muscles are working and using fuel, it also signals that we are reducing the easily available fuel, with the body having to pump blood into the muscles as well as go to aerobic energy production—the use of oxygen. This is kind of like “priming the pump” in an old hand pump water system. Once the pump is primed the energy needs of the muscles, etc. will be met as long as there’s fuel available.
Priming the Nervous System: This last piece starts with executing the lifts perfectly under lighter load and continues to through the working sets. This is the piece that’s a little more esoteric in it’s mechanics. We have to give the nervous system a chance to execute the motor recruitment pattern for the lift. This comes in the form of a recalling what we already know how to do, the movement pattern, and recruiting more motor units to support the lifting of more weight. For instance if our working set is 5×5 at70% we’re primarily re-enforcing the motor pattern, the nervous system is not going to have locate more motor units to move this weight. On the other hand 5×5 at 85% is going to require more recruitment as well as more endurance. We would take longer to prime the nervous system for this session.
As you can see from the table we have different objectives for each lifting session we do—using this 5-3-1, pattern in table 1. The early sessions in the cycle are more about re-enforcing our movement and motor patterns. It’s not much of a strain on the Nervous System. As we move further into the cycle more time is spent on building strength and the ability to use that strength over more repetitions, which requires more work from the nervous system and also drives the pattern deeper.