How to Warm-Up for Powerlifting : A Comprehensive Guide

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Jan 28,2024|20 min| 4158

Master Your Powerlifting Warm Up: The Ultimate Guide

Avoid injuries by warming up

Warming up is a critical part of any powerlifting program. The goal of a warm up is to physically prepare your body to maximize your strength during training and help reduce the risk of injury. Another understated benefit of a proper warm-up routine is that it will mentally prime your mind to recruit more muscles to improve actual performance, taking into account individual differences in warm-up styles.

However, many powerlifters, especially those newer to the sport do not take the time to properly warm-up, which can lead to worse performance on the platform, and at worst result in an injury. Many advanced powerlifters will tell you that those who are the strongest are often just the ones who can train over the longest period of time without injuries that take them out.

Warmups for powerlifting

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with a what, why, and how guide to properly warm up for powerlifting training. These warm ups can also be applied to any routine, from the push pull legs to the upper lower splits, but the main focus today is powerlifting. The advice will come from tried and tested methods from elite powerlifters, as well as the latest research from evidence-based coaches.

Why is a Warm Up Important in Powerlifting?

Strength and power performance

One of the main benefits of warming up in powerlifting is to increase your body temperature, which will improve blood flow to the muscles, increase joint lubrication, and up the oxygen availability to allow your muscles to perform better. It will also improve the speed and sensitivity of your neuromuscular system. In a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, researchers found that a proper warm-up led to increased power output and improved performance in the bench press and squat.

Imagine your body as a car in the winter, if it is cold it will not drive. If your body is cold, it will not perform well. A warm up is essential for powerlifting.

Improve flexibility for better positioning

Demonstrating your true strength in powerlifting movements requires your entire body to function as a single unit. Imagine your body as an empty can of soda, if it is in perfect condition, the can will not collapse under even intense weight. However if there are any parts of the aluminum that are wrinkled or bent, the can will easily fold. Now, for the body, let's say you have inflexible or tight hamstrings, that will prevent you from proper balance and full range of motion on movements such as the squat. This is why it is crucial to warm up properly, starting with an empty bar to prepare your body for the heavy weights to come.

Stretch tight muscles to make your body into a perfect soda can.

Prime your mind to get after it

Your warmup can serve as a ritual to get you into the right state of mind to lift heavy weights. The mind and body are interconnected (obviously), and a standardized warm-up routine can be the cue that triggers your mind to forget about work and life stress to focus on the training session at hand. Especially if you are doing exercise specific warm-up sets, it is an excellent way to practice technique and take bigger jumps in weight at the beginning of your warmups, then roughly 10% jumps after that to get those neurons firing and be ready for your working sets.

How to Warm Up for Powerlifting

Step 1: General Cardiovascular Warm-Up

Start with a light cardio warm-up before starting any specific warm-up exercises. This can be a brisk walk, easy jog, exercise bike, or even jumping jacks. The goal of this warm-up is to increase heart rate, blood flow, and body temperature and break a light sweat. You can do this for as short as 5 minutes or as long as 10 minutes depending on your physical condition and how you feel on the day.

Step 2: Mobility and Active Stretching Exercises

Mobility and dynamic stretching are recommended next as they will help prepare the joints for lifting heavy weights. This can include foam rolling tight muscle groups that you utilize more during powerlifting exercises (chest, lower back, hamstrings, etc.) You also can do yoga poses (cat cow, downward dog, warrior, etc.). In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was found that dynamic stretching warm-up, such as leg swings, led to increased range of motion and improved performance in the squat.

Note that static stretching is generally not recommended prior to heavy lifting as it can lead to decreased strength output. The reason is that making the muscles and tendons ‘relaxed’ can conflict with contracting under heavy loads. The exception is if any particularly tight muscle groups will prevent full range of motion or proper form during an exercise, in which case static stretching can be used.

Step 3: Activation Exercises

Activation exercises, while not necessary, can be very effective at activating the right muscles to fire maximally in the main lifts; this is called Potentiation. Activation exercises can either be done with light bodyweight exercises or with cables and dumbbells. These are meant to be done with light weights and should not tire you out for your actual training.

For example, before a heavy bench press session, you can perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps of push ups. Another example, let’s say you have trouble keeping your lats tight during deadlifts, you could do cable lat pullovers for 3 sets of 10-20 reps to activate your lats. Again, These exercises should be done at light weights. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that activation exercises led to increased muscle activation and improved performance in the bench press and squat.

Step 4: Warm-Up Sets

The last part is specific warm-up sets of the main lifts. You start with the bar, then gradually increase the weight until you get to your target working sets. It is generally recommended to reverse pyramid these warm-up sets, which means you start with higher reps and lower weights, then gradually inverse to lower reps and higher weights. The goal is to get used to heavier weights, not to tire you out before the working sets. However, it is important to still focus on proper technique and movement even when using lighter loads during the barbell warm-up.

Example of reverse pyramid: let’s say your bench press target working set is 135 lb x 5 reps. Then you might do bar x 10 reps, 95 x 5 reps, 115 x 3 reps, then 135 x 5 reps for the working set. On Boostcamp App, you can use the warm-up set generator to automatically calculate reverse pyramid warm-ups for you. This can be super useful for beginners who aren’t familiar with deciding weight increments to use. 

Warm Up Routines for Powerlifters

Example 1: Squat Workout Warm-Up

  1. Cardiovascular warm-up: 5-10 minutes of light jog at a moderate intensity

  2. Mobility and flexibility exercise: 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches for the entire body, with a specific focus on tighter muscles and joints used for squats. You can also foam roll tight muscle parts like quads and calves.

  3. Activation exercises: 5-10 minutes of activation exercises for squats, such as 2-3 sets of bodyweight squats, front/side planks, hip pull throughs or kettlebell swings.

  4. Warm-up sets for main lifts: 3-5 sets of warm-up sets of barbell squat using reverse pyramid scheme. Number of sets depends on weight and how you feel.

  5. Main lifts: Get after it!

Example 2: Bench Press Workout Warm-Up

  1. Cardiovascular warm-up: 5-10 minutes of light jog at a moderate intensity

  2. Mobility and flexibility exercise: 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches for the entire body, with a specific focus on tighter muscles and joints used for benching. You can also foam roll tight muscle parts like lats and chest.

  3. Activation exercises: 5-10 minutes of activation exercises for bench press, such as 2-3 sets of push ups, lat pulldown / cable pullover, and tricep extensions.

  4. Warm-up sets for main lifts: 3-5 sets of warm-up sets of barbell bench using reverse pyramid scheme. Number of sets depends on weight and how you feel.

  5. Main lifts: Get after it!

Example 3: Deadlift Workout Warm-Up

  1. Cardiovascular warm-up: 5-10 minutes of light jog at a moderate intensity

  2. Mobility and flexibility exercise: 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches for the entire body, with a specific focus on tighter muscles and joints used for deadlifting. You can also foam roll tight muscle parts like hamstrings, lats, and lower back.

  3. Activation exercises: 5-10 minutes of activation exercises for deadlifting, such as 2-3 sets of hip pull throughs or kettlebell swings, lat cable pullover, front/side planks.

  4. Warm-up sets for main lifts: 3-5 sets of warm-up sets of barbell deadlifts using reverse pyramid scheme. Number of sets depends on weight and how you feel.

  5. Main lifts: Get after it!

If you are doing a workout routine that has more than 1 main lift, simply mix and match mobility and activation exercises as required during the session. There is no need to re-do all the warm-up sequences if they are duplicative.

Warm Up FAQs

Why is warming up important in powerlifting?

Warming up is important in powerlifting because it prepares your body for the physical demands of lifting heavy weights. A proper warm-up routine can increase blood flow to the muscles, enhance joint lubrication, and activate the neuromuscular system. This can help prevent injuries, improve range of motion, and increase strength performance.

What should be included in a warm-up program for powerlifting?

A warm-up routine for powerlifting should include a combination of cardiovascular warm-up, mobility and active stretching exercises, activation exercises, and specific warm-up sets. The specific warm-up sets should include performing the main lifts with light weights and gradually increasing the weight to the working weight using a reverse pyramid format.

How long should a warm-up last before a powerlifting session?

A warm-up before a powerlifting session should last between 20-30 minutes, with a combination of cardiovascular warm-up (5-10 minutes), mobility and active stretching exercises (5-10 minutes), activation exercises (5-10 minutes), and specific warm-up sets of the main lifts (5-10 minutes). How long each warm-up session lasts depends on how you feel for the day, but it is important to have training partners who can help keep you accountable and on track with your warm-up routine.

Should I perform the same warm-up for every powerlifting session?

Your warm-up routine can vary by training session based on the main lifts of the workout and also by how you feel that day. However, there should be some consistency in the warm-up routine to help you evaluate how your body feels. For example, you might have 2 preset warmup routines, one for upper body lift sessions (bench press, overhead press) and one for lower body days (squat, deadlift).

How many warm-up sets should I perform for each lift?

It is recommended to perform at least 2-3 warm-up sets before starting the working sets. That said, the number of warm-up sets for each lift will depend on your individual needs and how heavy you are lifting. Generally speaking, the heavier the weight, the more warm-up sets you might take to reach your working weight on a given day. It also depends how warmed up you are. If you already warmed up from deadlifts, you may only need 1-2 sets of warm-up sets for squats.

How heavy should my warm-up sets be?

The weight you use for warm-up sets will depend on many factors. Generally, you would start with the lightest weight possible with higher reps, then gradually increase to heavier weight closer to the working set with lower reps. This is called reverse pyramid warm-up.

What is a reverse pyramid warm-up? How to do reverse pyramid warm-up sets?

A reverse pyramid for warm-up sets means gradually increasing the weight of the warm-up sets, while simultaneously decreasing the number of reps, as you progress towards the working sets. The reason to perform a reverse pyramid warm-up is to get acclimated to the heavier weights without fatiguing yourself with heavier reps. The goal of warm-up sets is to allow you to perform your working sets to the best of your ability, while helping you avoid injury.

Reverse pyramid warm-up example:

  1. Determine the working weight for your main lift (example: 315 x 5 deadlift)

  2. Start with the lightest weight (i.e. the bar) and perform for 10 reps

  3. Then increase the weight 30-40% of working weight and perform 6-8 reps (135 lb for 8 reps)

  4. Then increase the weight 60-70% of working weight and perform for 3-6 reps (225 lb for 5 reps)

  5. Then increase the weight to 80-90% of working weight and perform for 2-3 reps (275 for 3 reps)

  6. Then perform the working set (315 for 5 reps)

Should I perform activation exercises for all of my muscle groups or just the ones used in the main lifts?

Activation exercises should primarily target the muscles used in the main lifts. However, since compound exercises involve the whole body, you may perform activation exercises for secondary muscle groups, or accessory movements, if you feel necessary. For example, activation exercises for bench press will likely be primary muscle groups used like chest and triceps, but can also include secondary muscle groups like lats and upper back as those are used to support a strong bench.

Can I use a foam roller or lacrosse ball as part of my warm-up?

Yes, foam rolling and lacrosse ball exercises are helpful tools to include in the warm-up routine to increase mobility and prepare the muscles for lifting. The literature around the efficacy of foam rolling is mixed, but if you feel that it helps you perform better you should use it.

Should I warm up differently for different lifts, such as squat vs. deadlift?

This depends on your specific needs. In most cases, the same warm-up routine can be sufficient for cardiovascular and general mobility warm-up exercises. However, you may do different activation exercises to be more targeted towards the movement. 

Can I warm up too much before a powerlifting session?

It is possible to warm up too much before a powerlifting session, which can lead to decreased performance. For example, performing static stretching can result in decreased strength output in the muscle, hence why dynamic stretching is recommended before a workout. Another example is spending too much time or putting too much intensity into your warm-ups that lead to you being exhausted. Therefore, it is important to find a balance between warming up properly and not overexerting yourself before the top sets.

Where to Find the Best Powerlifting Programs

When looking for more full body workout programs, Boostcamp is the ultimate app for lifters, offering free science-based workout plans for bodybuilding, powerbuilding, and powerlifting. On Boostcamp you can find popular programs like Bryce Lewis’ TSA 9-Week Approach, Jonnie Candito 6 Week, Jim Wendler 5/3/1, and over 50+ other free programs. You can also create your own custom routines and log your own workouts on the app. The Boostcamp app is a top of the line workout app, that offers free science-based workout routines, advanced custom program builder, and a workout tracker to help you stay on top of your progress, and make sure that you are hitting your goals and getting where you need to go, so there is no reason to not make progress.

Not to mention, there is a warm-up set calculator that can really help you.

How to use the warm-up sets calculator in Boostcamp?

Boostcamp has a pro-only feature that automatically calculates warm-up sets for you using the reverse pyramid method. To access warm-up sets calculator, simply click the ••• besides the exercise name. If you would like to adjust the % of weight and number of warm-up sets, go into the Settings page and find the tab on warm-up sets to edit or add your schemes.

Boostcamp App is the lasting lifting app you’ll ever need. You can follow free and proven programs for powerlifting, bodybuilding, and powerbuilding made by world-class coaches like Greg Nuckols, Eric Helms, Bryce Lewis, Jonnie Candito, and more. You can also create your own custom programs and track your progress.

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