I’m going to have to say that the most butchered aspect of a powerlifting meet, and my biggest pet peeve in all of powerlifting, is the warm up room. As I look around at almost every meet I am at, I can’t help but wonder what 90% or so of the lifters in there are thinking. And while I could easily turn this whole blog post into a rant, as I get very worked up over this topic, I am going to do my best instead to educate on how to properly warm up at a meet.
So let’s begin with pre-meet warm up planning, which is non-existent for most lifters, and that is where the issue starts. You need to have a plan going in. You spend all this time training and working your butt off for meet day, and then you go in and wing it (shaking my head). Instead, take the 5 minutes to actually write out your warm ups, or just use The Strength Athlete’s free warm up planning document (click here: http://thestrengthathlete.com/freebies/). I still use this document to this day and edit it based on my preferences, and it makes it a breeze. The coolest part is that it even has the kilo plate loading chart so if you get to the warm-up room and there are these foreign red and blue objects that are Un-American, you will still know how to properly load the bar. So now that you’ve taken the time to plan out your warm ups, lets talk about how to actually time your warm ups, which is where things really get out of hand.
First and foremost, understand the Next Lifter results/attempt projection, or whichever program they will use to display all the results and attempts, is your absolute BEST FRIEND for timing your warm ups. In the USAPL, it is required of meet directors to have this visible for the lifters to see in the warm up room (I am not sure if this is required for USPA, but I believe it is as well). You are going to use those results for two main things. First, to see how the prior flight before you is moving, and second, to make sure to know where you are listed within your flight.
So let’s start from the beginning, when you are about to warm up for squats. Within this, there are two main examples, being that your are either in the first flight of the day, or that you are in any other flight that is not the first flight.
Squat Flight 1 Warm Up
The first thing to know is the start time, and this may change depending on how weigh-ins went and if the meet director was able to keep things running on time. From that start time, for most lifters I will have them start warming up about 30 minutes prior. If a meet is being ran correctly, the rules briefing should be 30 minutes before start time, so this would mean I would have my lifter start warming up immediately following the rules briefing. I do not use that as a set in stone measurement of when to start though, as you can’t rely on the rules briefing to be perfectly on time. Prior to that, I usually tell the lifter to start whatever mobility, foam rolling, movement prep, etc. about 45 minutes out, so that they have a solid 15 minutes to do what they need. As well as to make sure to plan a bathroom break during that time, and get some extra fluids in and any snacks they’ d like to have. Once it is 30 minutes out, we then start. I am baffled to this day when half the warm up room, especially when it is a female only first flight, is warming up an hour before start time. If you did your pre-meet planning, you will probably notice that you only have 5-8 warm ups depending on your opening weight. That WILL NOT take an hour to do. Unless you are squatting over 600lbs., you do not need more than 30 minutes to warm up. Let’s take the example that you have 6 warm up squats planned, and it is 30 minutes out. That is 1 warm up every 5 minutes. Going back to what I said about the results projection, know exactly where you are lined up in your flight with your opening squat. If you are first in your flight, work backwards from there. So if you know the start time is 9am, and you are the first to squat, then your last warmup should be around 8:55am. Your second to last warm up around 8:50am, third to last warm up at 8:45am, and so on. I personally really focus on the final 4 warm ups, and making sure those are timed perfectly, and that will make even more sense once I talk about what to do for all the other flights who are not first. Now if you are last in your flight, or at least later within the attempts, you most likely will take your final warm up right at start time. If you take the same strategy as above and hit your final warm up at 8:55am, but you are the last squat in a flight of 12 lifters, you might end up going 15 or more minutes without hitting a squat. So instead plan back now from your final warm up attempt being at 9:00am.
Squat Flight 2, 3, or 4 Warm Up
Now let’s look at the example of everyone else who is not in the first flight. This is where the results projection comes even more into play. If you are in Flight 2, you do not know when Flight 1 will end, so you have to use the results to track the speed of the prior flight. And just like mentioned above, know exactly when you will be lifting within your flight, as its all about planning back. Let’s first look at the example of someone who starts their squat early in their flight, specifically using the example of someone squatting in flight 2. Usually it takes about 10-15 minutes for a flight to go through a full round of attempts. So if you are starting early in flight 2, here is the breakdown of your warm ups….
Last warmup: halfway through the 3rd attempts of flight 1. Depending on where you squat within flight 2, you could push this to maybe 3/4ths of the way through flight 1.
2nd to last warmup: beginning of 3rd attempts of flight 1.
3rd to last warmup: halfway through 2nd attempts of flight 1.
4th to last warmup: beginning of 2nd attempts of flight 1.
And then let’s also look at the attempt selection of someone starting later in their flight…
Last warmup: at the end of the 3rd attempts of flight 1. If you are last in your flight, you may even hit your last warm up when the first lifter of your flight hits their 1st attempt.
2nd the last warmup: halfway through 3rd attempts of flight 1.
3rd to last warmup: beginning of 3rd attempts of flight 1.
4th to last warmup: halfway through 2nd attempts of flight 1.
Any warm ups prior to that are usually pretty light, so not as much thought needs to go into their exact timing, but just make sure to get them done in a manner where you have about 5 minutes between each warm up, and complete the 5th to last warm up 5 minutes prior to when you are scheduled to start the above protocol. If you start too early, you will end up just sitting around and likely getting cold, so it is vital to plan backwards. I would say for the vast majority of lifters I have coached on meet day, I start their warm ups right when the prior flight starts. I then start to gauge the speed of the flight, and then make sure that things will line up so their 4th to last warm up will be when the 2nd attempts begin or halfway through the 2nd attempts, depending on where they are squatting within their flight. This is where having an experienced gameday coach helps so much. As a lifter, this is just a lot to keep track of, but when you have someone there doing this planning for you, it makes it so all you have to worry about is lifting.
Bench Warm Up
You most likely are going to be benching significantly less weight than you squatted, so even less warm up attempts are needed, probably somewhere around 4-6 warm up attempts. The only issue I find sometimes with bench is since everyone is starting wayyyyy too earlier, if I don’t have my lifters jump in, we lose our spot in the rack (this happens on squats too, but usually it is less of a problem). So many times I will have them start earlier with the other lifters, and then just hit the 45lb. bar for like 3-4 sets just so we can not lose our bench, while also simultaneously doing their upper body mobility, movement prep, bathroom break, etc. during that time. And by early I mean when the previous flight starts. Usually you don’t need to starting warming up on bench until about halfway through 1st attempts, or if it is a female lifter with a fairly weak bench press, they probably don’t even need to start warming up until the prior flights 2nd attempts. As for the warm up protocol, it is the same as above. Except now even flight 1 follows the previous flight for their warm up attempts. The only consideration for flight 1 is that usually a 5 minute break is taken after the final flight of squats, so I also go and make sure to ask the meet director or and official if they will be doing that. If they are, then you can use this protocol if you are benching early in your flight…..
Last warmup: at the end of the 3rd attempts of the previous flight. Since there will be a 5 minute break, you’ll have some time after the end of the previous flight now.
2nd the last warmup: halfway through 3rd attempts of the previous flight.
3rd to last warmup: beginning of 3rd attempts of the previous flight.
4th to last warmup: halfway through 2nd attempts of the previous flight.
And then let’s also look at the attempt selection of someone starting later in their flight…
Last warmup: during the first attempt of the first lifter in your flight
2nd the last warmup: at the end of the 3rd attempts of the previous flight.
3rd to last warmup: halfway through 3rd attempts of the previous flight.
4th to last warmup: beginning of 3rd attempts of the previous flight.
For all other flights that will not have a break before bench starts, you will use the previous protocol listed above in the “Squat Flight 2, 3, or 4 Warm Up”, but again just make sure it is timed correctly with the consideration of bench press requiring less warm up attempts.
Deadlift Warm Up
Funny enough, deadlifts are usually not an issue with people starting too early. Usually by this point they have either learned their lesson and/or are just wanting a break from being exhausted. Deadlifts will be fairly similar to squats, where you will have the lifter do any mobility, movement prep, bathroom breaks then get into warm ups as soon as the prior flight starts. As above with bench press, there may be a small break between bench press and deadlift, so the first flight will want to know the length of that break and plan accordingly. Using the above protocols based on the scenario, warm up based on your deadlift position within your flight. I would say deadlifts are the least affected by maybe finishing warm ups a bit early. If there is a lift that I don’t mind my lifters maybe finishing up a tad early to really have time to get their mind right, it is on deadlifts. But for the most part I follow the same protocols as above based on the flight they are in, and then go out there and finish strong!
Hopefully this shed some light on how to properly warm up at a meet, and gave you some ideas to implement next go around. You have a big leg up just by having a plan going in, and even a bigger advantage if you time things right and use the results projection to your advantage. To end, here are a 10 unofficial warm up room rules so that I can finish with small rant!
3-4 lifters to a rack per flight. Be courteous before just jumping in and ask those already there to make sure you are not overloading that warm up station.
Do not switch racks/platform come bench or deadlift because you like someone else’s setup better and try to hop in before them to steal it. Get to the meet early to reserve your warm up rack if it is so important to you.
Download BarCalc for $1.99 if you don’t know kgs. Don’t ask someone to put 315lbs. on the bar when you are using kilo plates, and put the conversion burden on them.
Do not randomly jump in wanting to warm up with just the bar or 135lbs. when it is clear that particular rack/lifters are already well into the 400s. Find a different rack. Or have a better plan coming in then jumping in for a couple warm ups 5 minutes before your flight starts.
As a coach, I am happy to help everyone, but I am there for my lifters. I will happily help load weights for other lifters in the same rack, but if you are screwing around and not paying attention to when it is your turn, I’ll also happily skip over you so that my lifters stay on track.
Try as much as possible to choose a warm up rack with other lifters of your weight class and height. Don’t be the 93kg guy trying to work in with 52kg women, and vice versa.
Don’t steal someone else’s plates that they’ve obviously set aside for their warm up rack.
Be respectful of the gym’s equipment. They have graciously hosted the meet, treat their equipment as such.
Unrack your weights when you are done. Don’t leave 405lbs. on the bench press rack and make the next flight have to unrack and break it all down to deadlift.
Get to know the other lifters. In the end it’s all about having fun and the community of powerlifting is a big part of that. Leave with friends, not enemies.