Bench Press Warm Up: Cardio, Stretches, Sets, More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
July 27, 2022

Practically any authority to do with exercise and resistance training will advise the usage of a proper warm up routine, especially prior to heavy compound exercises such as the ever-famous bench press.

However, it is at this point that fitness literature begins to conflict, as the proper manner and methods of warming up for the bench press differ in terms of techniques and specificity.

Fortunately, warming up for the bench press is somewhat more simple than it may seem - and provides a great many benefits that would be detrimental to the exerciser’s training and health if otherwise avoided.

What Does the Term Warm Up Mean in Resistance Training?

In the field of exercise, warming up is a term meant to encompass a variety of techniques and methods used to prime the body for a bout of intense exercise; usually by utilizing various dynamic stretches, light aerobic exercise and mobility preparatory work that are performed prior to the actual resistance exercise itself.

Though warm up is a general term meant to be applied to a variety of different situations, it is usually used to refer to preparatory work performed immediately before a workout session begins, with such things like low impact sets meant to improve blood flow or dynamic stretching of synergist muscles being the most common form of warm up methodology.

Being properly warmed up prior to exercise will be apparent in greater blood flow and flexibility being experienced throughout the body, a higher core temperature, and greater muscular output than if starting entirely from an unprimed state.

Why is Warming Up Important?

Warming up is an essential part of any training program as it is one of the few proven ways an exerciser may both reduce their total risk of injury as well as improve their performance of whatever exercise they are planning to do.

In the case of the bench press, this can result in a reduced chance of elbow and shoulder injuries as more blood flow and range of motion is achieved in those areas, as well as incrementally improved force output and muscular endurance as said muscles are primed for the intense compound exercise.

Warming up not only aids from a histological and cardiovascular perspective, but also in terms of exercise technique execution, wherein performing several low intensity sets of the bench press will aid in form adherence as the exerciser may practice immediately prior to performing an actual set of the movement.

How Long Does Warming Up for the Bench Press Take?

Warming up for the bench press is usually quite simplistic and will only take up to 10 or 15 minutes, with certain warm up routines taking even less time than that if low impact cardio exercise is skipped.

The exact length of time and complexity of the warm up session will be highly dependent on how exactly the exerciser chooses to go about warming up for the bench press, as well as any other exercises present in their workout session.

If warming up solely to perform the bench press, the exerciser may even only warm up for several minutes prior to performing the actual exercise as only some light mobility work and a few warm up sets are performed instead.

Is Warming Up Before the Bench Press Always Necessary?

In the vast majority of cases; yes, warming up for the bench press is necessary. 

While it is entirely possible to perform the bench press safely without the use of a proper warm up routine, doing so is the most advisable course of action as it not only ensures that the exerciser’s body is primed for the intensity of resistance exercise, but also that they have taken steps towards reducing their total risk of injury.

How to Warm Up for the Bench Press

Warming up for the bench press is usually broken down into multiple categories that are separated depending on what particular aspect of the bench press is being focused upon by the warm up.

These warm up techniques can take the form of a specific stretch, low impact resistance exercise, aerobic exercise or even simply a very low resistance set of the bench press movement itself - providing not only a large amount of choices, but also an opportunity for exercisers with limited equipment to nonetheless still warm up for the bench press.

General Warm Up for All Exercises

In order to warm up in general and not solely for the bench press alone, the best way to do so is to simply perform minor cardio exercise, with lower impact forms of such low intensity cardio exercises being the usual go-to due to their lack of injury risk.

treadmill

Stationary exercise bikes, low speed-high incline treadmill walking and rowing machines set to low levels of resistance are all excellent methods of raising the core body temperature, heart rate and improving general systemic blood flow prior to a bout of serious exercise.

Bench Press Technique Warm Up Movements

For warming up to the technique and mechanics of the bench press, the exerciser may perform a combination of scapular retraction push ups, low resistance cable face pulls and resistance band pull aparts.

cable face pull

These three exercises will aid in the reinforcement and development of vital bench press form cues, not only ensuring that the exerciser is priming their musculature for maintaining these mechanics, but also ensuring that they are psychologically practiced in doing so as well.

This, of course, is also entirely possible by simply performing a bench press set at little to no weight for the same purposes of warming up.

Dynamic Mobility and Range of Motion Warm Ups for Bench Press

In terms of mobility and range of motion warm ups, it is usually the form of active dynamic stretches that are best suited for such an effect.

To begin, the exerciser may warm up their rotator cuff and deltoids by performing external and internal shoulder rotation stretches, before moving to wrist rotation, supination and pronation mobility work and finishing off with static elbow stretches so as to ensure synergist muscle stability and increased range of motion.

The exact stretch used to achieve these warm up effects will depend on whatever is most comfortable for the user. So long as the general motion and targeted area are the same, the exerciser should find that their stability, mobility and total range of motion during the bench press are greatly improved; thereby reducing risk of injury and improving performance.

Bench Press Warm Up Sets

Finally, the most simplistic form of bench press warm ups is to simply perform several sets of low weight bench press repetitions in order to prime the body and mind for full load sets of the exercise.

Generally, these bench press warm up sets are structured so the exerciser slowly ramps up the weight in incremental percentages prior to reaching their actual working set weight.

barbell bench press

Depending on the exerciser’s smallest weight plate increment, how many sets of warm up repetitions they wish to perform and the extent to which they wish to warm up, the manner of how they perform these bench press warm up sets will vary.

For the most part, however, three to four sets should be more than sufficient - with the initial warm up set consisting of only the barbell itself for 5 to 10 repetitions, the succeeding warm up set with approximately half of the exerciser’s working load for 5 to 10 repetitions, the third set with 75% of their working weight for 5 repetitions, and the optional fourth set at just below their working weight (70-85%) for 1 to 2 repetitions.

Doing so should not only warm up the body’s core temperature, induce blood blow to the relevant muscles and joints as well as prepare the body systematically, but also allow the exerciser to psychologically prepare themselves for moving the full amount of weight as they acclimate slowly from the incrementally increased load.

References

1. Ribeiro, Bruno, Ana Pereira, Pedro P. Neves, António C. Sousa, Ricardo Ferraz, Mário C. Marques, Daniel A. Marinho, and Henrique P. Neiva. 2020. "The Role of Specific Warm-up during Bench Press and Squat Exercises: A Novel Approach" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 18: 6882. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186882

2. Woods, Ak & Bishop, Phil & Jones, Eric. (2007). Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 37. 1089-99. 10.2165/00007256-200737120-00006.

3. Safran, M. R. et al. (1988) ‘The role of warmup in muscular injury prevention’, The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 16(2), pp. 123–129. doi: 10.1177/036354658801600206.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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