How to Warm Up for Your Workout Without Overdoing It

Build up to your real work sets without losing steam.

The 4-Hour Training Week Program
Per Bernal


What’s the best way to get ready to crush the initial work set (and following sets) without losing strength via high-rep warmups?


The reality is that more often than not, most trainees overdo their warmups. Performing multiple, low-intensity, high-rep sets before each exercise will only serve to reduce overall energy stores and create a more acidic environment within your muscles, resulting in fatigue. This will carry over into your work sets, disrupting your ability to maximize your efforts when most needed.

To help illustrate my point, here is a quick look at how the majority of bodybuilders and athletes approach their warmups, using the squat as an example: 

  • Warmup Set 1: 135 x 20
  • Warmup Set 2: 185 x 12-15
  • Warmup Set 3: 225 x 10-12
  • Warmup Set 4: 275 x 8-10
  • Work Set 1 (predicted): 315 x 4 (at which point failure is reached)

By examining the above warmup protocol you can easily calculate that 50 to 57 total repetitions are performed before engaging in the first work set. This method will most certainly produce a significant amount of lactic acid buildup within the target muscle(s) and begin depleting cellular ATP and creatine phosphate reserves.

Now I will suggest a more useful and efficient warmup scenario that will successfully prepare your mind, muscles, and CNS for the more intense work ahead but without decreasing strength and performance:

  • Warmup Set 1: 135 x 6
  • Warmup Set 2: 185 x 5
  • Warmup Set 3: 225 x 4
  • Warmup Set 4: 265 x 3
  • Warmup Set 5: 285 x 2
  • Warmup Set 6: 305 x 1
  • Work Set 1 (predicted): 315 x 7-8 (at which point failure is reached)

Here, only 21 total reps are performed before hitting the first work set—with none of the warmups containing more than just six repetitions. Additionally, with the second regimen there are two extra weight jumps involved, the last of which is very near the poundage to be used for the first “real set.” With this protocol, there will be far less lactic acid accumulation, decreased inroads into your cell’s energy warehouse, and a more comprehensive preparation for the workload and intensity level to follow.

Note that once you’ve finished the first exercise for a particular body part, you’ll need only one to two brief warmups for each exercise thereafter (for the same target muscle), since at this point your muscles will be warm. But these (warmup) sets are still crucial for preparing your joints, tendons, ligaments, and CNS for a new angle of push or pull.

Finally, keep in mind that the above recommendation is meant for trainees who are healthy and not suffering from any joint injury or severe inflammation. Those who have a strain, a pull, a tear, or another similar problem may need to do a more extensive warmup for any exercises that have a direct effect on the compromised area.