Most guys come into the gym and grasp the bar or a pair of dumbbells and do a light set of 15–20 reps. Then they go a little heavier and cut the reps down a bit. They’ll do one more set and, now that they’re sweating, figure they’re ready to go. While this is hardly the best way to prep your body, it does serve the purpose most of the time, assuming you’re not training too heavy. But take it a little slower and more deliberately, and you’ve got a more decent warmup routine for when you’re doing one of our lifting workouts and need to get done in a hurry.
Here’s how to warm up for a heavy strength workout that begins with a barbell exercise. More accurately, this is called “working up” in powerlifting circles, because the goal is to gradually work your way up to using the heaviest weights possible. You start with the empty bar and perform 10–15 reps with perfect form and then add weight in moderate increments until you’re at the maximum load you plan to lift on the exercise.
How long should you rest between sets? Since work-up sets aren’t as taxing as your main work sets, you shouldn’t need to rest long. A minute or so will be fine for most until you get up to heavy weights, at which time you can rest longer. There are a few tricks you can employ to make this process even more effective and make your top set even heavier, or at least feel easier. Try doing your last work-up set a little heavier than the main set, but only for one or two reps, so it’s not too strenuous. Then back down to the weight you intend to use for the work set.
For instance, if you’re going to perform a squat with 275 for five, your last four sets could look like this:
In other words, you gradually work up to an even heavier weight, reducing your reps to minimize fatigue, and then go back down to 275. The set with 300 might be way more than you can handle for five reps, but done for only one, it will feel relatively easy. By comparison, 275 will feel much easier when it’s done afterward. Obviously, this won’t work on super-heavy sets when your target reps are in the 1–3 range, but it’s great when they’re between 4 and 8. Also, don’t forget about the importance of stretching, before and after training.