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Rest Day

Shawna S gets a spot from Jenna M

Warming Up Wisely

By Noah Abbott

Each time we walk into the gym, we are confronted with a certain amount of work for the day. For many, this is one of the greatest pluses of working out at a “non-traditional” gym- you don't have to think about programming or planning. Upon walking in the door and looking at the white board, we are given a prescription: exercises, rep-and-set schemes, even target weights, be they relative (70% of 1RM) or absolute (225#/185#.)

Despite the seeming absolutism, each day there is as much unsaid information and room for improvisation and interpretation as there are set parameters and instructions undoubtedly scrawled illegibly and supplemented with original art from the Osorio Stick Figure collection. The way we warm up for each lift and WOD is our own time to acquaint ourselves with the given exercise, practice form and execution, and familiarize our body with the (often heavy as all get out) weight we are about to move.

In the “real world,” when give a task most people will start by hashing out a plan of attack before jumping into the deep end. If we were to fix a broken table leg, we would plan out what tools we needed, sketch a few ideas, acquire materials, set out a work space, and make sure we had enough beer to get us through our clumsy Bob Villa imitation. If given a project at work, we would brew a pot of coffee, do some internet research, sketch a few outlines, vent to coworkers about how unfair it was that we had to do this shit, call home and say we'd be home late, and then maybe get to work. I propose that before any endeavor in the gym, we should practice a similar amount of introspection, practice, and slow familiarization with our task at hand. The beer and the bitching are up to you.

Position, Balance, Tension, Focus   

Our first consideration when beginning our warm-up sets is to use lighter weight repetitions of a movement as practice for the relatively high skill movement to follow. A good rubric to follow is to begin with an emphasis on Position and Balance in our first few sets and transition to emphasizing Tension and Focus as the weight begins to increase and we near our work weight. To illustrate this concept, let’s use the squat (our most familiar and important lift) as an example.

During your first 2 or 3 warm-up sets (always starting with an EMPTY BAR), while the weight is light and manageable, try to dial in your Position. Where are your feet and hands set up? Are they too close or far? Is your rack tight and centered? Are you reaching proper depth as you squat, are your knees shoved out, is your back in a good, safe position at the bottom? Think about these concepts, and begin to fix the feeling of proper positions in your mind. Your lifting partner is an invaluable resource at this time, as they can cue you on some things you can't see. Ask them questions, and use their feedback to inform your lifting.

Once your positioning feels OK, quickly check in on your Balance. What part of your foot is bearing your weight at the start of your squat, does it shift at the bottom or remain constant? Is your bar path straight and balanced, or is it wavering or shifting? Your partner is helpful here as well, although some elements of balance, especially in your feet, can be so subtle that they are tough to perceive. If you can't sense your balance due to your shoes, consider removing them - going barefoot is Tre Paleo.

Now that we are Properly Positioned and Badassedly Balanced, lets work on Tension and Focus. As the weight begins to increase, shift your inner gaze to getting TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT. Are you making sure to get a full, deep breath before you lift? Are you staying tight at the bottom of the lift? Are you holding that breath at the top and staying tight and controlled at the top of the lift before your next rep? Check in with your partner, and don't get offended if they say you've gone soft, this isn't Menace II Society, G.

Finally, its time to get Focused. Are you often suprised when your warm-up sets feel really heavy and slow, and then your heavier work sets feel faster and relatively light? If so, you are probably not truly focusing until your work sets, which can be both dangerous and prevent you from reaching full potential. Treat your last few warm-up sets exactly like a work set. If you have a ritual during your work sets- stamping feet, Monica Seles grunts, weeping uncontrollably- perform it during your last few warm-up sets. Prime your central nervous system for the task at hand, and your work sets will feel even easier and more controlled when you get there. Also, as you near your work sets, cut the chatter and jokes (what my grandpa called “grab-assin”) and go to your Squatty Place. Find your Power Animal, Chi, or Inner Ronnie Coleman, get centered, and then attack the bar.

Weight Go Up, Reps Go Down, or “The Two Trains Passing In The Night Theory of Warm-ups”

Numerous times I have had an athlete come to me and complain that their first work set of, say, 100 pounds for 5 reps felt incredibly heavy and slow. I walk over to their rack to watch their next set, and before they even begin, I spot a whiteboard where this dutiful soul has recorded their warm-up sets. It reads: 45x5, 55x5, 65x5, 75x5, 85x5, 95x5. As this point I begin sounding like Foghorn Leghorn as I stammer and sputter (I say, I, I, I say, boy!) and explain that a warm-up scheme like this means that before their very first “live” squat they have already moved over ¾ of a ton of weight!

Our first few warm-up sets, while the weight is light, should mimic the repetitions we plan to use when we work, or can even be slightly more. We can use these sets to get more mobile and comfortable in the positions we will need to hit when we work. As we begin to increase weight, we should drop the repetitions. We have already achieved Supple Leopard/Panther/Aardvark status due to our dedicated mobility work, standardized warm-up, and our first few light warm-up sets. Now we just need to accustom our body to the feeling of moving heavy weight. As we get close to work sets we should drop the repetitions to singles or doubles in an effort to not fatigue ourselves before we really get started. A warm-up set for the same reps at 95% of our work weight is just a neglected work set, sitting alone and unloved in our log book and condemned to a lifetime of second class Squatizen status.

Other Considerations

If we warm up with intention (Position, Balance, Tension, Focus) and with a plan (dropping the repetitions as we increase weight), we are most of the way there, but there are still a few ideas to consider. First, as Fox likes to say, “you are your own Peyton Manning.” I assume he means 2010 Peyton Manning (a cool and introspective leader who is confident changing playcalls on the fly and makes funny commercials) and not 2011 Peyton Manning (a spinally-fused ghost who haunts the sidelines of the NFL's worst team looking like he wants to stab his teammates, yet still makes funny commercials). Listen to your body, and be prepared to add in some extra warm-up sets if you feel cold, wonky, or want to practice something. If something feels sticky or sore, do some mobility work or foam roll a bit between warm-up or work sets. You are Peyton Manning! (Minus the peanut shaped head.)

Also, keep in mind that lifts using smaller muscle groups (think: Beach Muscles) will fatigue faster than those using your larger muscle groups (think: Yo' Butt) Don't go overboard warming up the Little Guys, they are generally simpler lifts anyway, and you'll find yourself fatigued when you work. You can linger a little bit on the Big Mommas, which have higher muscular endurance and can be trickier to nail down.

Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Hopefully, now that you've suffered through some decent information wrapped in a bunch of bad jokes, you've got a better understanding of the general concepts that drive a good warm-up. If nothing else, when warming up make sure you have a plan. Think about what you want to accomplish with your warm-up, and use that time to get yourself ready to succeed. A lackadaisical warm-up inevitably leads to spotty and uneven results. Make your warm-up a dress rehearsal for your lifts and then break a leg. On second thought, don't.

Tell us about YOUR warm-up ritual.

Getting Ready to Squat Margie Lempert
Heavy: A Response Margie Lempert
Opportunities David Osorio
Good Training Habits, Part 1 David Osorio
Sett(l)ing for a new PR Chris Fox
Preparing to 1RM Chris Fox

Reader Comments (30)

So sad to have missed crush week. Was finishing up crush week at work.

The bright side is we start vacation tomorrow.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentershawn$

Nice article Noah. I still think Peyton Manning is a meathead.

I think I've gotten better about warming-up (some mobility work, and then following a increasing-weight-decreasing rep scheme for lifting). Where I'm sorely lacking is cooling-down. That is one thing I really need to get much, much smarter about.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamir Chopra

Nice article, Noah. I will have to use the words "squatty place" in a sentence at least once today.

7 AM with Traci, KH, Keith, Julie, et al. Yesterday's WOD was not nearly as bad as I was afraid it was going to be (but it still wasn't easy). 20:20, scaled (but I did those burpees strict, dammit!).

I was actually most afraid of the double-unders. I haven't practiced those in forever and I thought I was going to be counting them in 1s and 2s. For the most part I managed 3s and 4s, which surprised me.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStella

I'd like to point out that Matt Katz is apparently being robbed at gunpoint in that picture.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoah

Nah, that's just the beginning of my new interpretive dance routine.

Also, if anyone is interested in splitting a meat CSA share starting in January, lemme know. I love meat, but I'm not sure my fridge/wallet can handle quite that much of it.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Katz

Great writeup, and very entertaining! I prefer to go the Oliver McCall route. Once I am deep into my work sets, I like to just break down and bawl. uncontrollably.

In all seriousness, good stuff. important!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJR


i got some bacon from the herondale CSA as a special order. i highly recommend you get some if you're in the CSA. holy shit it is maybe the best bacon i've ever had. smoked, not cured, but with no heavy smoky flavor (i generally don't even like smoked meats). i think it was like 9 bucks a pound or something.

December 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterNick Angiolillo

7am with Stella, Keith Tracy T, Ash, and other fabulous folks. WOD was tough and had to amend a few things, with help from Lady Fox, so my stuff stayed in check but finished that mother effer. Very excited about my speed rope - the fact that it's going to hurt hellishly bad if I miss a DU almost guarantees that I will do everything in my power to not miss evereverever.

Totally agree with Stella and "squatty place" - my word of the day. Great articles as always.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJules

awesome video of a russian lifter putting up 225 kg (~500 pounds!). fun game: try to guess which lift he's going to perform as he approaches and racks the bar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtxQFmRlKaY

December 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterNick Angiolillo

PS, I was loving how many ladies there were in class this morning. Maybe we spidey-sensed that one of our own (Lady Fox) was teaching.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStella

How I "feel" when warming up has become a pretty big indicator of how I am going to perform during my wod's or lifts. The more time i take, usually the better result.

I come into the gym now abt 30minutes prior to class to foam roll, lax ball, and stretch every thing that I know to be my biggest limitations. Ive gotten some weird looks from the like of J-Bails (nickname stinks because I've never seen her bail anything) for my band stretches and faces lax ball work, and truth be told I blame it all on Active recovery, and mobility wod. There is some weird stuff on there. Im going to start adding some rowing to my warm up more consistently to get my heart rate going abit more.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDH3

So sad that I accidentally slept through today's 7am!! I was looking forward to doing this insane WOD.


Wonderful write up Noah. Also, wow look at all those amazing articles written by our coaches! So smrt!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLana

I usually do a lot of warming up before I start my barbell warm-ups. In addition to standardized warm-upy type triplets, I like to do some torso work to turn on my abs and low back muscles. GHD Hip extensions, Hollow rocks, L-Sits etc. I feel like after doing a bit of that I'm much more successful in my ability to brace my midsection during weighlifting.

Other than that my barbell warming up is very similar to what's posted in the article today. If Im feeling cold and not confident Ill do up to 6 warm-up sets, if Im feeling good I'll do about 4. For me, the hardest part to dial in is the mental part of it. Sometimes I come in and start warming up but my mind is trailing and I don't feel invested in the movements as much as I need to. This drops my confidence and hinders my performance. I'm curious what other people do to go into a good mental "Squatty Place"

December 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

I'm reposting my paleo challenge questions from yesterday since I think they got lost in the flood of book recos.

1. Are legumes/soy also taboo? Not that I'm planning to chow down on tofu every day and call it paleo, but I do like a little soy sauce on my sashimi.
2. An ounce of water/tea/seltzer per pound of body weight? That seems like a lot -- for most of us, that's more than a gallon per day! I'm having serious trouble imagining how I would do that without having to run to the bathroom, like, every half hour.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Another solid piece, Noah. I especially like the mention about too much volume in warm ups and the order of "position, balance, tension, focus".


My warm ups look quite different for lifting than for conditioning. For lifting I need ritual. I need the right shoes, shorts, belt, heck, I even have a favorite 'squat shirt' that has a bunch of holes in it. I plan out my warm ups and stick to my plan. I know from experience that my plan will work to warm me up properly, even if the weight feels a bit slow and heavy. I used to try and get all amped up for lifting, stomping around and growling and such and it worked, to a point. Now I find a quiet place and focus. When the weights get heavy I usually reapeat (quietly to myself, but often enough out loud) a cue or two that I want to focus on. For the squat again, it might be "stay tight and stand up" or "bounce, hips up". What ever I feel I'm needing for a set or rep. For Oly lifting my mental cues are shorter and usually one word, "DOWN" for example if I'm trying to catch too high.

By contrast, for conditioning pieces I usually am more or a "get loose and go" guy. DROMs, get the weights ready, and do it. I can really geek myself out if I do too much work in warming up for a WOD. I am, afterall, a supple leopard.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFox

Stella - legumes are technically (can we use that word here?) not paleo. Soy is a legume, so also not paleo. There are anti-nutrients in legumes that your body is probably happier without. But, think about frying large fish as opposed to small fish...Here's my 2 cents on your specific questions.

1- Sashimi is awesome. I also like a little soy sauce on mine. Most commercial soy sauces are brewed with wheat and therefore will contain trace amount of gluten and may also contain hydrolyzed vegatable protein (which doesn't sound bad but is), so try and avoid those. Tamari is a traditionally brewed condiment that uses no grain and a natural fermentation process. Try and use this. In the end a little Kikkoman on your raw tuna and eel is not going to be a deal breaker though, agreed?

2- Is that a lot of water? You should be drinking a lot of water. Being well hydrated helps your cells to do their jobs. Being dehydrated is a great way to have a shitty training session. Also, if you drink a lot of water you may not be as likely to drink other stuff. Liquid calories can kill an otherwise nutritious diet. I start every morning off first thing with a pint of water. At the gym I have a 1 liter Sigg bottle that I go through every few classes/clients, at least 2 of those a day sometimes 4. With each meal I have a pint of water, usually sipping it while eating and then downing it upon finishing the food. I probably pee about 5-7 times a day. Not sure of that's "normal" or not, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for me. If you drink slightly less water it's again not going to be a deal breaker. Remember, big fish :)

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFox

On top of what Coach Fox said, there have been some articles out there about soy like this one:


Talk about scary! are you kidding me? No soy for my boys! and also none for my sons! LOL!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJR

Thanks Fox!

I knew soy wasn't paleo, I just noticed it wasn't in the rules for the challenge -- so I wasn't sure if it was going to be one of the mandatory bits or the optional bits. Sounds like I can cook with it here and there and still be within the spirit of the challenge, but I will definitely try switching to tamari instead of regular soy sauce.

I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around drinking that much water (and no, I don't drink liquid calories as a rule -- quit soda and juice a long time ago, and I have MAYBE one glass of wine a week), but I will give it a try in the spirit of the challenge.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Reading yesterdays post was a lot of fun last night. So first I'd like to thank Noah for calling me a "Squat Philosopher." I may need to make a new business card-- I love it!

Did we separate the nerds from the jocks cause it seems that we have the biggest group of nerdy jocks in the universe. Wow.

Finally, I'm with you Fox-- when do you all find the time to read? I read when on vacation and that's about it. I did read "The Texas Method" ebook by Justin Lascek though. Three times.

OMG, I'm the jock.

Strength Cycle, Intensity Day:

Squat: 325x5
No freaking joke. The last rep was the grind of a lifetime. So sloooowwww.
Bench: 190x5x2
Moving better, pressing 'only' twice a week for a couple weeks has been good. Only two sets, as I thought I would leave well enough alone.
Deadlift pull from blocks: 395x5

Super happy I got my 5 on the squat. The block pulls were intense. I let out the primal scream on four (and was losing my back) but then took a few extra breaths and pulled the 5th rep with confidence and solid form. I think I'm ready to break the 400 barrier!

So much reading material today! Thanks coaches!

December 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterRob Is

Thanks, Noah, for the article! Thanks, Shane, for the lacrosse balls.
I'd like to add:
And they don't like me. Just venting.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris A.

Today was as hard as I thought it would be even with only 65 pounds for the OHS and 16KG KBs
I was not recovered from Wed. workout and it cost me some.

Thanks for the cheers to get that last strict ring dip.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith W

How I find my "Squatty Place":
Lots of calm breathing and feet wiggling (to get my feet as solidly planted on the ground as possible before getting under the bar)
And then more breathing.
And then a second of staring at the wall/floor in front of me.
And then more breathing.
And then squeezing my hands around the bar.
(breath and wiggle until I am totally happy with my position)

"You are going to lift this f#%*ing weight, Lana."

Stand up.Step back. Big chomp of air.
Down... AND UP!!

My Squatty Place is very quiet, calm, and serious.

(and then I run away smiling and giddy as shit)

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLana

What informative and well-written articles! Thanks, Coaches!

Did the WOD but super-modified most of the movements. Was not getting any double-unders at all during the warm-up so did box jumps instead. Overhead squats were not my friend, either, so I did front squats instead. :( Time- 18:53.

Spidey-senses, indeed! It was nice to not be the only girl in class for once..."Squatty Place" mind-prep: not much except deep breaths, visualization and pep-talk'ing to myself. Apparently I need to "brace my midsection" when I lift because every coach I've had gets after me to tighten my abs. Or maybe I'm just chubby-lol.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTraci T.

Holy paleo challenge! I'm excited/ mortified but I'm very ready for a strict 2 months because I have been terrible about my eating and gym routine lately. I did strict paleo back in august/ sept and I felt AMAZING. Then I fell off big time and haven't been able to find my groove again :( Biggest obstacles for me are being consistent and drinking enough water!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInka

I get to class 20-30 min early and do a yogaish / crossfitish warm up somewhat informed by the workout. I am always stiff and sore and really need this bonus work to keep safe.

When lifting I try to hold only one or two simple, global thoughts in my head that cover several technical bases. For squatting lately it has been "reach back" on the way down which keeps the bar off the balls of the feet, then "screw it up" which means external rotation of the legs send the chest up.

works for me. i convince myself if i do these things i can't fail.

I have a little routine of pulling on the bar a stomping my feet into position too.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercarlos

It would be interesting to do a whole squat cycle just on the overhead squat! But definitely after I get cleared to squat again!!!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBilly Keefe

last heavy training night in this strength cycle. overall some decent PRs, some not so decent ones, but for a short cycle and the multiple deloads i've faced i think i have made OK progress.

squat: 245x5x3 (PR)
this is only a 5 pound PR over last cycle, due to two deloads. but it was a 245 that felt and looked really good, whereas 240 last cycle as agonizing. i'm a little sad that this is the last class because i could probably cruise through to 265 or even 275 if i maintained the linear progression.

press: 90x5x3
this is only a 2.5 pound PR over last cycle. it's a fairly strong 90 but i wish it were a strong 100 :P someday...

power clean: 155x3x3 (PR)
this is a 25 pound PR over last cycle, where i was cleaning an ugly 130. i've been working on drills and watching a lot of videos to try to clean up my form. i'm getting there, although my form today wasn't amazing. my first and second pull are still pretty good but i am really lacking in speed.

overall a nice night for me.

December 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterNick Angiolillo

Bench: 170x5x2, 170x8 (thanks to Mike Mishik and Rickke for being good benching partners, and to Malcolm for recommending a rep-out!)
Weighted Chins: 40x5x3
Weighted Dips: 35x5x3
Barbell Bent Rows (expertly coached by Margie): 70x10x3
Rocking night at Club Open Gym!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamir Chopra

I just realized I now use as many exclamation points as David does.

Thanks for everything David!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Is

You're welcome!!!!

December 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

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