How Should Powerlifters Warm Up?
A quick YouTube search for Best Squat/Bench/Deadlift Warm-Up routine will yield thousands of results, all claiming to be the perfect solution for you. A quick glance around the gym on any given day will likely result in you noticing tons of different strategies being employed with each person claiming that this new movement completely changed the game for them.
With so many strategies, movements, mobility implements, and thought processes floating around and all claiming to be the be-all and end-all solutions, how the hell are you supposed to figure out what to do to warm-up?
Well, I won’t claim to have the solution. Creating YOUR perfect warm-up routine is far too individual of a process to take a one size fits all approach. This article isn’t another “Perfect Warm-Up Routine,” but rather a look at the strategies that should be used to construct the perfect warm-up for you. Let’s talk about what the goal of a good warm-up routine should be. We’ll start general and get more specific as we go.
Goal #1: Increase Body Temperature and Blood Flow
Regardless of the body part being trained, this is an essential part of any good warm-up. Many lifters accomplish this with a few minutes of cardio before beginning resistance training, and this is a solid approach. Others will do this through keeping a high pace through the mobility and activation movements that we’ll get into in a bit. This too can be a great approach, especially in warmer environments. A few things to take into account when deciding if you want to hop on the spin bike or just move around a bit are listed below:
- Time: Not a flashy consideration by any means, but realistically if you’re in a time crunch you can probably get by without the few minutes of cardio if the rest of your warm-up routine is solid, and this is a much better option than skipping the warm-up altogether.
- Temperature: On colder days, some light cardio can become a necessity to get your blood pumping, but may not be necessary on warmer days.
- Goals: If you’re looking to lose weight or increase your cardiovascular fitness, then adding a few minutes of cardio into your warm-up kills two birds with one stone and is a great option! Realistically, 5 minutes of light cardio a day isn’t going to kill your bulk either but it’s a little easier to get motivated if for cardio if you’re in a cut anyway.
- Fitness Level: Be honest with yourself here. While pretty much everyone can tolerate a few minutes on the bike, going HAM on the stair stepper for 20 minutes before a squat workout can definitely negatively impact strength levels. If your main goal is strength, keep that in mind and avoid overdoing it on cardio before your main strength workout.
Goal #2: Increase ROM According to the Movement Being Trained
Let me say that again: we’re looking to increase ROM according to the movement being trained. Keep your end-goal in mind here. As powerlifters, this goal is usually to reach the ROM requirements we want to hit in competition.
For squat, this means we need the ankle and hip mobility required to hit depth as well as the shoulder mobility required to obtain good bar position.
For bench, this means the thoracic spine mobility required to maintain a good arch, the shoulder mobility required to maintain retracted and depressed scapulae throughout the movement and to allow the bar to reach the chest.
For deadlifts, this requires the hip mobility to reach the bar in proper positioning. For conventional pullers you’ll likely be focusing on lengthening the hamstrings enough to be able to get down to the bar with a relatively flat back. For sumo pullers this means opening up the hips to allow you to essentially drive your pelvis into the bar.
There might be some exceptions or lifter-specific requirements not listed here, but for the vast majority of people that’s about it. Of course, some extra mobility work (within reason) likely won’t be a detriment to your training.
My point is simply that you should keep your training session for the day in mind and prioritize mobility work that will allow you to best complete this training.
Goal #3: Stabilizing and “Activating”
While the idea of “activating” muscles is definitely overplayed, there is something to it. I say it’s overplayed because it’s not like your glutes will not be activated during a squat if you don’t do a million hip thrusts before squatting. That said, there is merit to performing exercises that reinforce cues you need to work on. Something like a hip circle squat isn’t going to magically “turn on” you abductors, but it will remind you to “root” your feet into the floor and drive the knees out.
This reminder should then translate over to your main squat workout. A majority of activation exercises have a place in someone’s warm-up for sure, but the difficulty can come in determining which exercises have a place in YOUR warm-up routine. If you did every single activation exercise you see on Instagram you’d never even make it to your main barbell work.
So, with that, I highly suggest performing maybe 2-5 exercises that focus on areas you have identified issues with previously. Prioritize exercises that force you to correctly work through movement patterns that you tend to perform incorrectly during your actual barbell work.
A few more things to note before we’re done:
- Static stretching: Static stretching can be detrimental to a powerlifter, as it causes a reduction in the stretch reflex. This results in decreased force output and can even lead to an increased injury risk. This isn’t to say static stretching has absolutely no place in a warm-up, as stretching antagonistic muscles (muscles that pull against the direction you’re trying to produce force) and tight muscles limiting ROM may have some place. Something similar to stretching the hip flexors before squat is a common practice that has a lot of merit. However, you should avoid stretching any primary movers that you plan to train that day.
- Increasing neural activity, oxygen delivery, joint lubrication, etc: All of these things can and will happen during a warm-up. However, despite what you may see promoted on Instagram, you don’t need any special equipment or routine to do this. In fact, you likely don’t even need to do any of what I talked about in this article. This will happen naturally throughout your warm-up sets of your main exercise. In fact, your entire warm-up routine should essentially just be an effort to prepare yourself to be able to properly execute your warm-up sets. This is where most of the benefits of a good warm-up will truly occur.
Head over to our Instagram and let us know if you want us to go in depth on any specific mobility issues, stabilization drills, or other aspects of warming up or if you have any other questions!