Before even touching a dumbbell in the gym you do a warm-up. You climb onto a cyclometer or a rowing machine and prepare your body for the real work. Brazilian sports scientists worked out the best way for strength athletes to warm up.
Trainers know that warming up is important and scientific studies justify this too: athletes perform better after an effective warm-up, one that warms muscle temperature by about 3 degrees Celsius. [Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Aug;89(6):509-13.] [Acta Physiol Scand. 1979 Sep;107(1):33-7.]
But what kind of warm-up improves performance most? We really don't know. Brazilian sports scientists at the University of Sao Paulo used their study to work this out for strength athletes. Their research will be published soon in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The researchers did an experiment with 16 male students all of whom had been doing weight training for at least a year.
The students had to do a couple of leg presses with as much weight as they could manage. On one occasion they did this without warming up [CTRL], on another occasion after cycling first for five minutes at just 40 percent of their VO2max [SDLI], after cycling for 15 minutes at 40 percent of their VO2max [LDLI], after cycling for five minutes at 70 percent of their VO2max [SDMI] and once after cycling for 15 minutes at 70 percent of their VO2max [LDMI].
The figure below shows that the longer lasting warm-up at low intensity [LDLI] helped the students to perform best. They were 3 percent stronger after this than after the other warming up sessions.
After the longer lasting warm-up at moderate intensity [MDLI] the students were actually less strong, probably because this warm up tired them out.
"Performing a 15-minute low-intensity (40 percent VO2max) aerobic exercise prior to a maximum strength assessment is recommended to improve performance", the Brazilians summarise. "Even though the difference in 1RM performance between different general warm-up conditions may be misinterpreted as small. In well trained subjects, this difference might mean the result of weeks of heavy strength training."
J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jun 11. [Epub ahead of print].