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Effective Strength Training Warm-Up Techniques

Warming up before strength training increases blood flow, activates muscles, increases mobility, and helps prevent injury.

11 min readNovember 2nd, 2023

The science behind strength training warm-up techniques has advanced significantly in recent years. What you learned in gym class or on the sports field may not be the best way to improve mobility, enhance performance, and prevent injuries during a strength session.

In this article, I'll cover the latest science on warming up before lifting weights, its benefits, and the best strength training warm-ups for every strength workout.

What is the Purpose of a Strength Warmup?

Warming up before strength training serves multiple functions and is critically important for maximizing performance and reducing injury risk for strength training.

Increase Blood Flow and Body Temperature

The first goal of a strength training warmup is to raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles. By participating in light cardio, dynamic stretches, or activation work, you will increase your heart rate and get blood flowing to your muscles, preparing them for the work ahead.

Targeted Muscle Activation

The most crucial reason you should warm up before every strength session is to achieve targeted muscle activation. It's not enough to hop on the treadmill for five minutes, do some half-hearted windmills with your arms, and launch into your workout.

Your warmup should be as targeted and strategic as the rest of your training program. What does that look like in practice?

Simply put, your warmup should mirror the movements in your workout as closely as possible at much lighter loads.

So, if the first exercise in your workout is a barbell back squat, your warm-up should include bodyweight squats or at least one set with just the bar.

If there isn't a perfectly correlated bodyweight exercise, perform exercises in your warmup that at least target the same muscles in similar movement patterns.

A good example would be glute bridges to warm up for any deadlift variation.

Getting warm is important, but activating the muscles, we will upon later in the workout is crucial for optimizing your strength gains and preventing injury.

Increase Mobility

Mobility and flexibility are often confused.

Flexibility refers to a tissue's ability to passively stretch. Mobility is a joint's ability to move through a full range of motion.

We don't necessarily want flexible muscles before we strength train because static stretching actually reduces the muscle's ability to contact efficiently. We do, however, need mobile lubricated joints to train our muscles through the full range of motion, which is another function of your strength training warmup.

Technique Training

In the weight room, you need to approach every single movement with equal dedication and attention, and that focus starts with your warm-up sets. All too often, I see clients try to breeze through their warmup, clearly not paying attention, to check a box.

Your warmup isn't a box to be checked–it's a critical on-ramp to prepare your body for safe and effective movement.

Whether you're performing 20 squats with your bodyweight or 10 reps with just the bar, your set-up, step-out, and execution should be identical.

Every rep is an opportunity to drill down on perfect form, which makes it easier to lift heavy weights and trains your nervous system on that exercise. Sloppy or inattentive reps are a waste of time and can increase your risk of injury if you're not serious about form until you have heavy weight on the bar.

Prepare Mentally

A proper warmup gives you time to dial in your mental game. Heavy strength training is a grind and requires courage and grit. Putting weight on the bar and walking out with it is not easy.

Your warmup is your opportunity to prepare your body for the lift ahead, get your head right, and build your confidence with perfect form under lighter loads.

Then, when it's time to move real weight, your body and mind are ready.

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Understanding the Essential Components of a Strength Warmup

Now we're clear on the purpose of a strength training warm-up, let's move on to its individual components. While I provide lots of detail on each component, you only need to spend 5-10 minutes total to complete an effective warm-up.

Easy Cardio

Cardio is the most straightforward warm-up component, and you should spend the least time on it. Anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes is adequate for most people, and you want to keep the intensity low.

Walking, jogging, biking, or rowing are all good options, depending on your fitness level. You just want to elevate your heart rate, you don't want to be sweating profusely.

Targeted Muscle Activation

The true star of this show is the targeted muscle activation work.

Targeting a muscle is a fancy way of saying turning it on. We target muscle each time we initiate voluntary movement, and it relies on a complex web of neuromuscular control and the mind-muscle connection.

If you've ever been in a group close and been told to 'squeeze your glutes" or "feel the burn," you've intentionally activated a muscle.

Muscle activation work needs to closely mirror the lifts you have planned for the day and should be done in a slow and controlled fashion. Really focus on the movement and your form, visualize what you're doing, and visualize that particular muscle firing with each rep.

Focus on executing perfect form and perform a full body scan during your warm-up to assess for any aches or pains that may need additional attention.

Dynamic Stretching

Most static stretches are a terrible choice to include before strength training, and we'll cover that later.

If you're feeling stiff or are trying to increase your mobility, you can opt to include a few dynamic stretches in your lifting warmup.

Dynamic stretches involve slower controlled movement performed through a full range of motion at a particular joint or joints. They help raise your heart rate and body temp, prime your nervous system for movement, and help decrease any stiffness you may be feeling.

Dynamic stretches are a great addition to include after cardio and before your activation work and include moves like arm circles, leg swings, lunges, the inchworm, and torso twists.

Other Popular Strength Warm-up Components

The following exercises are either completely contraindicated in a strength warmup or don't have enough evidence to support their use. But I do want to note that neither is dangerous.

Instead, if you foam roll or static stretch before your strength day, you likely won't improve your performance (and may worsen it), but you're not going to hurt yourself.

Foam Rolling

Despite its acceptance in sports and conditioning, CrossFit, and the lifting world at large, the evidence supporting foam rolling (FR) before or after lifting is unimpressive.

Some studies show minor improvements in sprinting speed, pain perception, muscle soreness, and short-term flexibility when foam rolling is used in a warmup. While other studies show those effects to be negligible or non-existent.

Foam rolling before a strength session does not help with strength training performance, long-term flexibility, or jump height. Due to a lack of data, we cannot confidently say that it reliably reduces your risk of injury, either.

The truth is that foam rolling's efficacy for sports performance is mostly speculative, is based purely on theory, and is therefore wholly optional.

As with all sports science, if it feels good to you and you don't care that there is no evidence to support it, keep doing it. As long as you know, it's not doing anything magical for you. Because there are psychological and comforting benefits to loads of interventions that are not evidence-based.

Studying every question under perfect laboratory conditions is impossible, and anecdotal evidence does count for something when it comes to your body.

However, if you're looking for a warm-up that has been proven to be effective or you're looking to save on time (and pain), you can put the foam roller down.

Static Stretching

This one is less nuanced, as we know that static stretching before strength training is a bad idea.

That's because our muscles contract via overlapping units via a process called the Sliding Filament Model of Muscle Contraction.

I'll spare you the exercise physiology lecture, all you need to know is that for this system to work optimally, these muscle units must overlap.

If they're too far overlapped, such as when the muscle is super tight, muscle contraction cannot function maximally. If they're too far apart, such as a stretched muscle, they also won't fire properly.

So, if we perform a bunch of static stretches before lifting weights, we have significantly reduced our muscle's capacity to contract before we even start our workout.

Skip the static stretches and opt for targeted muscle activation work and dynamic stretches instead.

A Crucial Note on Injury Prevention

It's important to pause here and discuss injury prevention before moving on. There is much misinformation about injury prevention and exercise, particularly how much control we have over the process.

In truth, it is impossible to completely prevent an injury no matter how you train, how fit you are, or what type of exercises you do.

Injuries happen due to a complex web of factors that are different for everyone. Their causes are dynamic; therefore, no one thing will prevent injuries in everyone 100% of the time.

I know, I know–major buzzkill.

But here's why it matters. Loads of people avoid strength training because they fear getting hurt, especially women and older adults. However, I would argue that those two populations would benefit most from heavy strength training.

So here's the most crucial fact: the weakness, frailness, instability, pain, dysfunction, and muscle and bone loss that come from avoiding heavy strength training is more dangerous than any single exercise could ever be.

So, how do we avoid injury as much as possible while lifting weights and in daily life?

Injuries happen when the load applied to our body exceeds our capacity. So the very best thing you can do to avoid injury is:

  1. Use appropriate loads
  2. Build your work capacity

Using appropriate loads requires smart programming, the application of good form, and leaving your ego at the door. If you're new to strength training, you will want to invest in an experienced strength coach who can teach you how to perform movement patterns safely and effectively.

Building your work capacity involves strategically building a foundation of fitness that will increase your physical resilience and strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, increasing your resistance to injury.

Strength Training Warm-ups for Every Workout

Now we know the why and the how of warming up before lifting weights, we can get into the fun stuff: programming.

Remember that your exercise program must be designed for you, so this is just a starting point. Your warm-up will also vary a bit from day to day. Sometimes, you may feel stiffer and need more cardio, different stretches, or more activation work to feel prepared for movement.

There is no dogma here, just a scientific framework for success that you must tinker around with to find what prepares you best for lifting.

Also important to note is that if you have mobility or flexibility issues like tight hamstrings or creaky shoulders, you'll likely want to work those mobility exercises into every workout warm-up, regardless of what you're training that day.

Increasing mobility takes a lot of time and consistent dedication, so it's not something you can blow off and expect to improve magically.

Push Day Warm-up

3-10 min easy cardio of choice

Shoulder breakers 20 reps 2-3 sets

Banded internal rotation 15 reps 2-3 sets

Banded external rotation 15 reps 2-3 sets

Light single-arm bench press 10 reps each side 2-3 sets

Pull Day Warm-up

3-10 min easy cardio of choice

Ys Ts Ws 20 reps each letter 2 sets

Glute bridges 30 reps 2-3 sets

Hi to low banded row 15 reps each side 2-3 sets

Leg Day Warm-up

3-10 min easy cardio of choice

Bodyweight squats 15 reps 2-3 sets

Walking lunges 10 yards 2-3 sets

Torso twists 20 reps 2-3 sets

Bear crawls 10 yards 2-3 sets

Total Body Warm-up

3-10 min easy cardio of choice

Bodyweight squats 15 reps 2-3 sets

Glute bridge walkout 12 reps 2-3 sets

Walking lunges 10 yards 2-3 sets

Push-ups 10-15 reps 2-3 sets

Banded rows 10-15 reps 2-3 sets

What About a Cooldown?

Warming up is essential, but what about cooling down after exercise?

While the cooldown is less critical than the warmup, you're losing out on a big opportunity to increase your flexibility and mobility if you skip it.

It also feels better, especially after a high-intensity workout, to ramp back to homeostasis rather than going from 100 to 0.

Take at least 5 minutes at the end of every workout to stretch out your tight areas and let your heart rate fall back to normal.

Bottom Line

Warming up before exercise is essential, and strength training is no exception. You can prepare for any strength workout in just 5-10 minutes, and it will raise your body temperature and heart rate and activate the muscles you'll use in the workout.

A well-programmed strength warm-up will also increase your mobility, allow you to practice the exercise technique, and help you dial in mentally before your lift.

The three crucial components of a strength warm-up are light cardio, targeted muscle activation, and dynamic stretches. You should also take 5 minutes to cool down at the end of each session to stretch and let your body return to baseline.

Strength Training Warm-up FAQs

What is the purpose of warming up before strength training?

A proper strength training warm-up will:

  • Increase blood flow and body temperature
  • Activate targeted muscle groups
  • Increase your mobility
  • Allow technique practice
  • Help you dial in mentally

How long should a warm-up for strength training last?

A thorough warm-up can take as little as 5-10 minutes. Your warm-up length will depend on your training status, injury history, soreness level, etc.

Is it necessary to warm up before every strength training session?

Yes, everyone must incorporate some kind of warm-up before lifting weights.

Can a warm-up routine help prevent injuries during strength training?

While it's impossible to prevent injuries completely, a thorough warm-up will definitely lower your injury risk when lifting weights.

More Strength Training Advice from GymBird Experts


Frontiers in Physiology. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery.

Sports Medicine. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications.

Sports Medicine. Warm up I: potential mechanisms and the effects of passive warm up on exercise performance.
Sports Medicine. Do We Need a Cooldown After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response.