Have you ever started a workout and not quite felt ready? Like your body should be able to perform the exercise but it feels extra heavy or a step behind? Maybe you’re watching others moving around you at lightning speed and you wonder “what am I doing wrong?!”
Knowing how to prepare your body for exercise is a skill in itself. A great coach will instruct you on how to warm up in a way that physically and mentally prepares you for the day. Having a deeper understanding of how your body works will be hugely beneficial for taking initiative yourself and getting the most out of your hard efforts. You will be able to ask the right questions and know if you are really working up to your potential.
Today we will explore how to prepare for strength based workouts as well as high intensity intervals or cardio sessions. Understanding these principles will help you prepare your body and take your fitness to the next level!
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln
Preparing For Strength And Power Workouts
To prepare for a strength workout you can utilize a rep scheme called a “wave load” to prepare for big lifts. Wave loading lets your body tap into its ability to activate high threshold motor units, the signaling mechanism telling your muscles to contract. The more motor units you activate the more muscles fibers you utilize to produce movement. Understanding how to recruit as many motor units as possible is essential for moving heavy weights or to move moderate loads at high velocity such as in an olympic lift.
Say you are trying to find a 5 rep max back squat. If your current max is 300 you might start out performing sets of 5 starting at 135 pounds, adding 20-30 pounds each set and resting a minute or two in between. By the time you get to 225 though, the weight is already feeling heavy and a feeling of dread creeps in. Most people use a linear progression like this to build up to their heavy weight. The load feels heavier and heavier.
The problem with this approach is that your body is an efficiency machine. It doesn’t want to work any harder than it has to lift the load. It will only recruit the minimum number of motor units required to lift the weight in front of you. Every weight feels heavy because it actually is heavy relative to the muscles you’re using to lift it! Meanwhile however you are using up precious energy trying to slowly build up to your goal weight for the day.
One effective strategy to build up to the goal weight effectively and bust out new personal records is using a wave load technique. Rather than use straight sets of 5 reps all the way up to your working weight you can use single reps at a higher load than you would want to use for a set of 5. This helps your body recruit more muscle fibers because of the demands of a heavy single rep.
Every training session is kind of like blowing up a balloon. Blowing up a heavy duty party balloon fresh out of the package can require some serious lung strength. It’s a challenge right? This is similar to building up to a new weight in your workout. It’s hard to do and physically demanding. What happens once you’ve blown the balloon up all the way? It’s stretched to a new dimension that if you let all the air out, would make it easier to blow up the next time. This is what performing a heavy single is like before performing your set of 5.
Instead of progressing in a linear fashion such as:
- 5x New Max Effort Attempt
Total reps = 35 Total load = 7,825 lb.
Instead try an undulating periodization:
- 5x New Max Effort Attempt
Total reps = 22 Total load = 4,855
If your goal is to conserve energy for a new max it is clear to see how a wave load can still prime your body for a heavy lift without wasting unnecessary energy!
Preparing For High Intensity Interval (HIIT) or Cardio Workouts
HIIT workouts can be brutal. Sometimes you find yourself gasping for air and wide eyed in the first two minutes. Wondering how you’ll last until the time cap or complete the prescribed number of rounds or reps.
If this is an experience you have had it means that you were either not properly warmed up for the workout or you didn’t properly scale the weights and movements. Warming up for a HIIT workout requires several key components. Increasing respiration so your heart is prepared for greater cardiac output, movement progressions that warm up your muscles and reinforce the movement patterns, and mobility work to improve performance and reduce injury risk.
As a general rule of thumb, the shorter and more intense the workout is, the more warmup and preparation it requires. You need to be prepared to give an intense effort and that will look different every day depending on the workout.
A great coach will be able to help you execute a proper warm complete with movement progressions and the appropriate scales for the movements in your HIIT training.