by John McKean
Chapter 1 – Introduction
“As usual, we missed seeing you in the warm up room yesterday!” teased my old lifting pal, Barry, during morning two of the recent US National All-Round Weightlifting Championships.
Laughing, I replied, “Hey, I did too stop in for a moment to beg some tips from Dennis Mitchell about his bent press techniques.”
Rolling his eyes, Barry , continued, “Some of the guys are still bewildered at how you can wave those tiny dumbbells around for a few minutes then just run out on the platform and start with humongous poundages. C’mon now, we’re hip lifting today with thousands of pounds, aren’t you gonna get that old bod just a little bit tuned up?”
Flashing my best sheepish grin, I replied, “But, Barry, I’m already warm, wide awake, and full of energy—I just came back from a pleasant 20-minute Heavyhands walk through town with my wife and son!”
Based on considerable training experience, and competition in all branches of weight lifting, I’ve determined that not only is the traditional warmup of “step-ladder” sets not necessary, but that substantially higher working poundages can be achieved without them. You see, sets of 5-10 reps with 135, 225, 315, etc., actually do very little to “warm” the body or even a specific muscle group, while the effort involved just robs energy from the all-important peak poundage set of any given lift. Yes, I’ve read all about the supposed necessity to carefully follow weight increments in order to recruit more and more muscle fibers, for “mental preparation” to reach top lifts, gradually cultivate neurological efficiency, etc., etc. But in my book (and that’s a rather thick training log after 32 years!), all such reasoning and rituals are pure bunk.
Think about this for a second: If you would happen to be strolling along a railroad track and turned suddenly to discover a fast freight train on your ass, would there be need for any warmup to set a new personal long jump record? On the other hand, how much faith would you have in this leaping ability if said butt was draggin’ from just going through 5 sets of 5 progressively heavier squats?
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting the elimination of a warmup or downplay its importance. The purpose of this article is, in fact, to place priority on the most efficient preparation for achieving the best possible heavy workout. I hope to convince you that a non-barbell warmup is actually the sensible way to go and that it rarely makes any sense to ever touch a bar which weighs much less than 70% of a max for any exercise.