Olympic Hybrid Circuits

Originally coined "The Bear" by John Davies, this series of five exercises in one teaches the body to move with great ROM in a fluid, powerful, and fast manner. It's fantastic as a total body warm-up, improving overall power production and motor skill coordination in a short period of time.

Assuming that you can comfortably perform each component with satisfactory technique, this series of exercises is best performed in a vertical or circuit fashion for no more than five reps with a light weight. Gradually increase speed and range with each repetition. Perform this circuit prior to whole body workouts.

1. Power Clean

2. Front Squat

3. Push Press

4. Back Squat

5. Push Press

This next Olympic hybrid is courtesy of Chad Ikei, a US champion power and Olympic lifter, and is also useful prior to whole body workouts or to wake the system up. Perform only a few reps of each exercise either consecutively or in a row as a circuit with a light weight (even just the bar is fine.) You may choose the entire eight exercises or any subset.

1. Power Clean

2. Front Squat

3. Push Jerk

4. Overhead Squat

5. Back Split Squat

6. Press Behind the Neck

7. Romanian Deadlift

8. Bent-over Row

If you think a light weight on the above-mentioned circuits won't do much, think again! As Eric Cressey has written, "A little resistance before power work will go a long way in improving performance."

Basically, dynamic movements are associated with improved vertical and long jump performance (two excellent markers of power) when compared to low-intensity cycling and static stretching in females. Burkett et al. just recently confirmed these results in males as well. Using a weighted jump warm-up (either a weighted vest or holding dumbbells equaling 10% of body weight) produces the greatest benefit in performance.

In athletics, warming up with a weight that exceeds a given range, either too light or too heavy, may result in an alteration of motor pattern. Take baseball for instance. Throwing accuracy is impaired in the first few throws using a standard five ounce ball after a warm-up with an eleven ounce ball.

Also, the greatest bat velocity is achieved by a warm-up with implements having a weight identical or very close to the standard 30 ounce bat. Use of a very light 23 ounce bat or very heavy 51 ounce bat and donut ring results in a low bat velocity. Research indicates that the implements to be used in a warm-up immediately prior to performance shouldn't exceed +/- 10 percent of the standard weight.

Use, But Don't Abuse Plyometrics

Plyometrics can be very useful during a warm-up, but don't go overboard! Remember, performance, not fatigue. Plyometrics place a tremendous amount of stress on the nervous system — if you do too much prior to training, it'll kill performance. Then again, if you do just the right amount, it can potentiate your strength!

Joe DeFranco sums it up well: "Here's how I incorporate plyos into my advanced athletes lower body days: I'll use them as a warm-up before Max Effort lower body days. For example, we'll perform 3-5 sets of box jumps, tuck jumps, or depth jumps to 'fire up' the nervous system before we start lifting. You'll be surprised at how many of my athletes have set records in max effort lifts after warming up in this manner. Plyos can also be used as a warm-up before dynamic effort days."

Can You Be Less Athletic And More Specific!

In a specific or related warm-up, the goal is to prepare the central nervous system (CNS) for a highly (get ready for it... ) specific task! You need to tell the body two things and two things only: what is the range of motion and intensity (load) that you'll use during your work sets. Some authorities consider this process not as a warm-up, but rather neural preparation.

Siff notes: "Even a much lighter submaximal lift (such as one's earliest warm-up set) produces similar potentiation of the set which follows, provided one rests for a short while afterwards. This is why I prefer not to refer to 'warming up' exercises; in fact, warming up might be only one of several aspects of what I prefer to call 'pre-event/exercise preparation' (PEP). This PEP session plays important pre-event neural facilitation, mental focusing, neuromuscular, thermal, skill rehearsal, and circulatory roles, all of which can prepare the body for a given sporting event or action."

Specific warm-ups provide practice sets where you can rehearse proper form and technique. Doing too many reps during any warm-up will increase lactate levels and decrease performance/strength since lactic acid significantly impairs the nervous system's ability to recruit high threshold motor units. In fact, people get injured when they do high reps for a warm-up (research indicates that pec tears from benching are linked to too many reps in a warm-up!). The message is clear: Warm-up for strength exercise, not aerobic exercise.

How? Simply perform the exercise that you wish to train, and pyramid the load upwards until you reach your working weight and keep the reps below 6 (between 1-5 repetitions works best).

McFarlane states: "Too often, warm up procedures are non-structured, non-specific, and lack in rehearsing the specifics of one's event or activity. If repetition is the mother of learning, then warming up must follow similarly to prevent injuries."

Think of that statement in terms of quality not quantity — better to do more sets at low reps than low sets at high reps! Got that?

Much like your work sets, it's best to do warm-ups in a superset fashion between antagonists (opposite muscles, body parts, or movement patterns). As mentioned, ramp up the weight for both exercises until you reach your working weight — the higher the intensity of training, the more warm-up sets are required for optimal performance. Plus, each individual has his own preferences (some like more sets; others prefer less).

Use the same tempo in your warm-ups that you plan to use in your work sets. Also, you don't need much rest during your warm-ups; as soon as you change the weight, perform your next set. Then, rest five minutes after your last warm-up set before performing your first work set.

The pros to this approach include:

Nervous system is activated

Trainee is fresh

Greater weights can be used

Less injuries

Less fatigue

Optimal hormonal profile

Psychological benefits

Can be used in competition (train like you're competing)

Loading A Program Into Memory

Warm-ups are like loading a program into memory — once it's there, you're ready to go. That's why some exercises that require a good deal of balance may take a few reps before you get it right (e.g. step-ups!).

For this reason, I always suggest using just the bar for your first warm-up set to get a feel for the exercise. (In fact, some strength athletes actually gauge their recovery by using an unloaded bar — or even a broomstick — during their warm-up. If it doesn't feel right or feels strangely heavy, then they're not ready to train yet and need an extra day of recovery.)

Even in the midst of a workout, warm-ups are important. It's true that tissue temperature decreases more slowly than it increases, but rest for more than 7-10 minutes without doing another set and you may need to warm-up again. Better safe than sorry!

Summary

On average, you need to perform anywhere from 3-5 warm-up/practice sets with a progressively heavier weight as you approach your work sets. Just remember never to excessively fatigue yourself. The optimal time to end a warm-up is 5 minutes before the start of an event or set. The goal of a proper warm-up is to perform better, not to sweat hard!

Siff notes: "An excellent all-round 'warm-up' is offered simply by executing one's actual training and competitive movements, starting with an empty or light bar, then gradually increasing the load to some serious training loads. This approach saves plenty of time and is totally 'functional.' Thus, 15 minutes becomes about 12 minutes too long for warming-up. The typical cardio warm-up before any strength event is often a total waste of time and often counterproductive, yet it has become so deeply ingrained into training culture that it has virtually become one of the Ten Thousand Commandments of Fitness."

Maximum Weight Warm-Up Scheme

(Percentage based on what you're going to lift that day.)

Warm-Up Set # 1: 5 reps x 40%
Warm-Up Set # 2: 4 reps x 60%
Warm -Up Set # 3: 3 reps x 75%
Warm -Up Set # 4: 2 reps x 80%
Warm -Up Set # 5: 1 rep x 85%
Warm -Up Set # 6: 1 rep x 90%
Warm -Up Set # 7: 1 rep x 95%

(The last warm-up set is very important; it's called the P set (or prep set) and will allow you to lift heavier weights.)

Then take 5 minutes before the work set. Arnheim notes that the effects of warm-up may persist as long as 45 minutes. However, the closer the warm-up period is to the actual performance, the more beneficial it'll be in terms of its effect on the performance.

Shorter warm-ups (3 sets of 5, 4, 3 reps) are fine for hypertrophy. So for a 10 rep x 300 lb. work set, do 5 x 120 (warm-up set #1), 4 x 180 (warm-up set #2), 3 x 240 (warm-up set #3). If you plan to perform high rep sets (above 10 reps), 2 sets of 5 reps with a progressively heavier weight will suffice during your warm-up.

Sample Warm-Up Schemes

A) Work Sets — 3 sets of 8-10 reps with 135 lbs.

Warm-Up Set #1: 5 x 45
Warm-Up Set #2: 4 x 95
Warm-Up Set #3: 3 x 115

B) Work Sets — 4 sets of 4-6 reps with 225 lbs.

Warm-Up Set #1: 5 x 45
Warm-Up Set #2: 4 x 135
Warm-Up Set #3: 3 x 185
Warm-Up Set #4: 2 x 205

C) Work Sets — 6 sets of 2-3 reps with 315 lbs.

Warm-Up Set #1: 5 x 45
Warm-Up Set #2: 4 x 135
Warm-Up Set #3: 3 x 225
Warm-Up Set #4: 2 x 275
Warm-Up Set #5: 1 x 295

A good rule of thumb is to use 1-3 warm-up sets per 100 pounds of working weight that you'll use for the first exercise of a body part. Some people need more, others need less. On subsequent exercises for that body part, you'll need only one or two warm-up sets, if at all. (Generally, multiple joint movements can act as a warm-up for any subsequent single joint movements involving the same muscles or body parts). Remember, the key is to pyramid the weight upward using many sets of low reps. The higher the working weight, the more sets you'll need.

If for some reason you only have a fixed weight or implement to work with, then warm-up by gradually increasing the ROM until you achieve full ROM (or at least the range you intend to work in). Also, if you plan to perform chin-ups but your bodyweight is about all you can handle during your work sets, then use a similar movement pattern like lat pulldowns (with the same grip) to warm-up. You can use decline close-grip bench presses to warm-up for dips.

Don't just go through the motions during a warm-up, either. Focus on correct form or you may end up wrecked! By the way, training previously injured body parts generally require a greater number of warm-up sets. So be smart!

Stimulate Or Vibrate, Then Annihilate!

Other modalities are useful for warm-ups as well. Electronic muscle stimulation (EMS), for instance, can help potentiate fibers to release greater velocity and reach maximum strength more easily and rapidly.

Vibrational training is another excellent method to rev up the nervous system. I had a chance to try the Nemes unit last year. A simple 30 second circuit on this machine and I was wired afterward. Some of the benefits of vibration therapy include:

Increased muscle strength, particularly explosive fast-twitch muscle performance

Increased flexibility and range of motion

Reduced joint and ligament stress and reduced potential for joint and ligament injury

Enhanced blood circulation

Positive stimulation of the neurological system

Increased capability for burning body fat

Secretion of endorphin hormones, such as serotonin, as well as growth hormone and Testosterone, and neurotransmitter response

Pain suppression

If you're still not convinced, check out this excerpt from Jordan et al.:

"The effects of vibration on the human body have been documented for many years. Recently, the use of vibration for improving the training regimes of athletes has been investigated. Vibration has been used during strength-training movements such as elbow flexion, and vibration has also been applied to the entire body by having subjects stand on vibration platforms.

Exposure to whole-body vibration has also resulted in a significant improvement in power output in the postvibratory period and has been demonstrated to induce significant changes in the resting hormonal profiles of men.

"In addition to the potential training effects of vibration, the improvement in power output that is observed in the postvibratory period may also lead to better warm-up protocols for athletes competing in sporting events that require high amounts of power output. These observations provide the possibility of new and improved methods of augmenting the training and performance of athletes through the use vibration training."

Hmm, I wonder if that would be useful for a warm-up? Bottom line, if you have access to any one of these machines, try them out. There's sufficient evidence to indicate that they work.

Wrap-Up

Am I suggesting that you use all the techniques I listed above? Sure, and ten hours later you can start your workout. No, of course not. They're just tools in your toolbox. Use them when appropriate. For instance, if you're feeling particularly tired one day, try the wake-up routine. If you're plagued with ham pulls, go through a round of hip mobility drills and ham kicks prior to training legs.

Or if you're like 85% of the population who has experienced at least one bout of low back pain in their life and it's been bugging you lately, the spine warm-up may be wise. Or how about the neck bridge before training arms? Do you get the picture now?

Use ham kicks prior to training legs if you're plagued with constant ham pulls.

Unfortunately, most warm-ups lack structure and purpose, resulting in a poor workout or worse: injury! Throw tradition out the window. The days of doing unnecessary and non-specific aerobic work followed by the mindless, boring, and sedating act of static stretching as part of your warm-up are long gone.

Research shows that there are better ways to increase strength during your workouts. The art is being able to apply that science to your training. Remember, the goal of a proper warm-up is performance, not fatigue!