To have a great workout it is necessary to prepare properly as well. What should the beginning of every workout start with? How do you warm up? How many sets and reps should you do? Cardio or no cardio? Stretching or no stretching? These are all questions you might be asking yourself. Read more to learn the truth about what every workout should start with.
There are three main factors to consider before you dive into your workout. They all have to do with the nervous system, and maybe to your surprise, nothing to do with stretching, cardio or doing 100 light reps. We will first give an overview of what the nervous system is, before examining the three most important points for your warm-up. Lastly, we will give some specific examples so you can optimize your workout preparation!
The Nervous System
The nervous system is one of the main regulatory systems within the body. It controls both our internal and external environments through its receptors. Not only is it the center of our mind and thoughts, but also an important part of maintaining homeostasis. The nervous system is made up of organs, such as the brain, spinal cord and nerves. These contain different kinds of tissues like blood and connective tissues, which are muscles (Seer, 2022).
Building muscle and strength depends just as much on exercising the nervous system as your muscles.
In a study conducted by Nathaniel Jenkins and his colleagues, they found how lifting heavier weights improves the electrical signaling from the brain to the muscles. The nervous system is responsible for this signaling. Thus, increases the strength of the muscles compared to light-weight training. As soon as the muscles receive electrical signals from the brain, they contract.
In the study, Jenkins further proved that the muscles’ ability to contract increased during heavier loads.
Which is something we are going to consider while inquiring into how to optimally warm-up before exercising. This proves the importance of always questioning yourself and others if you want to do something intelligently and optimally, even working out in the gym.
What the Beginning of Every Workout Should Start With
Now, let’s move on to the training ground. There are three main factors the beginning of every workout should start with. These include neurological intensity and neurological coordination, as well as your hormones & increasing blood flow. Let’s take a look at each factor separately.
The first step we want to take before beginning a workout is to make sure our nervous system is able to efficiently contract the muscles we are going to train.
The nervous system is not able to make strong contractions at the very beginning. Therefore we need to apply tension to our muscles so that the neurons can work more effectively. Our nervous system needs some stimulation to increase the intensity of the contractions it makes.
In medical terms, this is called potentiation. What happens is that the power of the muscles increases because of a previous contraction (Lorenz, 2011).
To illustrate this further, we can take your car as an example. Imagine you are in the middle of the winter, and the car is parked outside. You can’t just go in there, start the car, and go drifting. The engine and the car have to heat up first, and the snow needs to melt, before you can get in and put the pedal to the metal.
Drifting with your car and having a high-intensity workout are similar, at least from the perspective of the nervous system. It needs some preparation before it’s able to go full force.
Potentiating your nervous system can be done through isometronic exercises for the muscles you are intending to train. Additionally, you can perform a few warm-up sets of the exercise you are planning to do with lighter loads.
Isometrics vs. Isometronics
Do not mistake isometronic exercises for isometric exercises, there is a difference between those two. In an isometric exercise we are squeezing the muscle, more often than not, in the shortened position, to create tension. This can be done with or without resistance. For instance in a leg extension for quads, or high pulley biceps curl for biceps. There is no movement, just squeezing.
Isometronics however, are done by contracting your muscles as hard as you can against a resistance that you can’t move.
It can be done at any portion of the repetition; lengthened, shortened or in the middle. In the same way as with isometrics, there is no movement here. Only squeezing against a resistance that is too heavy for you to move.
Remember the study by Jenkins above? His study showcased how heavier loads increase the ability of the nervous system to contract muscles.
A stable movement is preferred for isometrics, as an unstable exercise obviously could be problematic with such heavy loads. Pick a stable exercise, choose a load that you cannot fully complete, and push against it until you’re almost at the end of the movement. Contract for 3-6 seconds, and repeat a few times. However many you feel is necessary, even once can be good enough. Leg Extensions for quads are great for isometrics, and Cable Fly’s for the chest.
Another way to potentiate your nervous system for a workout is to perform a few warm-up repetitions for the exercise you are intending to do.
Choose a load that you can perform fairly easily, and do a few sets, with lower repetitions than what you are intending your working set to be. Means, if your working set is 8-10 reps, do warm-up sets of 3-5 repetitions. The lower repetitions your working sets are, the more warm-up sets we usually want to do.
Warm-up sets are not necessary for every exercise. A few of them for the first exercise of the muscle(s) you are going to train is usually sufficient. More advanced movements such as squats and deadlifts might require more warm-up sets than Biceps Curls or Triceps Pulldowns.
Can you perform both isometrics and warm-up sets? Yes, most definitely. There are no set guidelines for anything, and you have to constantly experiment to see what the beginning of every workout should start with for you. An example of mixing these up for the chest would be to do 1 isometric of Cable Fly, before moving on to a couple of warm-up sets.
Secondly, we want to focus on neurological coordination when examining what the beginning of every workout should start with. It means to prepare the body for a specific muscular movement, or in medical terms, motor pattern. Consequently, choosing a light load of the exercise that you are preparing to do, won’t fatigue your muscles. Thereby allowing you to practice the motor pattern perfectly.
Let us take an example to portray this more clearly. If you have been sitting behind the desk making calls all day, do you think your body is instantly ready for some heavy rowing? Obviously not. Thus, it is important for your nervous system to adapt to the movement you are about to perform, so it can contract and fire efficiently.
Hormones and Blood Flow
Lastly, we want to discuss our hormones and blood flow when it comes to workout preparation. It is vital to remember that the body is a complex organism and that everything internally and externally has to work in tandem to function properly. Very often this is forgotten when it comes to bodybuilding, even though it is obvious when you put it in perspective.
An increase in blood flow will happen as you start moving the body and pushing some resistance. In turn, this will help the nutrients move faster in your body for increased energy. Additionally, by clearing metabolic waste. These are substances left in the body that are toxic and cannot be used for energy, and therefore need to be cleared.
Furthermore, as we begin our warm-up sets or isometrics, our hormones such as the “stress” hormone, cortisol, will start releasing. Catecholamines are also released into the body when undergoing physical or even emotional stress. They include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. What we know as adrenaline is actually epinephrine (Medlineplus, 2022).
Why are these hormones so important? Not only does the release of hormones help the fatty acids in our body to be used as fuel, but also helps give us more mental focus and sharpness for those heavy sets.
Examples of Workout Warm-Ups
To hammer the point home, let’s look at some specific examples of what the beginning of every workout should start with. Suppose your first exercise is Incline Dumbbell Chest Presses, 4 x 8-10, (4-0-1-0), 60s rest. Read THIS ARTICLE if you are unsure of how to read the sets and tempo.
A1) Cable Fly’s 2 x 1, (1-0-6-1), 45s rest. We chose Cable Fly because it is a much more stable exercise compared to the Dumbbell Press.
A1) Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 3-6, (3-0-1-0), 45s rest.
Isometronics and Repetitions:
A1) Cable Fly’s 1 x 1, (1-0-6-1), 45s rest.
B1) Incline Dumbbell Press 2 x 3-6, (3-0-1-0), 45s rest.
Finally, we have explored what the beginning of every workout should start with. Maybe, to your surprise, it has nothing to do with stretching, cardio, or some other hocus pocus. We have learned about the most important factor to focus on when preparing for high intensity workouts. Specifically, getting the nervous system ready to fire. We do that by focusing on intensity, coordination, the hormones and blood flow. Thus, our nervous system will be ready to contract those muscles efficiently.
Thank you for reading our article!
– Terry Asher