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Rest Day

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News and Notes

  • The Snowshoe trip to the Catskills was rescheduled for this Saturday, and there is one space left. Email Mare [at] CrossFitSouthBrooklyn.com if you're interested! 
  • Meat CSA-ers and Egg Lovers: Don't forget to pick up your meat and/or buy eggs tomorrow night, from 6-8:30pm. Eggs are $6/dozen, first come, first served! Please bring any green bags you have back to the gym, and remember to bring your own bag for your share. Questions? Hit up mignyc [at] gmail.com. 

Warming Up a Lift

By Noah Abbott 

Are you the type of person who would give a speech to a packed house without practicing it first? Would you dance at a wedding without having a drink or two to lubricate your get-down muscles? 

If you are one of those rare souls that is eternally ready to perform at full intensity and proficiency at a moment’s notice, you can ignore this article. For the rest of us humans, I’m here to talk to you about how we should approach warming up our barbell lifts. 

General Barbell Warm-Up Guidelines
First, let’s preface that this approach has greater applicability for the “slow” barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, presses, etc.) than the “fast” or Olympic lifts. While the principles apply generally to Olympic lifting, the unpredictability and technical aspect of those lifts means they will be warmed up in a slightly different manner (extended barbell drills, more singles, etc.). 

So, here’s the easy part. When we warm up our lifts, we will always start with the empty bar. This is good practice for 500# and 100# squatters alike, for reasons I will delve into later. The only exception to this rule is the deadlift, where light bumper plates are needed to elevate the bar so we can get into a proper starting position. We want to generally take 3 or 4 warm-up sets to get to our working weight. Sometimes, if our work sets are very sub-maximal, we can take slightly less. If we are sore, trying to iron out some wonky movement patterns, or simply have learned that our body responds well to some higher warm-up volume, we can take slightly more. Still, it shouldn’t take much more than a handful of warm-up sets to be ready to rock. 

With that in mind, let’s take a theoretical athlete warming up to squat 155x5x3 (to be clear, that’s five reps for three sets). I’ll outline the athlete’s warm-up, and use it to illustrate a few points: 


Don’t Let the Appetizer Spoil Your Dinner
First, and most importantly, notice that as the lifter nears their work weight, volume decreases, moving from 5 reps when its light all the way down to 1 when its fairly heavy. You want your warm-up to be just that—something to get you prepared for your work sets, without diminishing from them. While your brain understands the difference between 145 and 155 pounds, your body will distinguish very little between the two as far as fatigue is concerned. In this example, 145 represents 93.5% of the lifter’s working weight. A set of 5 at this weight would amount to that lifter performing something so close in stimulus to their work set that it is operationally indistinguishable. For a novice lifter who is working with very sub-max weights, this might not be a problem. For someone near the end of a linear progression or attempting something relatively challenging, this could be the difference between success and failure. Your last warm-up set is simply to prepare your body and mind for your heaviest weight of the day- your work sets.

Taper Your Jumps
The next thing to consider while looking at our theoretical lifter is that each jump in warm-up weight is slightly smaller than its precedent as the lifter nears their work sets. I’ll do the math for you: 

45x5 (+45#)
85x5 (+40#)
120x3 (+35#)
145x1 (+25#)
155x5x3 (+10#)

The reasoning behind this is to make sure that as we move towards heavier weights we are being a bit more cautious with our jumps. This could be thought of as the “don’t dive headfirst into the freezing lake” effect. 

This doesn’t need to be approached with the precision seen in our example. It is certainly most important for the last warm-up set or two and the jump between your last warm-up and work sets. Truth be told, I had to work backwards and massage the numbers a bit to make sure each jump was smaller than the one before it. When we account for the reality of time constraints, working with partners, and annoying 2.5# plates, this is simply a rough guideline to consider when planning warm-ups.

Know Your Body
Here comes the part when I tell you to that all of the preceding circuitous rambling is highly dependent on personal characteristics, preferences, and experience, and can vary from day to day. For instance, I know I like my last warm-up to be very close to my work weight—within 5 or 10 pounds. Others are more comfortable taking larger jumps, it’s highly personal. Over time you will learn what works for you, and some days you may feel like you need a little extra warm-up, either because you feel sore or cold or because you need some extra practice before “shit gets real.” Listen to your body, consult your journal, and don’t feel too locked into one specific way of doing things. Also, keep in mind that as your strength increases, your relative jumps must increase as well—don’t get stuck making the same jumps, or else you will need to either make a giant leap between warm-up and work sets or take about 9 warm-up sets to get to work weight.

Intention Through Your Warm-Up
Lastly, here’s a thought process to guide your through your warm-ups.  This golden nugget of fitness wisdom was imparted to me by the Celestial Bodhisattva David Osorio, Blessed Be His Hamstrings, and has been invaluable to me in my own lifting. The following guiding principles are arranged to be considered in order, from your first warm-up (WITH THE EMPTY BARBELL) through your last warm-up set, and are cumulative—don’t discard them from your thinking as you move forward, simply shift your mental prioritization. 

Position: For your first warm-up set, pay attention to your positioning, range-of-motion, and whether each joint action and limb segment is doing what they are supposed to (knees out, wrists straight, etc.). With the empty bar, it is easy and safe to make corrections or even pause in a position to work thing out. Make sure you have done so before moving forward.

Balance: After you add some weight to the barbell for your second warm-up set, you will now be better able to feel slight deviations from balanced position. Pay attention to bar path and where your weight is in your feet throughout the entirety of the lift. The weight is still light enough that you can slow or possibly pause the movement to make corrections. Make sure you are well balanced before your next set.

Tension: As we approach our third set, there should be a moderate amount of weight on the bar, and we can begin to set our intention (‘sup yoga?) to creating tension. Focus on bracing, pulling your ribcage down, and bracing your abs. Make sure your knees are driven out, your shoulders are pulled back, or whatever specific element needs to be tight and packed for your movement.  

Focus: This may be the most overlooked, and possibly most important part of your warm-up.  Your last set, at a weight that is virtually identical to your work weight, is your dress rehearsal.  Now is the time to practice all of the singularity of purpose, tenacity, and heart you will bring to bear for your work sets. Go through your little ritual, stomp and stamp, grip the bar like you’re gonna break it, whatever works for you. Treat it like it weighs more than your work weight. If you do this right, it should feel easy and smooth, and inspire confidence for your work sets. If you are lackadaisical in your approach it will feel heavy and make you feel that much more uneasy about your work. Let it all hang out. 

By now you’ve warmed up your synapses, and certainly your eyeballs, by reading this missive.  While it may seem unnatural to spend this much time examining what amounts to a simple preparatory period for our work, keep in mind the 7 P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. If performance is our goal (and it is) that planning is our pathway to that goal.

Walk it with heart, determination, and intention. Peace. 

What is Art for? The School of Life
Less of Moore CrossFit 

Veteran lifters: how do you approach your warm-ups? 

Reader Comments (28)

Wednesday's Programming

Back Squat

Fitness: 3 x 5 Linear Progression
Start a bit below last cycle.
Performance: 92.5% x 1, 72.5% x 10

Post loads to comments.

12-9-6-3, For Time:
Deadlifts 275/185
Burpees Over The Bar

Post time and Rx to comments.

February 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

Blessed Be His Hamstrings, indeed!

Another great article, Noah!

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

baruch atah adonai...shel hamstrings.

I have always found that the focus part of warming up is the hardest piece for me. When I'm squatting I often say to people that I find 225 (60ish percent of current 1 RM) to be the hardest set of the day. I don't do everything right before I lift when I'm warming up. I unrack meekly and I'm not prepared to go down. On those really good days, days when I am a little unsure that everything is going to come back up unless I prepare correctly, I tend to warmup better. Unrack every warm up with purpose and the 225s just sort of pop up and down. I'm not sure how to fix this other than to treat every week like it's shark week, but i'm not sure if I have that mental capacity.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoel W

*slow clap for Noah* That is awesome. Also, "blessed be his hamstrings" made me snort.

I take no more than 4 sets to get to work weight, which means I can take pretty large jumps at the beginning. I also like the last "set" to be a single within 10# of my work weight. Sometimes I will make an exception and do a double at 20-25# less for the deadlift. The belt may come on for the last heavy single or double.

I know some people are more comfortable doing 5-6 sets if the weight is very heavy (like in strength cycle), but I find that that tends to be too much for me and my work sets suffer if I do more than 4-5 warmup sets.

I also like to get the warmups out of the way fairly quickly to allow lots of rest time between work sets.

This article is getting me excited to squat tomorrow!

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Fantastic article as per usual Noal.

If I were to criticize it (and btw I am), I would note the absence of the phrase "clangin' and bangin'" or any of the inspired external links that elevate and define your ouevre and distinguish your pieces from those of lesser writers that Kate is clearly forced to publish under duress. I can only assume that this is a first draft. I spiritedly await the final version.

Rest day for me as Oly class fell victim to the dreaded "wintry mix".

As usual, great write-up Noah.

I was one of those old-school lifters who did the same number of reps for all my warm-up sets. This may have been fine for something like say Concentration Curls (to get da pump of course), but this +weight/-reps approach does a much better job of preparing both your body and brain while minimizing fatigue. Yet another lesson learned at CFSBK.

Now I know! And knowing is half the battle. G.I. JOOOOOOOOOOOEEE...

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Yun

@Jay-Star - I have a kettlebell from Iron Skull fitness named Bunk Mooreland...

Great article. I approach my warmups by showing my plan to Jeremy. If he shrugs, I do it. If he says something, I do that, instead. If he's not there, I use something he shrugged previously. #logbook

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom


HBBS: 215x5x3

metcon: 7:21 Rx
Very heavy for me. DLs were 6/6, 4/5, 3/2F/1, 3
Had a lot of trouble keeping my shoulders back after around rep 15.

cashout tabata hollow holds: everyone this is a good idea if you haven't had enough pain in your day yet

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlex C

Late last night as I was headed down to the gym for Oly class I ran into Jay-Star and Karl and they tried to convince me that I had entered a weird parallel universe in which instead of snatches and cleans and jerks and I should turn right around and lift only donuts and brewskis. While this sounded good, very good, I chalked up my momentary disorientation to an exploding manhole cover that must have hit me in the head on my way down from treacherous Park Slope to the cushy land of Whole Foods and archery schools in Gowanus. Since I was already safe beyond the exploding-manhole-cover border of Fourth Ave, I marched on and joined Oly Class stragglers who were already there on the platforms where we ran through our workouts sadly sans Frankie. This is what happens when you count the days, hours and minutes until your next opportunity to snatch, what can I say?

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Mc

You guys are killing me today. Another great one from the Abbott. I look forward to the comments on a Noah article almost as much as the article itself. Okay, maybe a tiny bit more.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKate R.

I think I need to sign up for the next Oly cycle because it will make me a great comedy writer, regardless of whether it makes me a better clean-and-jerker.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Snatch PR (all my snatches are PRs, I'm a newbie) to "In the Air Tonight."

Color me fulfilled.

PS Thanks, SeƱor Fox.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermichele

Egg-sellent article Noah! Except you forgot to mention that we need to "insert a hand grenade sound effect" every time we hit squat bottom...Still haven't been able to shake that mental image of you ever since that AR class in the annex. Really though, I think it really beefs up the intensity.

Makeup post from Yday:

Trying to establish my opener for the 1RM C&J in this Sunday's Comp:
140, 140, 140, 140, 140(F)

Even though I failed the last one, I feel like a definitely have this weight. It was a bit later than I'm used to lifting and I was exhausted. I could've gone for the 5th one again, but I didn't want to push it. Will definitely start at this weight on Sunday. Fox noticed I have the tendency to lean forward a bit during my dip, need to remember to stay vertical!

Yesterdays WOD: 7:37 RX
I don't know why, but I genuinely enjoyed those 1 arm KB thrusters last night. It helped to cradle the kettlebell close with the opposite hand. Really liked this workout.

Cashout: Banded pull aparts and L sits along with DO's groovy tunes. Great way to end the night. Fell asleep almost as soon as i got home.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterK HarpZ

"Blessed be his hamstrings" - that got a big laugh even at 5:30am.

6am. BSQ: 135x5 / 185x3 / 205x2 / 255x1 / 280x1 / 220x10. Barely got 280 up. I was pitched pretty far forward. I really hope next week looks better than today's back squat. 220 wasn't too bad although I slowed down on the last 3-4 reps.

WOD: 5:07 Rx. Deadlifts were heavy. First set unbroken, then 8/4, 6/3, 4/2, 3. I got a little sloppy on the deadlifts but overall was pleased with this one.

February 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterElliott

I loved this article Noah. Good information delivered in a hilarious way. I too burst out laughing at the hamstring line. haha

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJenny M

Eliot - did you do an extra set of 15?

Great article indeed by Noah, and one we need to keep in rotation. The last section about Intention is the most valuable IMO, especially for more experienced lifters. Treating warm ups like 1RMs (physically, if not mentally) builds not only confidence but they are also basically practice for the work sets, You know what perfect practice makes...so why practice a bunch of half assed, garbage reps.


Back Squat (1st rep paused here now, too)

Clean Pulls
Todd C (welcome back!) said something about the bar being at my nipples and that I should be able to clean 300. I'd be stoked with 275.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFox

Oly Cycle

Shift from the knee twice, power snatch, OH squat-hold for 5 seconds.
33, 53, 63 x 3 x 5

Clean and jerk.
Clean pull, clean, clean pull, clean, jerk.
33, 63, 83, 93 x 3, 83 x 2.
Legs, hips, legs in that order, always. Will need to do this from the knee next time as I was getting a little confused today.


45 x 5, 65 x 4, 75 x 1, 82.5 x 3 x 3 (PR) 70 x 8.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Before I came to CFSBK I thought warm-ups were what sex-offender creeps did on crowded subway trains.

Now, I have mad skillz on warm-ups.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSamir Chopra

6am with Jess and McD

Monday's BP - easing back into this cycle
100lbs x 5 x 3

Crash-b's: 4x5'/3', these intervals were harder than I was expecting. 500m avgs 2:04, 2:07, 2:06, 2:07

I should've read Noah's article before class this morning. I warmed up with 45x5, 65x5, 85x5 and then did the work set. I have learned that I need to get to my work sets quicker in order to get an appropriate amount of rest in between the work sets, but I should plan my progression ahead of time instead of just staring at the bar and winging it.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Great article, great comments. I agree with Fox about how important intention and focus are during warm-ups. I need to get in this very particular zen-happy-serious-focused-confident mental state before I lift heavy on worksets, and if I haven't spent a warm-up set or lift marshaling some of that, my first set feels like shit. And then, if my first set feels like shit, I lose confidence for the other sets as well.

Modified Invictus Competition WOD at CrossFit East Bay yesterday

3x5 Bench (instead of Front Squat)
felt pretty smooth!

EMOM for 12 min, 1 Clean and Jerk, adding on a bit each time.
83, 93, 103, 108, 133, 118, 123, 123, 128, 128, 133, 138

For time
5 shoulder to overhead @ 125 (scaled from 135)
10 s2o @ 115 (scaled from 125)
15 s2o @ 95 (scaled from 105, should have done this at 105)
20 s2o @ 75

Did this in about 10 min---I can't remember the exact time. Soooo many clean and jerks. I feel like I get a shitty attitude sometimes when I see a workout with all barbell work that I have to scale. I start doubting myself, wishing I were bigger, feeling a little sorry for myself. It's completely silly and counterproductive. :-/

For time:
10 Muscle ups
20 ohs (65#)
40 chest to bar pull-ups
20 ohs (65#)
100 double unders


I was pooped at this point! I could barely hold my lock out in overhead squats and had do teensy sets on the chest to bars. Still, a fun workout! I can't believe I used to volume like this everyday...honestly, I can't say I totally miss it.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLil JB

My hamstrings are feeling so blessed right now.

Great article. A few semi random thoughts:

I always write out my warm-ups beforehand so I don't have to think about them while I'm working with my partners. I often write them on a white board and leave it on the floor or something so my partners can see what I intend on doing, this usually seems to help the whole group figure out their jumps.

For me there is a delicate balance between too much and too few warm ups. On deadlifts, I've learned LESS is more. I try to take no more than 3 jumps to get to work weight and keep the reps really low. For example:
315x5 work

Where as on bench and squat I prefer 4 warm-ups with more reps later on to build confidence in my work weight. For example last night:
170x5x3 work

Finally, at some point, you need to get comfortable going a little heavier cold. I used to always squat 115 for 5 until I forced myself to go to 135 from the bar. After a little I became much more comfortable with that until it didn't feel heavy is has a warmup. Similarly, on my deadlift I've been going from 135 to 225 without a pit stop at 185. The first few times I did that if felt like a big jump but now it Feels normal

February 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

4:30 w/ Coach Whitney

Tomorrow's Squats
Front Squat:
135x5, 165x5, 185x3, 205x5x3 PR
The Predator dropped down in camo-mode and tried to rip out my spine thru the back of my neck during the last set. Either that or I'm doing something wrong.

First round was unbroken, but then it all went wrong. I think I broke up my last 3 into 8. I couldn't see the clock thru my tears of disappointment.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Yun

Quick Post:

(45x5, 135x5, 185x3, 225x1, 245)
260x5, 260x3x3
-work sets with the belt. 260 was my previous 1RM.

(45x5, 75x5, 95x3, 115x1)
-all with a pause on the first rep of each set and all felt good.

PM 5k Row at home in about 24mins.

(33, 63, 83)
88, 93, 98, 103, 108f, 108

Cashout with Crossover Symmetry.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterlady fox

Oops! I meant HBBS (not Front Squat).

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Yun

@Fox - oops, rushed writing that one while trying to remember my sets. No bonus DL set for me. First round unbroken, then I think it was 6/3, 4/2, 3. Pretty sure I wanted to break up that first set 8/4 but managed to get through it unbroken.

February 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterElliott

Thankful for this article! I've been wondering a lot about proper warmup technique recently, and was hoping there'd be an article on the subject. Very insightful, especially considering the intention and thought process one should go through during each warmup set!

Excited for tomorrow's workout after feeing discouraged after yesterday's class. On the positive side, I feel real tough walking around with swollen, bruised wrists/forearms from the KB thrusters.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAllie B.

Great article! I usually do 3-4 warm-up sets as described. One thing that works well for me when we are doing higher volume work or rep-outs is to do one single at 5-10% more than what I'm doing for my work set. So I might do a single at 210-220 if I were doing a set of 10+ reps at 200.

Today's work:

HBBS - 215x5x3 - felt a little stiff today, but it moved quickly.

WOD - 3:59

Broke up the 9 and 6 rounds as I felt like I was getting a little rounded.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan L

Snatch+hang Snatch

Clean pulls@ 419x3x3

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJakeL

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