Warm-Up Sets vs Working Sets

Warm up vs working sets

We’ve had a lot of repeat questions lately in our Paragon Training Methods community about warm-up sets vs working sets, how to properly warm-up a lift, and also if warm-up sets are even necessary. Let’s get into it!

In our workouts, you’ll commonly see programming like this:

Barbell RDL:
2-3 warm-up sets, then:
2 work sets x 8-12 Reps
Rest 2 min

Warm-up Set: exactly as it sounds: a set to get you warmed up for lifting heavier weight. With each warm-up set, the wheel will be getting heavier and heavier. These shouldn’t be super tiring or taxing.

Working Set: = your difficult or challenging sets where you’re pushing hard and lifting at the prescribed effort level in the programming.

Generally in our Paragon workouts, we want you to be ~2-3 reps from failure.

Meaning you’re not redlining, maxing out, or emptying the tank… but you’re definitely busting your butt and trying hard. If you want to read more about how we define reps from failure, check out this blog post over on the Paragon Training Methods website.

Why Warming Up Matters

You DEFINITELY shouldn’t be skipping the warm-up sets on your lifts.

If you’re *just* doing 2-3 work sets of however many reps and sets are programmed… vs 2-3 sets of warm-up reps AND the working sets, that’s missing out on a LOT of training volume over the course of a training day, let alone your training over weeks and months time.

Skipping warm-up sets is pretty much like choosing violence and throwing gains and progress out the window.

And if you don’t “need” any warm-up sets OR don’t need many warm-up sets, you may be sandbagging, not lifting heavy enough, and/or trying as hard as you should be.

To give an example: if I was going to back squat 250 pounds, I couldn’t just walk up to the squat rack and rip that cold, or even after 1 or 2 warm-up sets. It would require ample building and warming up.

General Rule of Thumb for Warm-Up Sets

Start with 50% of your suspected working weight x 10-12 reps
Then go 75% of your suspected working weight x 5-6 reps

Example: RDL @ 100 lbs
Warm-up Set 1: 10-12 reps x 50 lbs
Warm-up Set 2: 5-6 reps x 75 lbs
2 Work Sets of 8-12 reps x 100 lbs

If you have absolutely no idea know what weight you plan to lift (or maybe you’re trying out a brand new lift), no sweat. This is where you use your warm-up sets to feel it out and figure out your weight on the fly.

Example: DB Bench 3 Work Sets x 10-12 Reps
Warm-up Set 1: 10-12 reps x 15 lbs (feels super light)
Warm-up Set 2: 5-6 reps x 25 lbs (challenging, could probably add 5-10 lbs)
3 Work Sets: 8-12 reps x 35 lbs (tough, but do-able!)

Either way, try not to overthink it too much. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do this.

Just try to keep in mind that we’re aiming for Goldilocks and The 3 Bears: we don’t want to be under-prepared or put ourselves at risk of injury if we go to lift heavy, but we don’t want to warm-up TOO much and them bamboozle ourselves and be too tired to hit our lifts either.


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