Steph Sanzo's Pre-Workout Routine – SWEAT

Steph Sanzo's Pre-Workout Routine

Sweat -
Steph Sanzo's Pre-Workout Routine

I’ve spent countless hours working out. (Seriously, I’ve lost count!) And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s much more to a successful powerbuilding workout than picking up heavy weights.

My pre-workout routine is not something I take lightly. From eating a well-balanced meal to warming up my muscles and joints, I take a few important steps before I’m ready for heavy lifting.

Smashing my pre-workout routine

Whether you’ve skipped a meal, or forgotten to pack your gym gear, there’s nothing worse than going to the gym unprepared. If you’re anything like me, you have limited time. You want to make every minute count.

To maximise the time and energy you spend heavy lifting, you need to be organised. Here are five things I always do before my first heavy lift.

Eat a pre-workout meal

When it comes to pre-workout meals, it’s so important to pay attention to what and when you eat, and making sure your meals are nutritionally balanced in a way that’ll help you achieve your fitness goals. 

My powerbuilding diet is made up of plenty of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. I fuel my body with the right macronutrients to build muscle and help me perform at my best. I also eat often — six times a day to be precise.

When it comes to my pre-workout meal, I eat low-fat dishes that are packed with protein. This meal will always include carbs.

Regardless of what diet you follow, it’s important to eat carbs before a workout. Carbs are broken down into sugar when they’re digested by your body, and this sugar is stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles.

Lifting weights uses up your glycogen stores for energy. So it’s important to ensure you’re stocked up with enough energy to make it through your session. 

If you’re doing a powerbuilding program like BUILD, you’re in for an intense gym session — your body will need all the fuel it can get. 

Cook your pre-workout meals in advance. That way, you’ll have no excuse to miss them. I do meal prep when the kids are in bed, so I’m ready for the week to come.

Protein shakes are a great way to assist you in reaching your macronutrient goals. But I always opt to get my nutrients from meals where possible. Protein shakes are designed to supplement your diet, not replace your meals.

Always ensure you’re hydrated before starting your lifting session. I recommend drinking two litres of water a day as a general guide, and making sure you drink more on the days you’re working out.

Pack a bag with gym accessories

My gym bag is almost as big as I am! And I always pack it in advance as part of my pre-workout routine. (There’s one less excuse to cancel if your bag’s already packed!).

I never head to the gym without the following:

Lifting belt: Weightlifting belts provide extra support when you’re lifting heavy. They’re especially useful for squatting and deadlifting, and can help prevent injuries. Don’t leave the house without one!

Knee sleeves: Knee sleeves are a must-have for anyone who’s serious about powerbuilding. Wearing knee sleeves can help when you’re doing heavy compound movements. They’ll also help keep your joints warm and offer extra support. I myself use knee wraps, which provide additional support for your joints.

Hip thrust pad: If you’re familiar with BUILD, you’ll know I love a good hip thrust. Hip pads help you stay comfortable and protect your hips while doing this exercise. Pop one in your bag if your gym doesn’t have them available.

Wrist straps: Straps give you the ability to secure your wrist to the bar, which can eliminate any limitations that you may experience in regards to your grip. These can be used in any type of back movement (rows or pulldowns).

Wrist wraps: It’s so important to protect your wrists when you’re lifting heavy. Wrist wraps help keep your wrists neutral and can help prevent injury.

Resistance bands: Not only are resistance bands great for warming up, you can also use them for some of my substitute exercises to BUILD. Opt for lighter, stretchy bands if you’re new to powerbuilding.

Hip circle/booty bands: These bands are specifically designed to help warm up and activate your glutes. I use them during most lower body workouts and love the burn that they give!

How I prepare for a workout

Prepare for my workout

I’m always raring to go as soon as I arrive at the gym. But before I get started, I get the equipment and myself ready.

When it comes to prepping for heavy lifting, I’m often lucky to have my partner, Jamie, there to give me a hand. It pays to have someone close-by to spot you and make sure your form is correct.

Here are some things to consider when setting up:

Weightlifting chalk: Cover your hands with weightlifting chalk when heavy lifting to improve your grip. This is also a great way to prevent blisters, which I’m sure you’ll know is a common problem when lifting weights.

Bare feet: If you’ve seen my workout videos, you’ll know I deadlift with bare feet. Going barefoot helps ensure you have evenly distributed ground contact. Be extra careful around the heavy weights if you’re lifting without shoes.

Shoes: It’s important to have the right type of shoe for the right type of workout. I know I mention that I like to deadlift in bare feet, but I do prefer shoes for other lifts like the bench press and squat. 

Squats are best performed while wearing Olympic lifting shoes (that have a heel) or flat-soled shoes with minimal sponge in the sole. For bench pressing, I like sneakers or boots that have good grip on the sole so your feet don’t slip while pressing.

Weights: You can consult the BUILD app for how much weight to lift. The app will calculate your recommended weights for particular lifts based on your individual 1RM (One-Rep Max) assessment. It’s super helpful.

Do a dynamic warm up

I always warm up my muscles and joints before a heavy-lifting workout. A quick, effective session helps me get in the zone both physically and mentally.

Back in the day, I used to skip straight to the main exercise. Now I go through my mobility exercises and pump blood into the muscles I’m about to train before every single session. This helps me do the work I want to do effectively and reduces the risk of injury.

The BUILD workouts include warm up sets for different key movements, which you’ll find in the app. No matter what BUILD workout you’re doing, the correct warm up is essential.

While static stretching is great post-workout, foam rolling and mobility warm up exercises are what I find best to get your body in the heavy-lifting zone.

Take deadlifts, for example. Before building up to the main heavy lift, I work on my mobility so I’m able to get into optimal body positioning for the lift.

Dynamic movements: These are movements like a scorpion, the rolling v-sit, and bird-dogs — which are a form of core exercises designed to stabilise your torso during movement. I also mobilise my hips, which is important when you’re doing a lower-body workout.

Warm up sets: Once complete, I move on to a series of warm up sets with an RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) of 4–7. I always do fewer reps and gradually increase my weights in my warm up sets to prepare for the heavier lifts.

Only once I’ve finished the dynamic movements and warm up sets am I ready for the big lift. Remember, good things take time. And a solid warm up session is key to maximising your performance and helping avoid injury.

Channel my inner strength

Eaten? Check. Packed my gym bag? Check. Set up my equipment? Check. Warmed up? Check. There’s just one more thing to do before the main heavy lift.

Before I pick up the bar (or weights), I focus on my goals and tell myself I know what I can achieve that day. Never underestimate the importance of getting your head in the game. Heavy lifting isn’t just a physical game, it’s a mental one too.

Take a deep breath, ignore everything around you, visualise yourself completing the lift and get set to go.

Nothing good comes fast or easy!

Take the time to perfect your pre-workout routine, and follow these essential steps before hitting the gym. It will benefit your BUILD session and help you get the most out of your performance.

Wondering what to do after your workout? When you’re lifting heavy weights, it’s also essential to take time for recovery. Skip recovery and you may risk undoing your hard work in the gym.

What do you do to prep for a heavy-lifting session? How do you get in the zone? Let me know!


* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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