In this F5 blog Coach T breaks down for us how to properly warm up for barbell lifts. Get your science-y lifting hats on, or should I say  your deadlift socks?….

In teaching students to become stronger through the barbell lifts, I have been asked one question (other than am I doing this right?) most often….How should I properly warm up for my working weight?  Now for a student to ask this question, we must assume they are familiar with certain terms and programming concepts which is where we shall start.

What is Working Weight?

Working weight denotes the weight on the bar for that training session that is intended to be counted towards applying stress to the student’s body. It is a crucial part of learning to warm up for barbell lifts. So if someone is squatting 225 lbs for 5 reps, one could correctly assume that squatting 95 lbs for a similar rep scheme wouldn’t do much towards improving that student’s strength.  Therefore the student should have an idea, which could be very different according to which program is being utilized, of what weight would count towards their “work” (weight heavy enough to stress them appropriately) for that session.

Calculating Weight for Your Lifting Program

At Function 5 Fitness we recently have been utilizing the popular program 5/3/1 created by Jim Wendler.  This program calls for varying volume (number of reps) and intensities (weight on the bar) that changes on a weekly basis.  The intensity is based off percentages of the student’s estimated 1 rep max (e1RM) ranging from 65% to 95% depending on the stage of the program.

Once the program is understood by the student, the confusion often lies in how to effectively implement it in regards to warming up to the working weight i.e. warm up for barbell lifts. Lets use an example:

Ian squat 315 for 1 rep

On week 1 of the program he is supposed to do 5 reps at 65%, 5 reps at 75%, and 5 reps at 85%, so




Ian may inquire to how he gets to that 205, should he just slap that on the bar and go to work, or do warm up sets need to occur.  The answer is warm up sets, the body needs to be properly prepared for that 205×5.  

General Warm Up for Barbell Lifts Guidelines

I recommend the following guidelines for your warm up for barbell lifts:

  1. Always start with the empty bar to work out any kinks, maybe even hit 2 sets
  2. The amount of warm up sets will depend on how heavy your working weight is, someone squatting 405 will have a couple more jumps than someone squatting 135
  3. Jumps should decrease in weight, not increase, and the first jump from the just the bar to your first warm up will be the biggest, although subsequent jumps may equal that first jump, but never exceed.  For instance, if I am warming up for 165 lbs, I would go from the bar (45 lbs) to 95 lbs, to 135 lbs, to 165 lbs.  I wouldn’t go from 95 lbs to 155 lbs then to working weight as the first jump was 50 lbs and the second was 60 lbs.
  4. Don’t warm up with a weight too close to your working weight, once again this will depend on how much weight you are working up towards, but I wouldn’t hit a warm-up set higher than 85% of my working weight for that session.
  5. Use the lighter warm up sets to practice proper technique, do not just rush through them, repetition is the mother of skill!

So back to our buddy Ian who is trying to warm up to 205 x 5. Following the above guidelines I would recommend the following approach:

45x5x2 (weight x reps x sets)



Then his working weight of 205

Properly warming up for your working weight for the session is always a solid plan. If a proper warm up for barbell lifts is implemented, it is a great way to both minimize your chance of injury as well as give you an opportunity to practice your technique. Although there is no one approach, I believe the guidelines above to be sound advice that has served me and my students well. Most importantly, get under a barbell and happy lifting!

See you in the lab,

– Coach Tyler Schaeffer, CSCS, SFG II, SFL I, USAW I, and Competitive Burrito Eater

F5 Kettlebells and Thai Boxing

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