Thursday, September 13, 2012

Saving a potentially shitty workout

I'm going to talk about "warming up" with a purpose, mental aspect, and the over-warm up and how it can turn a "could be" shitty session into a stellar one, or at least an 80%er.

1.  Don't rush things.

This used to be one of my biggest issues.  This is how warm ups usually went......


Over time, I have learned the importance of slowing down, and being fine with taking an empty bar off the racks and doing a few sets of 30-50 for bench, and sets of 10-20 for squats.  I do not rush to get a plate on, or go through some designed routine, until I feel "lathered up".

Most of the guys I am talking about, also do warm ups like this....


Waaaaay too many reps given to a set of warm ups.  If you want to do 10 reps with 315 as part of the warm up, you're far better off doing 3x3 with 315 rather than 1x10, and taking each triple as something to do very explosively.  If your working set for the day is going to be 365 (like in the example above) a better solution would be to settle on doubles and triples after the 135x10.  For example...

365 x sets x reps

In the previous example, there is too much fatigue generated in the warm up sets to have all of your cards on the table for the work sets.  Use the warm up sets to PRIME yourself for the big stuff.

To meet this theory, my warm ups can look like so on any given day....(bench for example)

315x2 - stay here for another set or 2 if need be
365x1,1,1 (feels fast enough?  Yes, move up to 385.  If not, just stay.)

Squats, for example.....

315x3,3,3,3,3 (are these fast enough yet?  If so, move up)
365x3x3 (feels great...)
Either go forward or back down from here for the back off sets.

These are all warm ups.  I do not rush through things here to get more weight on the bar.  The best way to make sure that 405/500/550/600 feels heavier and harder than it usually does, is to try and get to those top sets too quickly.  This is another reason why you shouldn't clutter up your "routine" with needless bullshit. 

Just like seducing a beautiful woman, you want to take your time and not rush getting right to the action.  The hotter you make it early, the better it will be when the real action starts.

Younger guys and noobs are AAA members about this.  That is...almost always awful.

No different than premature ejaculation, they rush to get to the climax too quickly.  They leave the scene of the crime dejected and wonder what the hell is going wrong.

They don't want to be seen in the gym messing around with no "girl weights".  It is a big mistake to rush the warm up, no different than rushing past the foreplay with the beautiful woman.  Take your time, make sure all of your working parts are in order before you try to get to 2nd and 3rd base.

Try this test.  After you do a few warm ups, try accelerating with a medium-heavy weight as fast as possible for a triple.  Then do a second set with it, and see if you don't feel like you can move it faster.  Now try it for a third set.  It's almost always the case that the second and third sets will feel far more explosive than the first.

I find that 315 tells me a lot about how squatting is going to feel that day, and that 225 tells me a lot about how benching might feel.  The deadlift is a bi-polar mobster, so I can't always tell if he's going to be cool, or an asshole about things.

Either way, even if you do a general warm up, take your time on the warm up sets.  There's no need to rush through them, and they play a vital part in greasing you up for the good stuff.

2.  Have rituals

When I was in Ohio training at Wendler's, one of the things we talked about was rituals that we go through during our warm ups.

"I put my wrist wraps on at this weight."
"I put my belt on at this weight." (obviously Jim said this one)
"I put my elbow sleeves on at this weight."

So forth and so on.

It doesn't seem like much, but these little cues over time, help get you "ready" for your working sets, or for the sets that matter.  Jim made a point that if his warm ups aren't going well, he will put his wraps and stuff on early, in order to signal that it's time to turn it on.  Don't underestimate the mind as the most powerful tool in your training arsenal.

Some people like to yell, and act like Hyena's that are getting zapped by cattle prods.  I personally think this is retarded.

I do not recommend yelling and screaming and acting like you are on bath salts.  I discussed this in the last podcast.  Ed Coan lifted more than you did, or ever will, and he never made a sound during his lifts.  I also think that all of that yelling and stomping around is a big waste of energy.  When you watch boxers or MMA fighters, do they jump around and yell shit before the bell rings, or are they calm?  Same for football players right before the snap.  There is a moment of calm....then explosion.  From rxmuscle.......

Coan redefines powerlifting psyching standards by his calm intensity. Unlike some others that believe in screaming, smacking their training partners and head-butting the nearest wall (and this is before even leaving for the gym), Coan is known for displaying a calm demeanor. While his approach requires more discipline, the results speak for themselves. Rather than resorting to theatrics to psyche himself up, Coan advocates lifters to "get fired up on the inside - keep it in - otherwise you will just waste energy that could go into your lifts." Anyone that has witnessed Coan prepping before a lift will attest that he exhibits an outward relaxation. If, however, you are close enough to look into his eyes, there is an intensity that is frightening.

Also, when approaching a heavy training weight, a competition lift or a new personal record, the key is to keep out negative thoughts. Do not waste time in front of the bar; just lock yourself into your starting position and move the weight.

This gets me psyched up just reading it.  I made no noise about it.

Stronger than you and makes less noise about it

Now this is my own personal preference, but the truth is, in the upper weights that you are capable of, the technical aspects matter.  If you are not under control because you've gotten yourself too amped up (I know guys this has happened to), then you will miss the weight.  So what was all that god damn yelling and stomping around for?  You're lifting weights, not saving babies from AIDS.  Chill the fuck out.

3.  The Over-Warm Up 

Everything my entire philosophy of training is built around.  Warming up OVER the weight you intend to use for your working sets that day.

As you get the warm ups out of the way, if you plan on hitting 350 for your working sets, take a single with 370-380 for your last "warm up".  This always allows for more reps on the working set, without fail.

Interestingly enough, Derek Poundstone shares my theory on this and talks about it in this video at about the 6:54 mark.  I also like the fact that Derek says you need to kick your own dumbbells into place, and that it's a part of being strong as well.  My man crush for Derek should be evident at this point.

4.  On a low energy day, settle on low reps  

Sometimes, you're just going to feel like shit regardless of rituals, warm ups, or any other stimulus you decided to get going with for the day.

The one thing I have found on these days, is that if I just go to singles, and do a lot of them, I still feel like I get in a pretty solid session.  Reps require more glycogen, BCAA, and ATP in order to really bust them out. Singles however, don't require a lot of "fuel".  To also add to that, you don't need to be doing 90% singles for them to be incredibly effective.  In fact, I personally think that's more counter productive over a longer period of time, than working in the 75-85% range.  So on a day where things feel unbelievably shitty, find a weight that feels "good", and do some nice crisp singles for 20-30 minutes.

Summarizing - 

1.  Take your warm up sets seriously, and warm up properly.  Do not generate fatigue during your warm ups.  Their purpose is to prime you for the main sets.

2.  Have mental cues as you go through your warm ups.  These are things that generate a mind and body connection that real work is about to be done.

3.  Save the screaming for when you are dealing with unreasonable women.

4.  Don't ask your body to do things it's not properly equipped to do, i.e. don't try to hit rep PR's when you're having a low energy day.


  1. This is a great post all around.

    I'm going to try the over warmup idea on my upper body stuff. Lower body I'm sticking with 5/3/1 rep schemes and I'm not really sure how to work them in there.

    I can't agree more with shutting the fuck up before a lift. I like to treat lifting like work. I'm punching a fucking clock and I'm handling myself professionally. I'm there to get done what I had PLANNED for (my last couple months of training has actually been quite shitty because I stopped taking this approach... lesson learned). Before a big squat set, the most I'll do is let out a grunt while I'm staring at the floor, right before I get under the bar. That's about it.

  2. Great, great post. Training on my lunch break in China after working at the hospital all morning, I never know exactly how I'm going to feel by the time I hit that hot ass basement gym. Thanks for this.

  3. Much agreement. Check out the focused relaxation on Alexeev's face. First man to put 500lb overhead knows how to focus.

  4. I totally agree with this idea of an over warm up. I use 5/3/1 and I just started doing the following; lets say its a 5 day and my last set is supposed to be 85%, so then I just hit that for a set of 5. Then I hit another set of only 5. Finally, I do another set with that 85% but this time I'll hit a rep max if I'm feeling good. It's hard to explain how this helps but all I know is on the first set with my working weight I feel sorta rusty and the weight feels slow and like a grind. The second set feels better and by the third set I'm really comfortable with the heavier weight and I feel like its the right time to tear it up. Great post!

  5. I'm a huge fan of overwarming for rep work sets. Have you found any effective ways to overwarm for max singles? Maybe heavy partials or something? I like doing heavy walkouts for squats, but haven't found anything that works well for bench and deadlifts.

    1. no, and you have to remember that the whole point of doing an overwarm up, is to build strength with the back off sets. what you're talking about is demonstrating strength.

      I'm not a fan of partials or stuff like that, as I don't believe it has good carryover to the full ROM lifts. Mainly, I mean for squats, and bench.

  6. Its amazing how many people have a problem with using an empty bar for warm ups. They just have to have 45 pounders either side as a warm up.

  7. Really nice post, thanks Paul. Gonna have to try the "overwarming". Thanks for the vid, too...hard not to have a man-crush on Poundstone. That dude makes moving ridiculous weights look easy. And, I like that he is a thinker; like you, he is constantly evaluating his progress and tweaking things. I think it's important to understand WHY a movement is important. I think you wrote about this in SLL, everything should have a purpose, if not...throw it out!