August 30, 2014

Do You Need to Warm-Up Before Lifting?

It’s commonly taken as gospel that you need to warm-up prior to lifting. The warm-up contains two basic components: a general warm-up to raise core temperature, and a specific warm-up to heighten neural activation. The combination of these procedures is purported to enhance exercise performance. However, while research does seem to support this contention during maximal or near-maximal efforts, studies are lacking as to the effects of warming up during submaximal lifting routines.

To help determine the impact of warming up on a typical bodybuilding-style workout, I recently collaborated with colleagues in Brazil to carry out a controlled study on the topic. Here is an overview of the methodology and findings of the study, as well as its practical implications.

What We Did
Fifteen young men were recruited to participate in the study. Subjects were “recreationally trained” meaning they had limited lifting experience (resistance training for less than a year on average). Each subject performed 4 exercise sessions on separate days (48-72 hours between sessions) using the following different warm-up strategies prior to each workout: a general warm-up; a specific warm-up; a combination general and specific warm-up, or; no warm-up. In the aerobic warm-up subjects performed 10 minutes of light cycling exercise at a speed of 40 km/hr. For the specific warm-up, subjects performed a light set (10 reps at 50% 1RM) of the specific exercise before performance of that exercise. The order of the warm-ups was counterbalanced between subjects as shown in the accompanying figure to ensure that this variable did not unduly influence results. Exercise sessions consisted of 4 sets of the bench press, squat and arm curl at 80% 1RM. All sets were carried out to the point of muscular failure.

What We Found
There were no significant differences between the number of repetitions performed in any of the warm-up conditions nor was their a difference in the fatigue index, which is a formula that assess the decline in number of repetitions across the first and last sets of each exercise. In combination, these findings indicate that the warm-up procedures analyzed in this study had no effect on performance.

Practical Implications
At face value it would appear that a warm-up is pretty much useless prior to submaximal resistance training. Despite the currently held belief that warming up enhances exercise performance, no benefits were seen between either a general warm-up, specific warm-up or combination of the two compared to no warm-up at all. Intuitively this seems to make sense in that the initial repetitions of a submaximal lifts are in effect their own specific warm-up and the need to increase core temperature might be superfluous from a performance standpoint when multiple reps are performed.

When applying these results to practice, however, several factors must be taken into account. First, the subjects in this study were recreationally trained; although they had some experience with resistance training they were in no way highly skilled lifters. It certainly is feasible that those with extensive lifting experience who have highly developed neuromuscular patterns might benefit from even slightly increased neural responses.

Second, you need to take into account the type of exercise performed. To this point, there did seem to be a slight advantage to performing a specific warm-up in the squat (although it did not rise to statistical significance) while there actually seemed to be somewhat of a detriment to the specific warm-up in the biceps curl. Thus, more complex movement patterns would seem to benefit from the “practice effect” of a specific warm-up while this would be of no value during performance of simple exercises.

Third, the absolute amount of weight lifted also must be considered. A good case can be made that a specific warm-up would have more utility for someone benching 400 pounds as opposed to 200 pounds. Even though the “heaviness” of the load would be similar on a relative basis, the neural benefits of doing a lighter set would seem to have greater transfer when lifting the heavier absolute load.

Finally, we did not investigate safety-related issues of warming up — only performance-aspects were assessed. Although no subjects in this study were injured during testing, the sample was too small and the duration of the protocol too short to draw conclusions on the topic. While resistance training with submaximal loads generally has very low risk of injury provided proper form is maintained, there nevertheless exists the possibility that warm-up procedures could reduce the risk even further. This seems especially pertinent when working with high absolute loads.

The take-home message is to consider your own situation when determining whether or not to warm up prior to a submaximal lifting session. Yes, a warm-up does take a bit of time and you might be able to skip the procedure if you are time-pressed without enduring any negative effects on performance. This is particularly valid if you are less experienced at training and/or lifting fairly light loads. On the other hand, if you are a highly experienced trainee lifting heavy absolute loads then there very well might be a benefit to warming-up — this study certainly cannot be used as evidence to the contrary. Also, understand that research only reports the means (i.e. averages) between groups. There were in fact differences between responses whereby some subjects did show a beneficial effects from warming up while others did not. Only through individual experimentation can you determine if a warm-up enhances your own performance. Finally, there are potentially safety issues that were not studied here; a warm-up certainly would not seem to hurt in this regard and possibly could be of some help.

Ribeiro AS, Romanzini M, Schoenfeld BJ, Souza MF, Avelar A, Cyrino ES. Effect of different warm-up procedures on the performance of resistance training exercises. Percept Mot Skills. 2014 Aug;119(1):133-45.


  1. I really enjoy your work.

    Comment by Elena — September 3, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

  2. Hello Brad, I don’t understand what you mean by submaximal lifting.
    The way I learned, there were maximal efforts, referring to the relative intensity of effort of a set, like 100% if you’re going to failure (can’t do another rep) regardless of rep range used, and therefore regardless of absolute intensity (weight on bar), and submaximal training, meaning, you left some reps in the tank. You can have submaximal training with 70% or 90%. For example to do a single with 90% is submaximal. it is not maxing out. So what do you mean by submaximal, if your exercises were going to failure with 80% load? How is it submaximal if you’ve done max effort sets? I really want to understand this. Thank you.

    Comment by Salazar — September 24, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

  3. […] Do You Need to Warm-up Before Lifting? via Brad Schoenfeld […]

    Pingback by Good Fitness Reads 9/28/2014 | adampine.com — September 28, 2014 @ 1:36 am

  4. Thank you! Great study and discussion.

    Comment by Karsten — October 22, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

  5. Salazar- even if a set of 80% is taken to failure the first few repetitions of this set are submaximal. Eg if it takes 8 reps to failure, the first few reps of the set are submaximal

    Comment by Michael Carroll — October 22, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

  6. […] semanas, uno de los referentes mundiales en materia de entrenamiento, Brad Schoefeld, publicaba este curioso post en el que analizaba un estudio científico publicado en Brasil sobre el efecto de diferentes tipos […]

    Pingback by Cuidado al leer los “papers”. | LifeStudio — October 27, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

  7. I think that warm-ups are important, but not quite as vital as everyone thinks. Like you said, doing warmups will not hurt, but it is possible to lift heavy without warming up first if time doesn’t permit.

    When I was starting out, I never did warm ups and saw regular strength gains. Now that I am lifting heavier, I am starting to do warmups.

    Is it necessary? I’ll leave the science to you, but experience says that it doesn’t hurt, so I’ll keep doing it!

    Comment by Mike — January 13, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

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