If you’re a seasoned lifter, you most likely warm up prior to hitting your actual work sets. At least, this is what you should be doing. However, I often see trainees expending unquantifiable amounts of energy on their warm up sets that, when they get to the actual work portion, they are unable to produce optimum strength.

The problem with performing many reps while warming up is that you limit your ability to lift heavier weights in the latter portion of your training session. A large majority of people will perform anywhere between 30-50 warm-up reps on their big lifts such as squatting, benching, and (unfortunately) deadlifting. By this time, they are about to attempt their work sets with much heavier weight, yet they have already exhausted their energy supply so much that these work sets may not be efficient.

Take a look at your current squat training program and see if this sounds like you (based on a lifter with a one rep squat maximum of 315 lbs):

  • Set 1- Warm Up: 45 lbs x 12 reps
  • Set 2- Warm Up: 135 lbs x 10 reps
  • Set 3- Warm Up: 185 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 4- Warm Up: 225 lbs x 8 reps
  • Set 5- Work Set:  275 lbs x 4 reps
  • Set 6- Work Set:  285 lbs x 3 reps
  • Set 7- Work Set:  285 lbs x 3 reps

You’ll notice in the above example that the lifter performed a total of 48 repetitions of the squat, but 38 of them were in the warm up portion of the exercise. While this is a good tactic if the goal is hypertrophy, it is very sub-par for maximal strength adaptations.

This high amount of warm up repetitions is especially ill-advised when deadlifting. The deadlift is such an exhaustive exercise as it is, adding unnecessary extra work will just counteract your strength goals.

If the goal is strength, take a minimalist approach to the amount of warm up repetitions you perform.

[divider]Planning your warm-up weight. [/divider]

A good guide to stick to when warming up is to base your warm up sets on the amount of weight you plan to lift during the session. If you are attempting a new one-rep maximum, you should not exceed five reps per each warm up set. As you near your goal weight, cut the repetitions down to one or two. This tactic will help you preserve the strength needed for your max attempt. Another effective strategy is to perform only as many repetitions per warm up set as you plan on for your work sets. If you are training for a 3-rep max, keep each warm up set to 3 reps. If you are going for 5 reps, keep each warm up to 5. So on and so forth.

Utilize this strategy when going for a new maximum in any of the big, complex lifts, which should comprise the first movements of your workout. The secondary, or accessory, work that is done afterward (lifts such as lunges, RDL’s, dumbbell bench press, barbell rows, etc.) should be performed in a moderate to high repetition range to induce hypertrophy. Since you will be using sub-maximal loads for these exercises, the energy demand is not as great as it is for a one-rep squat.

If You Are A Bodybuilder

This strategy can be applied to your workouts just as well. When going for a heavy set, use the methods described above. Obviously, you will not be performing at the strength capacity of a powerlifter, but it will help you preserve that much needed strength and energy for the entirety of your workout. Since your workouts are typically body part specific, you want to base the exercises on quality, rather than quantity. By reducing the amount of warm up repetitions you perform, you will be able to focus more of your energy systems towards contracting the muscle on a heavy set, rather than just “getting it up.” (If you have trouble getting it up, that’s an entirely separate topic that this article doesn’t cover).

If You Are A Powerlifter

This tactic of reducing warm up reps will pay dividends in your overall training. Depending on the strength program you engage in, your numbers and overall rep schemes will vary, but the principles remain the same. If you squat or deadlift above 500 pounds, you will undoubtedly perform many more warm up sets than the average trainee. Be conscious of your total repetitions and save your strength for when it counts. This technique is especially useful when warming up prior to your lift attempts at a competition or meet.

If You Are An Olympic Lifter

Take the same approach as the others above, but be conscious of the fact that your lifts require an extreme amount of technical movements, which may need to be practiced more than other lifts. This is ok and encouraged to ensure that you are utilizing proper form and execution of the exercise. Practice these movements repetitively with lighter weight and stick to the lower rep range when the weight increases.

If You Are Any Other Type of Exercise Fanatic

Keep working hard and loving what you do. The tips provided above can definitely enhance your program and I highly encourage you to utilize them in your training.

Last Set

In the end, it is all about what works best for you and your training. If your body responds better to a lot of reps, do more reps. If you find you are perfectly capable of maintaining strength with many warm up repetitions, then keep doing it. Play around with your training, experiment with your rep ranges, and find a sweet spot that produces optimal results for your goals.