by Dr John Rusin T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- Doing a few sets of 10 with 135 pounds isn’t a smart way to warm up for benching 300 or more pounds.
- The intelligent way to warm up is known as “ramping up.”
- Ramping up involves doing a specific number of sets of an exercise, each set decreasing in reps but increasing in load, before hitting your work sets.
- Ramp-ups keep your body healthy, enhance neural output, and allow for better muscle and strength gains.
- Depending on the ordering and complexity of the exercise you’re ramping-up for, do between 3 and 8 ramp-up sets.
Your Warm Up Sucks
Before heavy lifting, the average person hops on the elliptical for 10-15 minutes, then does several light sets of their strength exercise before piling on the heavy plates. They call that a “warm up.” And maybe that’s why they’re average.
You need to “warm up” in an intelligent and effective way, and that way is known as ramping up.
Ramping up involves doing a specific number of sets of an exercise, each set decreasing in reps but increasing in load, before hitting your work sets. The way you choose to ramp-up an exercise can be the difference between packing on muscle or fizzling out.
Ramp-up sets aren’t programmed solely for performance purposes either. When done correctly, ramp-ups will keep your body healthy, enhance your neural output, and allow you to reach levels of muscularity and strength you never thought possible.
3 Reasons to Ramp Up, Not Warm Up
1. Stimulate Joint Lubrication
As you move specific tissues and joints in your body, they become lubricated in synovial fluid. The primary function of synovial fluid is to reduce friction in the joint space, thus making movements smoother and more efficient.
The more you move, the more synovial fluid will bathe the joints and articular cartilage. The more efficiently your joints are lubricated, the less the risk of joint or cartilage injuries secondary to training.
Don’t overlook this important aspect of ramping-up. It’ll save you from a debilitating injury down the road.
2. Increase Core Temperature and Local Tissue Blood Flow
As you increase the rate of active movement of your body, it’ll need to compensate in some way to keep things in check. This is usually achieved by an increase in core temperature. Muscles create heat via exertion and your body regulates this increase in heat via thermoregulation.
The more active a specific muscle or soft tissue, the more you’ll siphon blood to these tissues to maintain metabolic balance. This is the primary reason why programming specific movement-based warm-ups works well when mixed with a generalized dynamic warm-up for physical preparation.
3. Activate Neuromuscular Coordination and Stabilization
Priming movements by increasing the volume of specific training is one of the easiest and most effective ways to set your body up for long-term success in any movement.
What we can do is increase our set and rep count while practicing foundational movement patterns used when moving some heavy-ass weight. The more practice, the better.
That being said, increasing the volume too much while not manipulating the loads, tempos, and rest periods of each ramp-up set can lead to pre-fatiguing the active musculature, which is usually a bad thing unless that was the intended goal.
The Inverse Relationship Between Load and Tempo
There are many ways to ramp-up properly and they’re all based on specific foundational movement patterns, regions of the body, or specific goals of an exercise.
One thing holds true — in order to maintain a high level of performance and neural output in work sets, there has to be an inverse relationship between loads and tempos while ramping-up.
What does this mean? As the loads imposed on the body are decreased, the concentric contraction speed of a movement will need to be maximized.
More simply said, the lighter the load the faster the movement speed needs to be. This will stimulate a requisite amount of myofibrils and prime the body for an epic performance.
When working with loads between 30-50% of your repetition maxes, your movements should be violently explosive to tap into some fast twitch fibers while keeping the external load low.
As the loads increase when getting deeper and deeper into your ramp-up sets, your speed should decrease at steady rates not only to maintain pristine movement technique, but also to avoid pre-fatiguing the active musculature. If your body is functioning properly, the contraction speeds should auto-regulate.
As your ramp-up sets get heavier and move to within 50-75% of your repetition maxes, the movement speed will need to be reduced to minimally tax the fast twitch fibers that have already been activated in previous sets.
The last ramp-up set will be programmed with super-compensated load, meaning the weight will be around 10% heavier than your working sets. Don’t worry about the bar speed on this last ramp-up set. It’s a single rep, so explode and drive it up as hard as possible.
I’ll show you what I mean with specific examples at the end of the article.
5 Guidelines for Ramping Up
Depending on the ordering and complexity of the movement you’re ramping-up for, you should do between 3 and 8 ramp-up sets.
Here are a few general rules of thumb on how to choose the correct number of ramp-up sets for each type of movement and the ordering of that movement in your training session:
- The earlier a specific movement is programmed in a training session, the more ramp-up sets you’ll need. Stick to 5-8 ramp-ups and feel your way out.
- The more compound the specific movement, the more ramp-up sets you’ll need to prep that movement and the muscles involved. Again, stay at the top end of the ramp-up range, 5-8 sets.
- As for more isolated movements (single joint work), keep ramp-up sets to a minimum in order to avoid pre-fatiguing the muscles. Use 1-3 ramp-up sets.
- As prescribed reps exceed the 12-15 ranges, you need fewer ramp-up sets to prime the movement for working sets. Go for 2-5 ramp-up sets and assess and adjust accordingly.
- When focusing on strategic metabolic damage of a muscle tissue, go to town on the ramp-ups. It’s all about the accumulation of density and volume, so get after it!
Basic Ramp-Up Set Template
Set # Reps Load Rest Tempo
1 100% 50% Short Explosive
2 80% 60% Short Explosive
3 60% 70% Moderate Moderate
4 40% 80% Moderate Moderate
5 20% 90% Prescribed Moderate
6 5-10% 110% Prescribed Explosive
Reps: As a rule of thumb, if you’re going to be doing work sets of 5 reps, the highest number of warm-up reps you’d do in a given set is about 10, which is expressed here as 100%.
The next set, you’d do 80% of the highest number of warm-up reps in a given set, which in this case is 8 reps. It should make perfect sense when you look at the sample ramp-up set below.
Sample Ramp-Up Sets
Movement: Bench Press
Working Weight: 200 pounds
Working Set/Rep Scheme: 5×5
Rest Period: 60 seconds
Set # Reps Load Rest Tempo
1 10 100 30 Explosive
2 8 120 30 Explosive
3 6 140 45 Moderate
4 4 160 45 Moderate
5 2 180 60 Moderate
6 1 210 60 Explosive
Set # Reps Load Rest Tempo
1 5 200 60
2 5 200 60
3 5 200 60
4 5 200 60
5 5 200 60