The Over-Warm-Up

This is a technique I use with some of my lifters to increase their confidence on the bench press. It’s not a new idea, and people have been using it since the dawn of time, but it’s something we haven’t discussed on the site, and I get a lot of questions about it. I call it the “Over Warm-Up (OWU).” It’s a very technical and marketable name, I know. What does it mean? What do you think it means? It means you warm up to a heavy single before your work sets. Complicated stuff.

It might not have a sexy name, but it works. I’ve used this with a quite a few lifters to build confidence on heavy benches and to get them past long-term sticking points. In the past few months, RoryT used it to go from a 285 max bench to hitting 300 for the first time, then a couple weeks later, crushing 300×2. Jess used this technique to handle 95lbs dozens of times before her meet last weekend, where she hit two easy Meet Bench PRs. Many guys over on the LHS Forums are using it with success. You could also use it for various other lifts, like presses, push presses, even squats – though I think it’d be a pretty terrible idea on deadlifts. The target audience for this approach will be primarily novices and intermediates. If you’re an advanced lifter, chances are you’re not likely to benefit much from it, as you’ve already had years to master the mental aspects of the main lifts, and you’re quite capable of getting psyched up for a heavy PR single.

However, many lifters will find themselves “nervous” about certain weights, especially in the beginning stages of getting stronger. Typically, these hurdles revolve around a combination of big plates and 25lb plates. The weights I’m talking about here are usually 185, 225, 275, 315, 365, 405, etc., though the OWU can be used for any mental sticking point (the 200 and 300lb benchmarks can be just as intimidating as any other, even though they don’t look that special on a bar), or even just to include some heavy practice.

I can’t stress enough that you have a partner lift/spot your OWU, especially as you first tinker with it. Never pick a weight you can’t handle – if you are EVER missing a rep on your OWU, you’re doing it way, way wrong. You need to pick a weight that is well within reach – it’s not supposed to tire you out, or require a psych-up. It’s not an excuse to get greedy and “max out.” It’s just something to stomp on until it’s dead. Then you move on to the next enemy, and stomp it. Here are a few examples of how I implement it.

Example A: The Novice
Most novices should be on a simple linear progression, and our imaginary example is benching every other workout for 3×5 (or 3×5+, going for max reps on the last set). Let’s say they’ve gotten their LP from 165 for 3×5 to 212.5 for 3×5, and they’re now adding 2.5lb (or less) per workout and trying their damn hardest to continue progressing, with visions of 300+ in their head. This person would normally warm up to 212.5 like so:
45 x Lots, 95×5,5, 135 x 5, 185×2-3, 200×1, Work Sets @ 212.5.
Adding in an OWU at 225 is perfect for this person. Not only will they get used to handling 2 plates, they will KNOW they can hit it any day of the week, helping them feel more confident about getting up to it for their 3×5 work. Their warmup would now look roughly like this:
45 x Lots, 95×5,5, 135 x 5, 185×2-3, 205×1, 225×1 (OWU), Work Sets @ 212.5.
They would use 225 as their OWU for a few weeks until it was laughably easy, or until their work sets have actually caught up to that level (in this case, 225). At that point, they can either ditch the OWU for awhile, or move it up in 5-10lb increments if they enjoy feeling a bit heavier singles before their work sets.
Again, please note that a proper OWU is NOT heavy enough to constitute a large amount of work. It should not be a grinder. It should not impede the lifter’s ability to perform their work sets. Take a few minutes of rest after the OWU before your work sets, just as you would after your final normal warmup.

Example B: The Intermediate
Let’s say we have a typical intermediate lifter using the Texas Method. He got his linear progression from 205 3×5 up to 245 for 3×5 after a couple months of hard work and proper dieting and too many resets. He’s gone from benching around 225 for a single to around 285 or so on a good day, but something about 275+ just makes him a bit nervous. On his Intensity Day, he’s trying for 5RM’s in the 255 range, and his Volume Day is starting at 225 3×5, because he refuses to use less than 2 plates for his Volume Day.
This lifter should utilize the OWU on their Volume Day, but not on their Intensity Day. In this case, I would have them work up to 275 and then backing down to their work sets. It would look something like this:
45 x Lots, 135 x 5,5, 185×5, 225×1-2, 255×1, 275×1 (OWU), 225×5,5,5

The lifter would NOT use the OWU on their Intensity Day, as they should conserve every bit of energy they have for a big PR. The Intensity Day would still look like this:

45 x Lots, 135 x 5,5, 185×5, 225×1-2, 255×5 (PR)

Note: I prefer TM lifters to use as little supportive gear on their Volume Day as possible when they’re a ways out (IE, more than 6-8 weeks) from a meet. This means they would usually use no belt or wrist wraps on VD for bench, even if they use them on ID. The OWU is an exception – it would be acceptable to “gear up” for it, especially when first implementing it. Of course, keep in mind 132lb Jennifer Thompson doesn’t wear a belt for her 300+ raw bench, so…just sayin’. After a few weeks of using wrist wraps and a belt with 275, the lifter could then practice dropping the gear, or slowly increasing the weight of the OWU. Preferably, they’ve decided to enter a meet, which leads us to…

Example C: The Competitor

Another great use for the OWU is to practice some simple raw paused work on the bench, especially near a meet (starting 4-6 weeks out or so would be appropriate). Again assuming a typical TM template with a Vol/Int day each week, I would also have this lifter use the OWU on their Volume Day before their work sets, but in this case, I would have them practice their opening (paused) bench attempt. This is an excellent way to add in some practice getting used to the commands. It’s particularly helpful for USAPL lifters who might experience long “start” and “rack” commands, depending on the judge. As they get closer to a meet, the pause should be slightly longer, and the speed coming off the chest should be noticeably improved. At the meet, they’ll have 100% confidence in their opener.

The OWU is a tool that can be used effectively. It is by no means required in all successful programs, but give it some consideration, and feel free to play with it in your own programming. You might like it, and hopefully, it will lead to lots of new PRs.


27 thoughts on “The Over-Warm-Up

  1. I’ve been using an overwarm in my training since October and I’ve seen tons of improvement, especially on squats. I generally work up to a single 20 lbs over my work-set (usually a heavy triple) and that’s made the triples really easy.

  2. It’s very cool to read this on here. I have done this several times but never really knew it was a “thing.”

    Somewhat related: what are your thoughts on heavy walk outs for squats? For instance if one was planning to go for a 3RM with 400, how about walking 450 out of the rack, standing for a moment, and then setting it back down. Or perhaps after training sets, just walking out a heavy weight and standing with it for 15 or 20 seconds. I think it can improve some of those important neurological connections and–perhaps on the other side of the same coin–improve mental confidence at handling a heavy weight, since the work weight “feels” comparatively light.

    • I like heavy walk-outs near a meet and/or to work on coaching cues (for lifters that have a problem setting their upper back properly), but don’t really program them regularly otherwise. A good heavy walk-out can take quite a bit out of you, physically, so it wouldn’t be conducive to hitting a big PR set on intensity day. I’m also playing with setting up heavy walk-outs with reverse bands to make them a bit safer (similar to how I’m having a couple lifters do heavy holds with the SlingShot on bench).

  3. How would you pick the weights when doing Starting Strength? I mean, every workout is pushing at the lifter’s current maxes already, in theory.

    • Everybody seems to run their linear progression differently. I personally run a 3×5+ for novices, and if they aren’t getting 6+ reps on the final set, they don’t increase the weight. So each set wouldn’t be a huge grinder. I wouldn’t suggest a completely new novice use this in most cases – more for someone who is running an LP for a little while and starting to get stronger and approach new, heavy weights, like in Example A.

      • Interesting. Do you find people get stuck a lot less this way, so the overall progress is faster? Or are the sticking points just more smoothly managed?

        • I’d actually say that progress is a bit slower, more controlled, more predictable, and lasts longer. And yes, people tend to get “stuck” a lot less when they’re more patient. I am constantly telling my lifters to “aim for Christmas, not Spring Break.” Well, unless it’s December.

  4. I definitely like the idea of the OWU, especially for pressing exercises (press/bench). I have literally never done a heavy press, and today is my volume press day so here’s a great excuse to set a new PR! Another note about volume day…@Cloud: I have the Texas Method ebook from Justin and love it. Obviously, the stock TM template on volume day is 5×5, yet in all of your examples you’ve indicated 3×5. Could you please give a quick explanation of that difference? I’m totally aware that’s not the point of this post, and people must tweak the basic TM template to fit their needs…just looking for some insight, thanks!

    • I’m assuming you have Justin’s first TM book. TMv2 (the “Advanced” book) is a much better representation of how Justin and I program TM stuff these days. We still have our differences, but at least the second book is updated with what we’ve learned (mostly him – I just edited it) from in the past.
      5×5 can be used for certain purposes, but the intensity of it needs to be much lower, and typically, 3×5 just plain works better. I have used various set/rep schemes on volume day, but it depends on the goals of the lifter and how close they are to a meet. I’ve used 3×10, 4×6-8, 5×5, 3×5, 5×3, etc. all with success, but you have to take a high-level approach and understand how VD can affect ID. If you’re forever-out from a meet, VD is a bit more important, if, say, you need to build musculature. If you’re near a meet, VD basically goes to a maintenance phase so you can destroy PRs on ID.

    • Also, don’t get crazy and use this as an excuse to “max out.” But it IS OK to pick a respectable weight that you know 100% you can hit. If you haven’t done heavy presses, go conservative this week and see how it feels. If it’s too insanely easy, then you can increase it the next time. All the PRs.

      • Thank you very much for the response. I’ve found through my own trial and error that a solid VD of 5×5 for squats at roughly 83-85% of my ID is just too much to handle. I get sick, miss lifts on ID. And on VD I definitely want to crawl into a small hole by the 5th set. I had been doing 4 sets of 5 with the same weight as before and that seemed better but honestly still very hard sometimes (other times totally fine). Currently having hip issues so haven’t squatted in a week or two but I am definitely pleased that you’re giving my idea that the way I was doing 5×5 was just a bit too much. Thanks a ton, really!

        What percentage of ID would you recommend doing for 3-4 sets of 5?

        I won’t be “maxing out” with the OWU, no worries. I like the idea, going to give it a go today. Thanks bruhhh

  5. This is similar to one of the benefits of doing board presses. Holding a weight that’s ~20 pounds heavier than your PR single and locking it out a few times off a 3 or 4 board does wonders for one’s confidence.

  6. I’ve done this occasionally just for the mental boost of the work sets feeling lighter, more on instinct than anything else.

    What are your thoughts though on just loading up a bar heavy (50-60lbs over work weight) and unracking it and holding it (squats, maybe bench) for only a few seconds to feel the weight, stripping the bar and then doing the set within the next minute. I’ve done this when squatting and it’s seemed to help me quite a bit on ID.

    I find it funny that we have opposite thoughts on this though. I’d hate to do this on VD since I’d be so damn tired by the end of it, but on ID since it’s only one set I feel that this would help far more.

    • He talks about it in response to another poster’s comment above ^
      But I think the idea is that the OWU will help the volume sets feel lighter, whereas could be equal to or even less than intensity sets. For example, I could use 275 OWU on bench to make 225 3×5 feel lighter, but my intensity day may be at a weight higher than 275 which would require more effort than should be warranted.

  7. The over warmup is great. Found out about it from Charles Poliquin (I don’t think he used the term over warmup, but same idea). I’ve been doing it for squats, bench presses, overhead presses and deadlifts/rack/mat pulls. Sometimes I overdo my over warmups and it turns into a 1RM haha. But usually it’s just a heavy single.

  8. I really like the idea of the OWU – it helps break the mental barrier of dealing with heavy weights AND gives me a chance to hit some heavier loads even as I work on a low, slow linear progression. Just tried this for the first time with squats today and it definitely made my work set feel lighter too. I’m a little concerned that it will eat up a lot of time, but I’ll keep trying it for the next few weeks to give it a fair shake. Thanks!

  9. Pingback: 10 articles to grow your gym – Issue #22 | The SocialWOD Blog

  10. Pingback: CrossFit Intrepid » Heavy is Relative: “There is No Spoon”

  11. Pingback: Pule's Journal Reborn

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.