Is fifteen minutes of cardio a good warm up before a weight workout?

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Commonly before a weight workout, people will spend 15 – 20 minutes ‘warming up’ on a bike.  Is this a good idea?  Well, no.  Reasons follow. Nevertheless, should we warm up before a weight workout, and if so, how?  And what about stretching?

Ways of warming up before a weight workout.

Why not cardio?

For the best results from a weight workout, the goal of the workout needs to be decided: endurance, muscle building or strength.  If ‘toning’ is desired then all those 3 can deliver the desired effect.  You just don’t want to work quite so hard.

Each exercise, or set, in the workout needs to last a similar length of time, called the time under tension or TUT.  So endurance is an exercise lasting for 1 minute or longer.  This will equate to about 20 reps plus per set and a TUT of 50 secs and over.  For this type of workout, a few minutes on a bike is just about acceptable since it does prepare the endurance fibres: long, thin and weak.  There are better ways of spending the precious gym time, and the following ways of warming up are better for an endurance workout than wobbling about on a bit of cardio kit.

Both muscle building and strength should not be preceded by cardio.  Muscle building rep range is roughly 8 – 12 with a TUT that can rise to 1 min, but is better shorter.  Strength rep range is 5 reps and under, with a max TUT of about 20 secs.  Then there is functional strength, lying between strength and muscle building, and that has a rep range of 6 – 8, with a TUT of 20 – 40 secs. To start the workout with a 15 min bike ride, thus using the endurance fibres, confuses the body.

What is the best warm up for muscle building or strength?

A short, sharp sprint of up to 1 minute.   This helps jack up the nervous system for the work to come and aids concentration.  Vital after a day stuck behind a desk!  However, clearly the heart and blood pressure have to be healthy since a sprint starts and stops suddenly.  Or you could do something scary to start like a challenging balance on the Swiss ball – but standing isn’t recommended since if you fall off backwards, you could break your neck – and then that’s that.  Possibly forever.  But otherwise a scary balance challenge wakes us up.

What about stretching?

Much controversy surrounds stretching.  But most are agreed that long stretching – static stretching – is a bad idea before a workout of any description.  With a long stretch, muscles are elongated but the brain had made them shorter deliberately, so when we start working them hard, they are now very prone to injury as the brain rapidly readjusts them to the length it had already set. 1

So what to do instead of stretching?

  • Mobility drills.  Mobilise the joints to be worked smoothly and comfortably and do include the back.
  • Start the lifts with a lighter weight and increase rather than just slamming into the workout.  Then technique can be checked out whilst the brain goes through the movements you are demanding of it in precisely the way those movements will be loaded.  A strength workout will require more steps to reaching the working weight than will a muscle building programme.
  • Z-health drills.  Joints, eyes,vestibular and so on.


  1. As a Z health practitioner, one of the first things we learn is that the brain governs the body.  If hamstrings are short, they are so for a good reason and stretching them will not sort out the cause.  The cause lies elsewhere: foggy brain map; eye function; inner ears function; head/neck problems and so on.  Sort out the cause and all the muscles lengthen nicely. []

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