The Supra Warm-up Set
The term ‘warm-up set’ is actually a misnomer. In other words the sets preceding your work sets should not be warming you up. If you have performed a proper pre workout general warm-up then your body is already ‘warm’ – blood volume in the bodies working musculature has been increased. The sets preceding your work sets should really be termed ‘progressive recruitment sets’ as their purpose is to increase the bodies’ recruitment of needed muscle fibers in the working musculature to prepare it to perform optimally during the work sets. Since I’m not going to be able to make the world of strength training make a paradigm shift and start calling warm-up sets ‘progressive recruitment sets’ (too long of a name anyway) I’ll be using the name warm-up sets throughout this piece.
There are basically two schools of thought on warm-up sets.
High rep ‘Narrow Pyramid’ approach.
This is were a trainee performs warm-up sets with a relatively higher rep count then what they will use on their work sets. For example if a trainee is performing work sets of 5 reps he would perform warm-up sets of 12, 10 and then 8 reps before beginning the work sets of 5 reps. Trainees that use this approach like the feeling of having a lot of blood in the working muscles before beginning the work sets. The draw back here is that it consumes a lot of energy that could be saved for the work sets. Out of this reasoning came the lower rep alternative.
Low rep ‘Broad Pyramid’ approach.
This approach has the trainee performing sets of 5, 3 and then 1 rep(s) before hitting the work sets of 5 reps.
Both methods work about the same as long as that last warm-up set is within 10% to 15% of the working weight used for the first work set. They both prepare the body by progressively recruiting nearly as many fibers as will be needed to effectively perform your first work set. Again, the difference is that the higher rep approach uses up more of the energy substrates needed for the work sets.
A Real World Example
Now let me give you more of a real world example of how progressive recruitment works using the traditional methods of ‘warming-up’, which will then give you a better understanding of why Supra Warm-up sets work so well.
Let’s say that you are to squat with 300 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps. The 300 pounds is a good ‘working weight’ in that it will be a challenging weight to make all 3 sets with - although you should be able to do it with maximum effort. Let’s also assume that we know that you’ll need to recruit 100 muscle fibers in your quadriceps/hip flexors to do this effectively for the first rep of the first work set. No one knows exactly how many fibers are needed so I just picked a number just to serve as an example.
Performing your last warm-up set with approximately 85% to 90% of the 300-pound ‘working weight’; 255 to 270 pounds will get you very close to recruiting all the fibers you’ll need to effectively perform that first work-set repetition. So, for this example, let’s say that the 270-pound last warm-up set will recruit 90 muscle fibers. This is pretty good for when you perform the first rep with 300 pounds for the first work set it will not ‘stun you’ by feeling exceptionally ‘heavy’. Although it will feel heavier than the last warm-up set you performed.
Any experienced trainee will confirm that usually the second set performed with the same 300 pounds [after a rest interval that replenishes most of the ATP needed (5 minutes)] will feel relatively ‘lighter’ then the first set did – even if the first set was very tough to complete. This is because the body has already recruited the 100 muscle fibers (and more) that will be needed again to perform the first rep of the second set. When the 300 pounds hit the body on the first set the body said, “Whoa, I was really ready for the 270 pounds again.” On the second set the body didn’t have to adjust neurologically on the first couple of reps – so the body didn’t have the “Whoa” response. So, not only does the weight feel relatively lighter on the second set, but also technique improves because of the specific recruitment of the proper amount of fibers needed by all the muscles involved in the exercise.
With this ‘second set feeling lighter than the first ‘ scenario in mind let me introduce you to a method that will make that first rep (and actually the first several reps) of your first work set feel ‘light’.
The Supra Warm-up Set.
The Supra Warm-up set ‘over prepares’ the body neurologically for those first few reps of the first work set by recruiting more fibers than it’ll need. The first few reps of your first work set will feel ‘light’ and your technique will be enhanced. Here’s how to do it.
Again, I’ll use the example of performing squats with 300 pounds for 5 reps although Supra Warm-up sets can be used regardless of your working set rep goals – even if you are performing sets of near max singles.
After performing the last warm-up set with 270 pounds (as in the example above) rest at least 3 minutes and perform 1 rep with 315 pounds. Rest 3 minutes again and hit the 315 again. The 315 pounds should be relatively easy to complete for 1 rep because your 1 repetition max (1RM) will be around 330 pounds since you can perform 5 reps with 300 pounds. Now after a 3-minute rest, reduce the weight to 300 pounds and start your work sets. Again, the weight will feel light giving you not only a physiological advantage due to ‘supra-recruitment’ but will give you a confidence boost as well.
If you are performing sets of higher reps use a weight that is about 5% to 10% more than your working weight. The Supra Warm-up set only needs to be preformed for one rep and for no more than two sets (some trainees may only need one set). It’s purpose is to ‘over-recruit’ fibers used for your work sets - not to cut into your energy stores. Also, I would suggest that you take a rest interval of at least 3 minutes before beginning your first work set to make sure that ATP (the energy providing substrate) stores have been adequately replenished. The body will also need this time to replenish an important enzyme (aceytlcholinesterase) at the neuromuscular junction.
Supra Warm-ups for Heavy ‘Singles’ Training.
So, how do you apply Supra Warm-ups when your working weights are very near your 1RM? Easy. Use a weight that is 5% to 10% above your max.
“Wait a minute John, how can I lift a weight that is above my 1RM?”
You can’t. But you can lower it.
The Supra Warm-ups used for heavy single rep training are eccentric; negatives. Let’s go back to the squat scenario.
Let’s say you’re going to perform 5 single-rep sets of squats with 325 pounds. After completing your last traditional warm-up with 295 pounds, load the bar to 340 pounds and simply descend slowly to the bottom position of the squat. Of course make sure you have some type of spotter pins / safety device that can stop and hold the bar at the bottom while you crawl out underneath. Take approximately 3 to 4 seconds (a real 3 to 4 seconds; you know – “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” etc) to lower to the bottom. Don’t take any longer than this as too much fatigue will build up possibly impeding your performance when you start your work sets with the 325 pounds. One to two sets will do the job. If you perform two sets make sure that you take at least 3 minutes – 5 minutes would be better – between sets so that the Supra Warm-up sets don’t turn into your work sets.
Using a Supra-Warm-up set(s) before your work sets is one of the rare methods in strength training in that it’s application will have an immediate positive effect the very first time you use it. Almost all other training methodologies/techniques/tips take time – some many months - to show a measurable positive effect. Try it at your next training session and take advantage of the ‘over-prepared’ state that your muscles will be in when you attempt that first work set. You won’t be disappointed.
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