As a diligent reader of these fitness missives, you already know the basics of a great full body warm-up that lubes you up for the workout ahead. And if not? Click HERE and feast your eyeballs on knowledge.
But after you’ve got your whole system rarin’ to go on a global level, we still need some exercise-specific warm-up sets to prepare for strength training. This is all the more critical if you’re going to be doing some heavy-arse lifting that day.
(And since relatively heavy lifting is a key stimulus for long term health and hotness, my hope is you’re doing this 1x-3x times per week!)
By doing some lighter sets, you can “grease the groove” and practice technique for the lift before exposing your body to the heavier loads on your working sets. In fact, if you’re lifting with loads that you’ll do for 5 reps or less, you may need as many as 3-4 warm-up sets (!!!) to properly prep your body and nervous system.
Now, because I live inside your mind, I know what you’re asking:
“My dearest Mark, how do I know what loads to use for the warm-up sets to best prepare my body without blowing myself out before the work sets?”
Although the answer depends on how heavy you’re going that day, here’s a VERY crude overview when your worksets are with a weight heavy enough that you only lift for 6 reps per set or less:
- Set 1: Light specific warm-up set! Do 8-12 reps. Maybe just the barbell for barbell lifts. Alternatively, no more than 50% of your upcoming workset. This should feel easy. Go by feel.
- Set 2: Medium-heavy specific warm-up set! Do 3-5 reps. This can be done with 75-80% of your working weight. You’re purposely leaving all the gas in your tank. You’re letting your body get accustomed to lifting heavier weight.
- Set 3: Heavy-ish specific warm-up set! Do 2-3 reps. This can be done with 90% of your workset weight. Should feel heavy, but NOT be taxing.
NOW you’re ready to lift!!
Before I sign off and send you to commune with the iron, let me provide a bit more context for when to use this warm-up protocol:
In the beginning of your strength training career, newer lifters aren’t strong enough to need this many warm-up sets. This warm-up scheme is overkill and unnecessary for the first 3-12 months. If your worksets are lower to moderate loads with 12 reps or more, you may not even need separate warm-up sets. You’ll be “greasing the groove” while performing the worksets themselves.
But at a certain point, as limit strength increases, a good full body warm-up isn’t sufficient to prepare your body for a great lifting session. You need to get some exposure to meaningful load without actually taxing your body and getting fatigued.
All of this is a bit of an art. Individual preference and personal feel can and should factor in when making warm-up decisions on a given day. Some lifts will take you more time than others to prepare for. And some days you will need more warm-up sets than other days. Having said that, the above framework is a great starting place!
Ultimately, your body will provide you helpful feedback on how well you were –– or were NOT –– warmed up.
Here’s a final way to finetune your approach over time:
Have you ever done your first workset and it just felt kinda wonky? And then the second set really smoothed out?
That’s great data! You weren’t properly warmed up. Next time play with one more exercise specific warm-up set. 😉
PS Two ways to try out MFF:
- 1) Try out in-person MFF with no commitment and get 21 days of training for only $49 HERE.
- 2) Join MFF from anywhere in the world. Get 7 bodyweight only, live-coached classes for $7 HERE.