As is the advice of any reputable athletic coach, a solid warm up routine is one of the most important parts of any workout session, as it not only aids in maximizing physical capabilities and thus attainment of greater training stimulus, but also reduces the risks of the exerciser becoming injured as they do so.
This is all the more so among heavy free weight compound exercises such as the bench press, where performing the exercise with cold muscles or a low internal body temperature will lead to less weight lifted, and for less repetitions per set.
As such, warming up for the bench press is not only useful but also quite simplistic if done correctly – requiring no more than ten to fifteen minutes prior to beginning the actual workout session itself.
Is Warming Up for the Bench Press Necessary?
Yes, if the exerciser is planning to utilize a load anywhere near their working weight; a warm up prior to performing the bench press exercise is necessary.
While it is technically possible to perform the bench press entirely from a cold standpoint with no prior warm up, the exerciser will find doing so not only more difficult and uncomfortable, but also that they are doing so with poorer athletic abilities, and a greater risk of injury as well.
Fortunately, a proper warm up routine takes little time and effort, though one must note that not every warm up routine is built the same, and a warm up for other exercises such as the squat or row will be somewhat different to that of the bench press.
Components of a Bench Press Warm Up Routine
Warm up routines are often structured in a manner that includes several different types of training stimulus, connective tissue stress and cardio-metabolic stimuli that results in the body becoming primed for intense bouts of exercise.
Components of a warm up routine such as low impact steady state aerobic exercise, mobility drills, dynamic stretching and muscle group activation movements all serve a certain purpose within a given workout session.
The general systemic warm up provided by aerobic exercise or similar methods raises internal body temperature and circulatory system function, improving venous flow to the skeletal muscular structures, improving maximal oxygen intake efficiency and creating a conducive environment to proper athletic exertion.
In the case of stretching, flexibility and mobility warm ups, reinforcement of range of motion, improved circulation to the musculature and general lengthening of both skeletal muscle and connective tissue will aid in reducing the risk of injury and stabilizing the exerciser’s body within a certain range of mobility.
Finally, activation of muscle groups prior to an actual working weight set of the bench press aids in the function of primary mover muscle groups by providing support in terms of stabilization and power output, placing these primary mover muscles in a position to be exerted to their fullest extent.
General Systemic Warm Up for the Bench Press
All properly performed warm up routines include a general systemic warm up as the base of the entire routine, of which will usually take the form of low impact aerobic exercise that places little to no stress on the joints or muscles of the exerciser.
This is done, as was previously mentioned, in order to raise core body temperature and improve circulation to the muscles of the body.
1. Incline Treadmill Walking
The most common general warm up method is to simply walk on a treadmill set to a low speed and a mild incline, raising the heart rate, readying the body for any sort of exercise and ensuring that proper blood flow has been achieved to all parts of the body.
Due to the mild resistance provided by the treadmill in terms of an incline, the exerciser will usually only need ten to fifteen minutes of walking in order to properly raise their core temperature and achieve a general full body warm up – though certain exercisers may require more or less, depending on their individual genetics and training experience.
2. Jumping Jacks
Another method of achieving a full body systemic warm up without the use of additional equipment is jumping jacks, of which will not only aid in raising the body’s core temperature and heart rate but also act as a minor mobility exercise for the rotator cuff – making it both efficient and convenient.
Unlike the treadmill or other forms of warm up exercise, jumping jacks are significantly more taxing on the skeletal muscle and as such will require less time to achieve a proper warm up state. The exact length of time or number of repetitions will depend on the exerciser’s discretion.
Other Low Impact Cardio Warm Ups
While jumping jacks and low incline treadmills are quite effective at achieving a general systemic warm up when preparing to perform the bench press, plenty of other forms of aerobic exercise such as stair climbers and rowing machines are equally as useful, and as such this component of the bench press warm up routine will be up to the exerciser’s preference and availability of exercise equipment.
So long as the intensity is kept at a mild level (one to two on the modified Borg’s rate of perceived exertion scale), the exerciser will have achieved their goal of preparing the entire body at a basic level for intense exertion.
Stretching and Mobility Warm Up for the Bench Press
Though the bench press requires fewer joints and a shorter range of motion than other heavy compound exercises, it nonetheless requires proper mobility drills and dynamic stretches to be added to the warm up routine in order to reduce the risk of shoulder and wrist injury, as well as maximize blood flow the primary mover muscle groups.
As such, we have chosen to instead list the structures of the body the exerciser must target with mobility drills and dynamic stretches instead of any individual exercise or stretch, as most movements of this type should prove more than sufficient.
Dynamic Stretching of Shoulders, Wrists and Elbows
As the joints being moved to the greatest degree during the bench press, the shoulders, wrists and elbows must all be stretched and put through proper mobility drills that maximize their stable range of motion in order to prevent any injury or limitation from affecting the exerciser.
Stretching of the internal and external rotation of the shoulders alongside its extension may all be achieved with a few simple stretches performed for ten to fifteen repetitions each, aiding in stabilization and control of the barbell throughout the bench press.
Concurrently, so too does stretching of the wrists in terms of its flexion and extension via wrist curl stretches, resistance wrist presses and standard rotations of the hand for several repetitions.
As the elbow serves a less multi-directional kinetic pattern than the wrists and shoulders, stretching it in a dynamic manner is far more simplistic, requiring only the prayer stretch in order to achieve proper warm up in the joint.
In order to achieve a full warm up for all joints involved in the bench press, the exerciser must perform one dynamic stretch focusing on each of these previously mentioned areas, as they are all placed under equal levels of stress and pressure throughout the exercise.
Thoracic Spine Drills
As the exerciser is required to arch their lower back in order to reduce range of motion and promote proper scapular retraction throughout the bench press, proper thoracic spine range of motion is essential.
This may be achieved with a mobility drill that stretches out the connective tissues of the mid back alongside the erector spinae muscle group, such as the yoga cat and cow pose, as well as the usage of a foam roller to knead the mid and upper back, thereby improving circulation and mobility in that particular area.
When combined with erector spinae activation exercises, this method of warming up ensures the exerciser’s spinal column remains in a secure and stable position throughout the bench press, aiding in their retention of the lower back arch and shoulder blade pinning mechanic.
Rotator Cuff Drills
Injuries to the rotator cuff are among the most common experienced by exercisers performing high volume bench press sets, and as such will also require some level of mobility and flexibility warm up be applied to this area to avoid such occurrences.
Through the use of a combination of mobility drills such as raised arm twists, elbows-in rotator stretches and elbows-out rotator stretches, the exerciser may maximize the effective range of motion and stability of this particular component of the shoulder, improving primary mover muscle function and reducing the risk of injury.
Progressive Loading Warm Up Sets for the Bench Press
One highly efficient and often underutilized method of achieving the benefits of a warm up routine is the usage of progressive loading sets, wherein the exerciser will begin with a minimal amount of weight on the barbell and increase the resistance as further sets are performed.
This is usually done with three to four sets, each an increasingly larger percentage of the exerciser’s maximal bench press weight – or what is otherwise known as their one rep max.
The progressive loading set method of warming up ensures that the exerciser not only activates all relevant musculature to a certain extent, but also that they psychologically ready themselves by practicing the various form cues and mechanics of the bench press prior to its actual working weight set.
When programming progressive loading sets into a workout routine, it is best to perform these warm up sets immediately prior to the bench press exercise itself, and usually in increments according to the exerciser’s one rep maximum, such as performing three sets of five repetitions in succeeding 15% increments.
In order to also avoid premature fatigue, the exerciser will find that matching the volume of their warm up sets to the actual number of repetitions during the exercise itself is the ideal manner of performing these progressive loading warm up sets.
Muscle Groups to Activate When Warming Up for the Bench Press
In terms of muscle group activation for the purposes of achieving a bench press warm up, it is the smaller synergist muscle groups that must be stimulated prior to beginning the exercise, as priming these stabilizer and secondary muscle groups will draw stress and exertion away from the primary mover muscles, therefore aiding in injury risk reduction and allowing these primary muscles to be fully exerted.
Activating these muscle groups is as simple as performing isolation exercises that directly stimulate the muscle in a manner that does not excessively fatigue them, stimulating nervous system control and circulatory flow to the muscle group and thereby allowing them to act to their fullest capacity.
Trapezius and Posterior Deltoids
The trapezius and posterior head of the deltoids aid in stabilization and act as a sort of shelf wherein the upper body remains in contact with the bench throughout the entirety of the bench press exercise, necessitating proper muscular activation in order to function to their fullest extent.
This is done by pairing two light weight exercises in a manner that sufficiently warms up both muscle groups without prematurely draining their energy or otherwise affecting other muscle groups near either muscle, with exercises such as the trap raise, resistance band pull apart and cable face pull all being similarly effective at doing so.
When choosing one or a pair of these activation exercises, it is best for the exerciser to utilize little to no resistance and only a moderate amount of repetition volume, with such sets like two sets of eight repetitions or three sets of five repetitions being sufficient enough to activate the trapezius and posterior deltoid head muscles.
Scapula and Serratus
The scapula as well as the serratus anterior along the bottom of the ribs are both responsible for proper shoulder blade retraction and stabilization of the entire bench press motion as the exerciser performs it, making their activation invaluable in terms of increasing bench press performance.
The usage of scapular push ups in order to warm up the scapula, as well as serratus pull-overs or standard bodyweight dips for the serratus muscle can aid in the warming up of these particular muscle groups, though the exerciser must take care to reduce the total volume as these exercises are of the compound variety and are capable of affecting more than just the serratus or scapula.
As such, three sets of five repetitions or lower depending on the level of resistance encountered should prove more than sufficient, so long as the exerciser also follows other means of achieving a warmed up state, such as mobility drills, progressive loading sets and low impact aerobic exercise.