This may anger many people, but my experience in both sports performance and aerobic versus anaerobic training tells me warmups are overrated.
Warmups don’t prevent injury intra-training, at least in my humble opinion.
It seems counterproductive to tire athletes out with an extended warmup that by the time they’re ready to bench press, squat, or deadlift, they have nothing left to give.
Doesn’t it seem odd to prescribe more volume to a workout with warmups if your goal is injury prevention?
Sometimes, less is more.
But most workout programs usually revolve around some warmup, a main set of exercises, and conclude with a stretching period.
Now when creating these routines, do you ever ask yourself, “Why is it always done in this manner?”
And if your answer is “because it’s always been done this way,” then that’s mind-boggling.
Creating workout programs requires innovation.
Every single detail of your workout must have a why. There must be a benefit.
The main reasons why warmups seem essential to so many are muscle activation, joint lubrication, and mobility.
Sometimes, people feel stiff. Others manage lingering pain or soreness at all times of the day. A five-minute walk on the treadmill or ride on the stationary bike feels like it helps.
These are all good reasons for a warmup but let’s use the squat, for example, to explain why warmups may be futile.
So, a typical squat warmup may involve glute max activation (glute bridge), clamshells, hamstring curls, and calf raises. You may opt to loosen the hips with lunges, fire up your core via a plank or engage the scapula using the banded row.
This is all great to activate and mobilize every muscle involved in the movement pattern of squatting.
But maybe consider focusing on the actual movement by doing the actual movement? It seems less efficient simulating the squat with 10 exercises.
The best way to target all the muscles simultaneously needed in the squat pattern is by practicing the movement unloaded and progressively loading. You squat for fewer reps and trigger the post-activation potentiation of your actual working sets.
Warmups should fall under the umbrella of physical therapy as a prescription for long-term injury prevention.
Have you ever heard of prehabilitation? Instead of rehabilitation, where you rely on a series of exercises to strengthen an area of your body weakened by injury or surgery, you use prehab to fortify yourself and possibly reduce the likelihood of incurring an injury in the first place.
In other words, use warmups to target neglected muscle groups. Oftentimes, these are very small, stabilizer muscles like the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder.
With squatting, the only movement I’d add on extra is the single-arm farmers carry because it’s the singular area of the core (Quadratus Lumborum) that’s not going to be engaged during the squat itself.
Hit those banded, body weight, or light resistance exercises as extra volume for hypertrophy growth. Warmups are great for increasing blood flow and elevating the heart rate to get an athlete ready for training.
What Are Warm-ups Good For?
I’m not saying warmups are completely useless, but it seems counterintuitive towards preventing injury by prescribing extra volume.
In some cases, you’ll see some people overdo their warmups to the point where it has a detrimental effect on their performance. You’re tiring yourself out before the real work begins.
I don’t believe in warmups to help “your glutes fire properly.” If your glutes aren’t firing in the first place, then you wouldn’t be able to walk at all like a normal athlete.
Instead, warmups may be conducive towards increasing firing rate, explosiveness, synchronicity, and overall muscle recruitment.
I believe any speed work, agility training, or live competition needs a warmup period. This is because of the rapid movements, high eccentrics, and change of direction that come along with those scenarios.