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  • Writer's pictureCoach AP

Warmup Sets vs. Working Sets

When you are getting ready to start a new lift within a training session, you should always do a warmup set with the empty barbell first. This is a great time to do a quick body scan to see if any joints or muscle groups need to be mobilized or dynamically stretched for that particular lift as well as an opportunity to focus on proper mechanics and balance. For your very first warmup set of a given lift, perform anywhere from 7-10 reps with an empty barbell and focus on achieving the best possible technique on every repetition. Try to be explosive as the bar moves away from the ground, regardless of the lift.

When you first start your lifting journey, you will not have a lot of warmup sets to perform because your working weight will be lower. As you get stronger, you will likely perform anywhere from 3-6 warmup sets as you slowly build to your desired working weight. Here are a few guidelines for warming up to your working weight: 1. Always warm up to your working weight. Jumping right into working weight is a great recipe for injury – muscle strains, muscle tears, and worse! 2. Make big jumps in weight in your earliest warmup sets and taper those intervals to be smaller and smaller as you get closer to your working weight. For example, here’s a warmup routine for a working weight of 60kgs:

Warmup set #1: 20kgs / empty barbell x 8

Warmup set #2: 40kgs x 5 (weight increase of 20kgs)

Warmup set #3: 50kgs x 3 (weight increase of 10kgs)

Warmup set #4: 55kgs x 1 (weight increase of 5kgs)

3. As the warmup weight gets closer to the working weight, the reps should decrease to conserve energy. In the example above, you can see that the first set calls for 8 reps, the next set decreases to 5 reps, then 3, and then only one 1 rep for the final warmup set. This helps preserve energy for the programmed working sets by limiting accumulated fatigue.

4. Limit yourself to 6 total warmup sets. Remember, the whole point in having a warmup routine is that it should prepare you for the programmed work, not exhaust you before you even begin the prescribed working sets.

5. Don’t repeat warmup weights. There’s no point in doing multiple sets with the same weight unless that weight meets the prescribed challenge for the session (then count it as a working set, not a warmup set).

6. Increase your rest time between warmup sets as you approach your working weight. For example, if you just completed your first warmup set with the empty bar, throw your first plate on each side and go right into your second set without sitting down and resting first. It’s great conditioning for your heart and it cuts down on how long your sessions are (especially powerlifters!). If you’re doing 5 total warmup sets, you may wish to take 1-2 minutes between warmup sets 4-5 and a full rest interval between your final warmup set and your first working set.

About Muscle + Mindset

Muscle and Mindset is a barbell gym located in the Sante Fe Art District of Denver, Colorado. Our mission is to share the transformative benefits of strength training with people of all experience levels by cultivating a welcoming community supported by affordable expert coaching. Whether you're an experienced athlete or a strength training novice, you'll find the support you need at Muscle + Mindset.

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