5 Rules To Find Your Perfect Warm-up Weight

James had a question about how to warm-up on StrongLifts 5×5

Hi Mehdi,

I read the 5×5 report and I really liked it. I’m eager to give it a try. I did your old version for quite a while last year, but stoped when I hit 160lb squat since I didn’t have a rack, and I felt unsafe. I now have a rack, so I should be able to keep going.

One thing that I thought was missing was more info on warm up weights. You only give 2 examples, and don’t say how to calc them. Obviously start with just the bar, but when do you raise them?

I’m 33, 5’10 weigh 170lb. So almost got to 1x body weight.

Thanks,
James

You should indeed always start your Squats, Bench and Presses with 2 sets of 5 reps with the empty bar. Jumping straight into your work weight of 160lb would not only be asking for injuries (because your muscles and joints wouldn’t be warmed up yet), it’s also a guaranteed way to miss reps on one or several work sets since you didn’t even have the chance to practice your technique first.

Other warm-up mistakes you must avoid are using too big/small increments and too many/little warm-up sets. Any of this can make you fail reps on your work sets because you got tired/didn’t practice enough, and it can get you injured.

I’ve come up with 5 simple warm-up rules that you can use to find out how much weight, sets and reps you should do on your warm-up sets. The Rules…

  1. Always start with 2 sets of 5 reps with the empty 45lb Olympic bar
  2. Add 25-45lb/set – try equal increments without getting OCD about it
  3. Do at least 4 warm-up sets – this includes the 2 sets with the empty bar
  4. 5 reps per warm-up set – except on the last 2 sets where you do 3/2
  5. Lift your warm-up sets like your work sets – focus, technique, speed

If all that sounds Greek to you, just look at the examples below that show you exactly how to warm-up for StrongLifts 5×5 depending on 4 work weights.

135lb175lb220lb265lb
2x5 45lb2x5 45lb2x5 45lb2x5 45lb
3x75lb3x85lb5x85lb5x85lb
2x110lb2x135lb3x135lb5x135lb
5x5 135lb5x5 175lb2x175lb3x175lb
5x5 220lb2x220lb
5x5 265lb

You want to drop the reps from 5 to 3 and 2 as the warm-up sets go by, so you don’t get tired for your work sets. The reason the 265lb Squatter does 5 reps with 135lb and not 3 unlike the 220lb Squatter, is because the former has more muscle endurance thus he can take it without getting tired for his work sets.

2×5 empty bar on Deadlifts and Rows doesn’t work obviously because you can’t do these exercises correctly without bar weight. But since you’ve done Squats before these, your legs and back are already warmed up so you’re safe starting heavier. Frankly, I always start with 5x135lb on Deadlifts/Rows

I highly recommend foam rolling and mobility exercises pre-workout to increase your flexibility. Especially if you’re a guy who works on a computer all day like I do – you need to stretch those tight muscles pre workout using Squat 2 Stands, Shoulder Dislocations, Overhead Squats, etc. Forget about cardio pre-workout as warm-up, it’s not specific enough and a waste of time unless it’s freezing.

Good job on getting a Power Rack. That (or Squat Stands with saw horses) is the only way to Squat safely and beat the fear of injury, since the safety pins can catch the bar. 220lb will be piece of cake from here on – good luck with it.

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