Two things to know going into this: 

  • You gotta do the damn warm-up before the workout. We’re talking weight training here, obviously. Nobody cares about Pilates or some equally boring activity. Anywho. Coming into the gym and going straight into your working set is something out of the Middle Ages. It’s silly. You need to increase your core body temperature, improve your range of motion, and decrease muscle stiffness first. 

  • Warm-up of most people consists of 5-10 minutes of low-moderate intensity cardio and 5-10 minutes of foam rolling/dynamic or static stretching. Foam rolling, by the way, ​​is the goofiest-looking shit ever — spikes, different colors, shapes, sizes, and densities. Can you explain this?

And I’d argue that you don’t need any of that in your warm-up. You definitely don’t need static stretching where you stretch your muscle for about 30 seconds as it has negative effects on subsequent strength performances.

And, as a recent systematic review with meta-analysis found, you don’t need foam rolling too because it pretty much does absolutely fuck all. 

The study looked at 38 studies comparing the effects of stretching and foam rolling with several other interventions — walking, vibration, cycling, calisthenics, strength training, electrical stimulation, heat package passive warm-up, and cryotherapy — on a range of motion (ROM) improvements:

Foam rolling and stretching do not provide superior acute flexibility and stiffness improvements compared to any other warm-up intervention: A systematic review with meta-analysis

The researchers found no significant difference between stretching or foam rolling and any other intervention with regard to acute effects on ROM or stiffness.

They concluded that:

For coaches or therapists who are aiming to acutely increase flexibility or decrease stiffness, it seems there is no need to specifically or exclusively perform foam rolling or stretching.

Here’s my take regarding this goofy-looking cylinder aka foam roller: It’s pretty stupid and it makes your workout take longer. I could go on dissing foam rolling for several more hours but I’ll spare you the rant. 

So fuck static stretching and fuck foam rolling. A temporary improvement in ROM that you get from it isn’t specific to foam rolling and stretching. Damn, this meta-analysis of 11 studies found that strength training itself is as effective as static stretching for improving ROM.

And that’s how I recommend my clients to warm up — by lifting the damn weights. The best warm-up will be the one that mimics the upcoming task — weight lifting, in this case — the closest.

Performing full ROM exercises themselves, say, deep squats, are dynamic stretches. You also get the same temporary increase in ROM that you get from stretching or foam rolling. But in less time. So unless you have serious mobility issues or your sport requires extreme flexibility, there’s no need to do anything special.

My approach is to do as little as needed to warm up and be ready to handle heavy weights. If I’m planning to start my workout with a leg press of 100kg/220lb, I’m gonna do a basic loading pyramid where I use a weight acclimation approach where I start with a lighter weight for higher reps and then up the weight while lowering the reps for 3 sets

  • The first warm-up set is with 50% of my working weight for 10 reps. Then I rest for 1 minute. 
  • The second warm-up set is with 70% of my working weight for 4 reps. Rest for 1 minute again. This set should still feel easy. 
  • The third warm-up set is with 90% of my working weight for 2 reps. Rest for 2-3 minutes. And with that, I dive into my first actual working set. 

Now, three things to keep in mind when going through this type of warm-up: 

  • Don’t simply “go through the motions.” Be mindful about what you’re doing — control the tempo, technique, and range of motion. 
  • Such warm-up should NOT fatigue you. You want your muscles warmed up for heavy sets, not fatigued.
  • If you train both your upper and lower body in the same workout, do the same loading pyramid before your primary upper and lower body exercises. You don’t need to do it before training each muscle group. That would be a waste of time. Kinda like foam rolling.

In sum

  • Static or dynamic stretching or foam rolling isn’t necessary. Feel free to do it but I think it’s a waste of time. You could use that time lifting weights. 

  • Going through a few warm-up sets will gradually get you into the range of motion you want just like foam rolling or stretching would. But in less time. So there’s really nothing special about rolling on a piece of foam. 

  • If foam rolling or stretching feels good to you, cool. Keep doing it. But I still think foam rollers are the gold standard for silliness. And a waste of time for the general population.

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Originally published by me on Medium on February 22, 2024

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