The Strength Sensei on Warm-up Sets

The Strength Sensei on Warm-up Sets

Charles R. Poliquin’s minimalist approach to hard training


“I’m in a hurry to get things done,

Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun.”

Those are the opening lyrics of a song made famous by the country music band Alabama. It could also describe the logic behind the circuit training workouts offered by many large commercial gyms. These circuits, which often include cardio stations such as a step, are certainly better than nothing but are not the most effective way to get bigger or stronger.

Instead of traditional circuit training, the Strength Sensei would find ways to reduce the warm-up period to get right into the heavy lifting. Because, as Iron Game athletes are fond of saying, “You can never be too strong!”

First, the Strength Sensei would not have his athletes perform a general warm-up, such as 15 minutes of walking on a treadmill, followed by slow, static stretches for the major muscle groups. He said that cardio would alter blood pH levels and affect the ability of the most powerful muscle fibers to contract. As for static stretching, he believed the best time to do this was when the muscles were warm, so after a workout (and, as one alternative, in the morning after a warm shower).

The Strength Sensei generally believed in a specific warmup. That is, just performing the exercise is enough of a warm-up, especially when performing sets of higher reps.

Let’s say you can military press 100 pounds for 10 reps. If you are performing four sets of 10-12 reps, you could start with the empty bar for 12 reps, increase to 80 pounds for your second set, and then go to 95-100 for your final two sets. Using a rep range is better than one specific rep prescription as it enables you to stay with the same weight for additional sets. In this example, if you got 12 reps for the third set with 100 pounds, you would probably lose 1-2 reps for the fourth set, which is still within that rep range.

Fewer warm-up sets are needed when using high reps. (This photo by Miloš Šarčev. Lead photo by Viviana Podaiski,


Although one-set proponents recommend one hard work set, the reality is that they often perform several warm-up sets. It’s doubtful that any of them jumped to their max weight in the squat, deadlift, or another major exercise without a warm-up. That said, elite weightlifters who train multiple times daily can often reach a max weight in squats with just a few sets, particularly in their later workouts.

The Strength Sensei believed that how a workout is designed can affect the number of warm-up sets needed. After performing compound exercises for the back, such as rows or chin-ups, often few, if any, warm-up sets are required for isolation work for the biceps, such as Scott curls. Likewise, compound exercises for the shoulders, such as overhead presses, may reduce the need to perform warm-up sets for the triceps, such as rope pressdowns.

Finally, the environment you train in affects how many warm-up sets are needed. If you are training in Texas in the middle of summer, chances are you can get right into your work sets with minimal warm-up sets.

If you’re “in a hurry to get things done,” follow Charles R. Poliquin’s advice and rethink your approach to warming up.! (TSS)

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