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The Ideal Bench Press Warmup

March 31, 2013

How to warm up prior to weight training is often overlooked and over-simplified.  Far too often weight lifters and bodybuilders structure their warmups after endurance athletes; focusing on elevating heart rate, oxygen uptake, and core temperature.  While these aspects of the warm up have their place in resistance training, they should only be considered the start.  There are 4 components of the warmup that should be taken into consideration for optimal weight lifting performance: Local muscle temperature; Fixator and ancillary activation; Movement preparation; and, the Specific warmup.

1. Increase muscle temperature

Increasing local muscle and blood flow is key to resistance training performance.  The anaerobic enzymes within the muscles that produce energy for weight lifting show an increase in activity as muscle temperature rises to the extent of about a 3% increase in activity for every 1 degree increase in muscle temperature (this is also known as the q10 effect).  Secondly, increasing muscle temperature will increase muscular elasticity by reducing viscosity.  Recall that your muscle cells are comprised of proteins embedded in a gel, and the warmer the gel the easier those proteins will flow through it.

2. Activate fixator and ancillary muscles

To successfully perform a bench press, the scapula must effectively be held in a stable position.  If the scapula are not fixed in position muscular compensation will occur such that the load is taken off the pecs, transferred to the anterior deltoids, and impingement of nerves and tendons at the shoulder joint occurs.  A successful warmup will activate the trapezius (especially mid and lower), rhomboids, and serratus anterior.

Middle Trapezius Activations

Lower Trapezius Activations

Serratus Anterior Activations

3. Movement Preparation

Next, a well structured warmup should move to more specific activation of the working musculature, in a movement specific pattern.  In the case of the bench press, explosive pressing movements can be used to increase the neural output to Type II fibers, thus increasing force output.  These activations should be done with low volume and full recovery.


4. Specific Warmup

Finally, a specific warmup should be performed.  This is the “Warmup” most are familiar with, performing 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with progressively increasing submaximal weight.  Jason Cholewa suggests a protocol similar to:

  • 3 x 4 @ 50, 60, 70% 1 RM
  • 2 x 2 @ 75, 80% 1 RM

Enjoy, and happy bench pressing!

Jason Cholewa, Ph.D., CSCS

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