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How to Warmup and Stretch For Powerlifting

Throughout human history, people have tested their strength. Weightlifting competitions started out as informal affairs, with people lifting things like rocks, logs, barrels, and even cattle!

Stone lifting was especially popular, and many regions and countries have famous stones that have been used for centuries, such as the Dinnie stones in Scotland and the Husafell stone in Iceland.

Gradually, strength sports became more regulated, and things like Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and strongman emerged.

For many years, Olympic weightlifting was the most widespread and popular strength sport. Olympic lifting revolves around two lifts – the clean and jerk and the snatch. Unfortunately, both of these lifts are highly technical and hard to learn.

As a response to Olympic lifting, the sport of powerlifting was born. In powerlifting, athletes test their strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. These exercises are well-known in most gyms and much easier to learn than snatches and clean and jerks. While there are specialist powerlifting gyms, you can train for powerlifting in a commercial gym, as no specialist equipment is required.

powerliftingIn powerlifting, each competitor gets three attempts per lift, and their best effort for each is added together to make their total. The lifter with the highest total is the winner. Needless to say, this involves lifting very heavy weights.

Heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are hard on your muscles and joints. That means warming up is essential.

A proper warm-up will reduce your risk of injury and also improve your performance so that you can lift even more weight.

In this article, we’re going to explain how to warm up and provide you with some specific powerlifting warm-ups, one for each lift.

Not a powerlifter? Don’t worry; you can still use this information to get your body and mind ready for your strength training workouts. In fact, you’ll probably find that even general workouts are more productive after a proper warm-up.

How to Warm-Up and Stretch For Power Lifting

General Warm-ups

A good warm-up starts with increasing your core temperature. This is especially important if you have been sedentary for the last few hours. A general warm-up gets your body up and moving and your blood pumping around your body.

The easiest way to achieve this goal is to do some light cardio for 5-10 minutes. Jumping rope, rowing, or riding an exercise bike are all good options. However, your cardio activity should match the lift you are about to do. Riding an exercise bike would not be a good warm-up for the bench press. Instead, choose an activity that directly affects the muscles and joints you’re about to use.

For Example

  • Squat – exercise bike, stepper, walking/jogging
  • Bench press – rower, assault bike, elliptical
  • Deadlift – rowing machine, elliptical

By the end of your general warm-up, you should feel warm, slightly out of breath, but not tired. This is not meant to be a workout! Warm-up for as long as it takes to feel loose and warm, but not so long as to waste valuable energy.

Mobility

cyclingOnce you’ve raised your core temperature, it’s time to move onto some joint mobility exercises. Joint mobility exercises improve your range of motion so you can move more easily. This part of your warm-up increases the production of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid lubricates and nourishes your joints.

Your general warm-up helps increase synovial fluid production, but most cardio exercises don’t take your joints through a full range of motion. Cycling, for example, only moves your hips and knees through about 30-40 degrees.

Joint mobility exercises take your joints through a much more extensive range of motion so that they’re fully prepared for the lifts you are about to perform.

Good Joint Mobility Exercises

  • Shallow progressing to deeper bodyweight squats and lunges
  • Romanian deadlifts without weights
  • Waist twists and side bends
  • Shoulder shrugs and rolls
  • Bench presses and pec flyes without weights
  • Overhead presses/lat pulldowns without weights

15-20 reps of 2-3 mobility exercises should be enough to lubricate your joints.

Dynamic Stretching

stretchingThere are two main types of stretching – static stretches and dynamic stretches. Static stretches are a great way to increase flexibility, but they also relax your muscles. That’s the last thing you want before lifting heavy weights.

In contrast, dynamic stretches involve movement, and while they provide less of a stretch, they won’t put your muscles to sleep. They’re the ideal choice for powerlifting warm-ups.

Dynamic stretches involve moving into and then out of a stretched position. The stretch is never held for more than a second or so. Your movements should be smooth and rhythmic and never forced, as moving too fast could result in injury.

Examples of Dynamic Stretches

  • Squats and lunges
  • Forward leg swings – like kicking a soccer ball
  • Hip hinges
  • Side bends and waist twist
  • Chest flyes

Dynamic stretches and joint mobility exercises often overlap. That’s because dynamic stretches also involve a large but controlled range of motion. For example, shallow progressing to deeper squats and lunges will mobilize your hips, knees, and ankles while also dynamically stretching your lower body muscles.

Muscle Activation

squatMuscle activation exercises are designed to fire up your muscles and nervous system so that you can lift more weight.

They increase neurological efficiency and get your muscles working correctly.

Most muscle activation exercises mirror the exercise you are about to do but are done explosively. Examples include:

  • Squat –> vertical squat jumps, box jumps
  • Bench press –> plyometric push-ups, medicine ball chest pass throws
  • Deadlift –> kettlebell swings, standing long jumps

Again, it’s important not to turn muscle activation exercises into a workout. Just a few reps are all that’s needed, and your set should end well before fatigue sets in. 2-3 sets should suffice. After all, the aim is to fire up your muscles and not wear them out!

Ramped Sets

The last part of your powerlifting lifting warm-up is the most specific – ramped sets. For this warm-up component, you do several sets of your chosen exercise, increasing the weight set by set. This helps acclimate your muscles to the weight you are going to lift. Without these ramped sets, your training or competition weights would feel much heavier.

Let’s say you are going to start your workout with squats, and your first heavy set is five reps with 120kg. Your ramped sets would look something like this:

  • 20kg (empty bar) x 10 reps
  • 60kg x 8 reps
  • 80kg x 5 reps
  • 100kg x 2 reps
  • 120kg x 5 reps (first work set)

The heavier the weight you’re going to lift, the more ramped sets you’ll need to reach it. Note that as the weight increases, the reps decrease. This ensures you get comfortable with the load without wasting energy by doing too many reps.

Get even more from these ramped sets by performing each rep perfectly. Use them as an opportunity to practice your technique and build your confidence.

Specific Warm-Ups for Each Lift

Armed with this information, you should have no problem putting your own powerlifting warm-ups together.

How long should your warm-up take?

how longAdjust the length of your warm-up according to how you feel and how hard you are about to train. A powerlifting warm-up can be as short as 10-15 minutes, or 30 minutes or more. Don’t spend any more time or energy on your warm-up than you need to, but also don’t shortchange yourself by cutting it short.

Here are some example warm-ups – one per lift – so you can see how all these components fit together. Use them as the basis for your warm-ups, but then adapt them based on your own needs.

Squat

  1. Exercise bike – 5-10 minutes
  2. Shallow progressing to deeper squats x 15 reps
  3. Reverse lunges/calf stretch x 10 reps per leg
  4. Chest flyes – no weight x 15 reps
  5. Box jumps – 3 sets x 5 reps
  6. 2-6 ramped sets

Bench Press

  1. Assault bike or elliptical – 5-10 minutes
  2. Bench press – no weights x 15 reps
  3. Chest flyes – no weight x 15 reps
  4. Band pull-aparts – 3 sets x 10 reps
  5. Plyo push-ups – 3 sets x 5 reps
  6. 2-6 ramped sets

Deadlift

  1. Rower or assault bike – 5-10 minutes
  2. Romanian deadlift – no weight x 15 reps
  3. Shallow progressing to deeper squats x 15 reps
  4. Side bends and waist twists x 15 reps each
  5. Kettlebell swings – 3 sets x 10 reps
  6. 2-6 ramped sets

Bottom Line

A good workout starts with a proper warm-up. While you COULD just jump into your first set with little or no preparation, and doing so could save you a lot of time, this is NOT recommended.

While skipping your warm-up could save you 15 minutes or more per workout, it could actually cost you months because of an otherwise avoidable injury. That same 15 minutes could also end up costing you even longer, as your workouts won’t be as productive as they could otherwise have been.

If you want to perform at your best and keep your risk of injury to a minimum, you MUST warm-up!

That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to prepare your body for your powerlifting workouts. Many lifters just go through the motions, spend too long warming up, do too much static stretching, or otherwise waste their time and energy on an unproductive warm-up.

Ultimately, a proper warm-up will add a lot to your workout and allow you to train harder and longer than without one. And as for the extra time warming up takes, if you are in a rush, it’s better to cut back on your workout than on your warm-up. It’s THAT important!

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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