As you progress in the gym, the load you need to put on the bar will increase in order to keep driving progress in strength and work capacity. Warm ups are vital in prepping the body physically and psychologically for the session ahead, and especially important for big compound movements, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, or variations. Generalised movements, stretches or aerobic exercises can be implemented in warm ups, but utilising heavier warm up sets is beneficial for preparation and performance.

Warm up sets are lighter, practice sets that you do prior to your working sets. This may include a set an empty barbell, as well as 1-3 additional sets working up towards your prescribed load or intensity for the exercise. These warm up sets should be done with intent, and the purpose of practising the movement, increasing motor patterning (technique), warming up your muscles and joints, as well as allowing you to ‘feel’ out how the body is feeling that day – what is sore, tight, feeling great or not so good. By the final warm up set, and by the time you’re loading the bar for your first working set – you should feel prepared and ready to perform optimally.

Here are some more tips for warm up sets:

  1. Treat them with just as much intent as your working sets
  2. Increase each set by 5-10kg for upper body, or 10-20kg for lower body exercises, always with the weight of your first working set in mind
  3. Start at the barbell first….
  4. Your last warm up set should be about 5-15 kgs lighter than your first working set
  5. Perform your warm-up sets for 2-4 fewer reps than your working sets.
  6. Rest for between 45-90 seconds between warm up sets.

Now that you are warmed up and ready, and the bar is loaded with the weight for your first working set. Working sets will make up the bulk of your training, and should be completed at an intensity of 65% of your 1 Rep Max or higher. These are the sets you log and track, and aim to progress from week to week (whereas your warm up sets may stay the same from week to week, with only slight changes in loading as you get stronger).

For example, your coach has programmed 3 x 8 back squats at approx. 77.5% 1RM, and this means your first set should be 90kg on the bar, your warm up sets & working sets may look like:
Warm Up Set 1 the bar for 10 reps, 45s rest

WU Set 2 50kg for 6 reps, 60s rest

WU Set 3 75 kg for 5 reps, 90s rest
WORKING Set 1 90 kg first set of 8

W Set 2 92.5kg for 8 reps

W Set 3 95kg for 8 reps.

Doing the appropriate prep work will get you ready physically and psychologically for a successful performance in your lifts! Use some trial-and-error to find out what works best for you, and aim to create a consistent routine with them so you can maximise your progress.