A warm-up is a preliminary exercise performed prior to a training session or sport practice in order to prepare the athlete both physically and mentally, and to reduce injury risk.
A warm-up fits in to one of two categories:
The main purpose of a general warm-up is to increase blood flow and core body temperature. These exercises are non-specific and are typically centered around light aerobic activity (i.e., running, jumping, rowing, and biking). Stretching and mobility drills can also fall into this category but should be specific to the needs of the athlete and shouldn’t necessarily be your priority in a general warm-up.
On the other hand, specific warm-ups include specific exercises that mimic the sport or activity. This includes throwing a baseball or football, swinging a golf club, or squatting at increasing loads to increase the muscular activity specific to the training session.
A good warm-up protocol is different depending on the sport, experience level, and the individual needs of the athlete. Some sports may need to spend more or less time focusing on general warm-ups compared to others. For example, a weightlifter may spend additional time performing mobility drills compared to a powerlifter. A sprinter may need to more time performing jumping exercises than a distance runner. This will also depend on the training session for the day (upper or lower body training), as well as the individual needs for that athlete. Most evidence showing positive improvements from general warm-ups are in sprinting, running, and jumping athletes. Whether or not these performance benefits can be seen in strength athletes is still relatively unknown.
There’s nothing wrong with performing a general warm-up but it should be short in duration and as specific as possible to the training for that day. Spending 30 minutes foam-rolling, stretching, and “activation’ drills” is not going to help and can even be detrimental is some cases.
Here’s three general rules to follow when performing a warm-up or creating a warm-up protocol for your powerlifting athlete:
If you’re spending half your time in the gym training on a stationary bike, stretching, foam rolling and doing random mobility drills, you’re doing too much. For one you’re probably spending an unnecessary amount of time in the gym when you could be using that time doing something more productive, like the workout itself. Second, an excessive warm-up could generate nonfunctional fatigue and decrease performance where it actually matters. Keeping warm-ups around 10-20 minutes is probably fine for most powerlifting athletes, and this should include the general and specific warm-up.
If you’re a powerlifter, doing a few mobility drills prior to training is fine if mobility is in fact an issue. If you’re having trouble hitting depth on squats due to limited ankle mobility, adding an ankle mobility drill prior to your warm-up is warranted. However, if ankle mobility isn’t an issue and you’re hitting depth just fine then you’re wasting time.
The specific muscles groups that’ll be used during the training session or physical activity is more important than riding a stationary bicycle. Additionally, a good warm-up should prioritize specific movements for your sport or training session for that day. If you have an upper body training session, then your warm-ups should prioritize the upper body. There’s no reason to be performing excessive lower body warm-ups if you’re only using the upper body. The same holds true for track athletes.
While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with stretching in your warm-up, it COULD hinder performance although there seems to be good evidence to argue both sides. While it may not hinder performance as much as we once thought, stretching should be about what it is rather than what it’s not, and it doesn’t seem to really improve performance either.
If an elite athlete has been performing the same warm-up routine for years, trying to have them switch this routine especially right before a big event could be detrimental to their performance from a psychological standpoint. In that case, it’s probably best to leave it alone.