Working as a coach, I very often find that folks are not sure about the right way to warm up for lifts in the gym. Sometimes they will just load up the weight and go for it, other times they will take way too many warm up sets and tire themselves out. In today’s post I am going to cover warming up for the big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press). I will cover mobility and warmup routines in another post.
Every session of squat, bench, or OHP should start with an empty bar. When you deadlift, the weight you start will depend on your strength level. Being at a gym with bumper plates or competition plates is great for lifters that are newer to lifting because you can use 10-25lb plates that are the size of a normal plate, allowing you to set the bar at the right height for your first warm up set, without loading on too much weight. If you don’t have those, you may start with the empty bar or a smaller 25, and do your sets from a hanging start (since the bar won’t be touching the ground).
Your warm ups will take you from that first set with the empty/lightly loaded bar up to your working weight. For most lifters I suggest doing 4-6 warmup sets before getting to the working weight, but this will vary based on the weight you are working up to. If you are doing 95lbs for your working sets, you will likely only do 3 warmup sets.
Here are a couple of examples of how I would want my lifters to warmup for some different weights.
Working up to 135:
45 (empty bar) x 10 reps
95 x 5-8 reps
115 x 2-5 reps
135 x Working sets
Working up to 225:
45 (empty bar) x 10 reps
95 x 5-10 reps
135 x 5-8 reps
185 x 2-5 reps
205 x 1-3 reps
225 x Working sets
As you can see from these examples, the reps are higher for the lighter sets, and go down as the bar gets heavier and you approach your working weight. You can also see that the jumps in weight are larger to start, and get smaller as you approach the working weight.
The goal of these sets is to get your body moving and allow you to feel if there are any issues you are having that day that you need to address. This could be tightness, pain, technique problems, and so forth. These sets also allow you work on your form and practice the cues you are going to work on that day. Finally, the warmup sets allow you to prepare mentally and physically for the working weights. So don’t skimp on your warmups! Whether you are lifting 60lbs or 600, these sets are important and establish the tone for the whole workout.
Nigel, Kizen Coach
Who is Nigel?
Nigel is a coach who has been competing in powerlifting since 2012 and started directing meets in 2017. Nigel began working as a personal trainer in 2013, was a part of the Ascendant Athletics team with Omar and Silent Mike from 2015-2016, and has managed the group coaching for Kizen Training since 2017. Through this work and coaching private clients, Nigel has worked with many lifters of all skill levels and from diverse athletic backgrounds. His best lifts in competition are a 661lb/300kg squat in sleeves, a 451lb/205kg bench, and a 639lb/295kg deadlift.