I'm doing a program that promotes warm-up sets before performing working sets at maximum weight.

At the moment I do 3 warm-up sets at increasingly heavier weight, and am considering changing the warm-up exercises to a similar but slightly more challenging varient.

The example I'm thinking of is with back squats with 3 warmup sets. Instead of doing the back squats for the warmups I was considering doing,:

  • 1x5 reps overhead squat @ 20% * 5RM
  • 1x5 reps overhead squat @ 40% * 5RM
  • 1x5 reps front squat @ 60% * 5RM
  • 3x5 reps back squat @ 100% * 5RM

The reason I've chosen those exercises, is that I find overhead squats more challenging on my core and stability, however its much harder to perform at high weight. However, the movement is quite similar, so I assume it would still have provide an adequate warm-up for the quads/glutes.

Similarly, front squats again are generally performed at a lower weight than back squats, and have benefits for core strength. So far, I've tried this twice and haven't noticed any impact on my working sets, nor has it prevented me increasing the weight on the following workout.

The reason for performing a warm-up prior to the working sets, I'll quote Mark Rippetoe:

The warmup sets serve only to prepare the lifter for the work sets; they should never interfere with the work sets. As such they should be planned with this in mind. The last warmup set before the work set should never be so heavy that it interferes with the work set, but heavy enough that it allows the lifter to feel a heavier weight before he does the work sets. It might only consist of one or two reps even though the work sets are five or more reps.

The problem is, while I understand the benefit of a warm-up, I feel like I need something that is at least a little challenging. For example, a 20kg (bar-only) back squat is a non-challenging movement, however, when performed as an overhead squat, I don't feel any more strain on my quadriceps (the primary muscle of the working sets), However I feel the extra technique required for the overhead squat (which at 20kg is challenging) might have some positive impact in the long term - but I'm not sure.

What, if any, medium- or long-term impacts might I see by substituting warm-up sets with a more challenging variant?

If there are benefits, I'll probably ask a separate, similar question that addresses bench/overhead press and deadlifts.

  • What is the purpose of your warm-up sets?
    – user4644
    Sep 28, 2013 at 2:29
  • I have started squatting recently, to improve my running performance, so I wish to follow this question. Can you please say what is 5RM?
    – Freakyuser
    Sep 28, 2013 at 8:04
  • @Freakyuser: it's the maximum weight you are able to do 5 reps with. Sep 28, 2013 at 8:36
  • 1
    You say you feel like you need something that is at least a little challenging. Don't the last few warm-up sets become at least a little challenging? They're supposed to be fairly heavy doubles, or singles. They don't tire me out, but they're challenging enough to require mental focus and attention to proper form.
    – user4644
    Sep 28, 2013 at 21:01
  • 1
    @LegoStormtroopr Don't make your warm-up sets heavier just to make them harder. That's not the point of warm-up sets. Warm-up sets should only get hard because your work set weight is heavy and therefore a moderate percentage of it is still rather heavy. That's why I asked what your current 5RM is: it makes a big difference in how the warm-up sets feel. Oct 1, 2013 at 6:51

1 Answer 1


Relevance of front and overhead squats as warm-up for back squats

Warm-up sets are meant to prepare the entire body for the heavy challenge of the work sets. They're not used to practice other lifts, or to be challenging in themselves. Warm-ups are there to increase flexibility and blood flow, and to practice impeccable form in preparation for the challenge of the work sets. If the work sets are truly heavy, it's necessary to warm up with the same exercise in order to get the full benefits of the warm-up. Specifically, a heavy work set requires full coordination and complete adherence to proper form for the specific kind of squat you're doing. This is of particular concern for novices, whose form is not as well ingrained.

It is also of more concern when working with heavier weights, where deviation from perfect form has more dire consequences. I would advise against warming up with anything but the exact kind of squat your work sets are going to be if you're squatting more than bodyweight times 1.25.

If your back squat is less than bodyweight then the only concern with using different squats to warm up is learning suboptimal movement patterns, not injury. But in that case, you would be avoiding one of the main purposes of warm-up sets for the novice, which is to practice form by accumulating volume. Throwing in other types of squat means it will take longer to learn good form in all of them, since they are similar enough skills that learning one will interfere with learning the others. Therefore I don't see any utility in doing front squats before back squats. You'll ingrain a different movement pattern from the back squat and won't be fully prepared for the work sets. If you want to front squat then add front squats to your program, but they don't do much good as a back squat preparation and they could do some harm.

But my number one advice, the most important thing for you to read and be aware of, is that if the first set of back squats you do is a different kind than what you've been "warming up" with, you're eventually going to have a bad time if you're lifting heavy weights. A 1.5x bodyweight back squat without doing any back squats yet in the workout is a back squat with a greatly increased risk of injury. That's because you essentially did not warm up for that back squat.

My experience with overhead squats in the warm-up

When I've used overhead squats as part of my warm-up in the past, they weren't really part of my warm-up for the back squat. I would do them just before or just after the first warm-up set for back squats, but that was only because they were light and quick and fit in well at that spot in the workout. They were marginally useful as preparation for the back squat, but really I did them because A) I wanted to do overhead squats and B) they're a good general whole-body warm-up. Therefore they went after running or skipping rope and before my squat warm-up sets.

I've also heard of programming alternating work sets of front and back squats, but only for lifters where the form for both is 100% unquestionably ingrained. I think that the warm-up for that included both front and back squats of moderate weight. Again, I really can't see it being a good idea to "warm up" one exercise by doing...a different exercise. That's like not warming up.


I do want to warn you about two possible pitfalls with these exercises. One, many people, even athletes, are not physically capable of an overhead squat with proper form without specific mobility and strength work in the shoulders and back. Be careful. Two, the back squat isn't meant to have a "primary muscle". If it had one, it would be a tie between the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and quadriceps. To conceive of the warm-ups as preparing the quadriceps for work is to misunderstand the squat itself.

  • Do you think the lack of focus on hamstrings during LegoStormTrooper's modified warm-up could lead to hamstring pulls? I have found that those are the first thing to get tweaked if I haven't warmed up properly.
    – user4644
    Oct 1, 2013 at 15:22
  • @Kate It's my hip mobility, lower back muscles, and back angle that aren't 100% if I don't do a few warm-up sets of back squats. I'd venture a lack of specific warm-up would merely increase the risk of injury at whatever his weakest point is. Oct 1, 2013 at 15:45

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