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Warm Up vs. Working Sets

Working Sets vs Warm Up Sets

How do we structure this and why?

Working sets are your programmed sets. Or where we want the most work done in training.

Example: 3×1 @ 90% of 1RM is your working sets. This is where we want an adaptation to happen (over time 90% will feel like 70% – that’s adaptation).

Warm Up sets are sets with light load, of that specific lift -typically squat, deadlift and bench press, to prime the muscle to move in the desired pattern so that the body acclimates to the heavy prescribed load.

The mistake most people make is using warm ups to wear themselves out. I was one of those people. I felt that unless I was tired by the time I got to my prescribed working sets, I wasn’t working hard enough. The problem was that I was already tired by the time I got to the working sets that I wasn’t able to lift with any max effort and / or my form would break down, so my adaptations took WAY longer than they should have.

Working sets are where you want to focus your energy. Your form needs to be spot on here (position before power). If you have enough energy to squat 90% for 3×1 and feel like you’re just getting started – congratulations, you are well on your way to kicking ass.

If you get to that 90% 3×1 and feel like you need to take a nap, you’re not working at full capacity and you’re cheating yourself out of a lot of gains.

Think about that, if you were able to work in your working sets with energy left over, you can focus on your accessory work which will continue to help you at your 90%.

Nevermind that if 90% feels light this week, that mean you will hit 92% much easier next week and that last week your 88% will now feel like a much lighter 88%.

Don’t over do your warm up. Here is a basic structure:

  1. cardio warm up (get warm – cold rubber bands snap, warm ones are much more elastic)

  2. mobility (joints should move freely around their axis of rotation. sticky joints = painful lifts)

  3. activate (wake up those muscles and let them know they need to get ‘twitchy’)

  4. movement specific reps (light weight, reps with the bar, slowly increase to working sets)

When I get to #4 (let’s use squats as the example) I move in the specific range of motion with just the bar, going through a mental check list of what I need to focus on such as: grip and rip the floor, brace, pull lats down and shoulder blades tight.

Then start adding weight.

I like to half my reps each warm up set while doubling the weight until I get to my working sets.


Bar 2×10

+50lb 1-2 x 5

+50lb 1-2 x 2-3

+whatever I need to hit my working sets.

This way I don’t expend all my energy in my warm up and struggle through the sets that are actually going to make me stronger, faster, powerful.

This is true no matter your goal – get lean, get swole, strong, etc. The working sets should be your focus, not getting to them.

Working sets are important. These are rep ranges and loads proven to illicit a physiological response (ie hypertrophy or growth, strength, power output, or endurance).

Being able to work those rep ranges like a boss is where you gain those desired responses.

Translated: work in specific rep ranges with your full ability= get desired results.

Stop over working your warm ups. It’s not your workout, it’s the precursor to our workout.

Your warm up is extremely important, it just shouldn’t be where you spend the majority of your time or effort. It should be submaximal, if that, work.

PC: Jacob Postuma

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