How 7 Elite Powerlifters and Weightlifters Warm Up for Squats

Every body is different, and the warmup that’s perfect for one athlete can = be subpar for others.

As one of the most challenging movements the body can perform, there are a lot of ways people approach the back squat, so BarBend interviewed seven well-known strength athletes and coaches and asked them one, simple question: How do you warm up for squats?

Amit Sapir

Raw with wraps squat world record holder in 4 different weight classes

After I do the banded exercises that I demonstrate in the video above, I follow that with five to ten good mornings to open up my hamstrings, then I do leg swings side to side and front to back.

Then I do a set or two of squats with an empty bar, anywhere from five to eight reps with most of them being pause reps to let my hips open up more in the bottom position. The last few reps are always proper squats with full speed and no pause.

Then I’ll do at least six warm-up sets, adding 90 pounds to the bar and decreasing reps each set until I get to about 600 pounds, then I add 50 pounds and go into my working sets.

Pretty simple but as I advanced in the sport I personally don’t need warm up percentages. I just go with how things feel and adjust accordingly. If I need more or less with a weight I do that – it’s a lot of instinct at this point and how my body is feeling that particular day.

Jenn Rotsinger

All-time -52kg world record holder in squat (sleeves), deadlift, and total in both wraps and sleeves; powerlifting coach at Complete Human Performance

I start every workout with some form of core activation, since bracing is so important in the squat, as well as glute and quad activation. Example of exercises would include bird dogs, dead bugs, split squats, cossack squats, banded pull-throughs, and tempo goblet squats. Every person is going to be a little different and have different areas of opportunity, so warm-ups will be different.

As far as how many sets and reps of warm-up weights, I always start with the bar (and 135). At 50% of 1RM I do 3-5, then I take 30-35 (about 10% of 1RM) pound jumps doing doubles or singles until I hit my working weight. Obviously this changes if I am hitting volume at 65%, but you get the general idea.

Sometimes, when the weight or groove feels off, I repeat a set of warm-ups. As I have gotten older, it takes me longer to warm-up. Most training days, my last set is my best set. I don’t worry about fatiguing as much as I am concerned about not being warm.

Mike Burgener

Level 5 Senior International Weightlifting Coach, Head Coach of CrossFit Weightlifting

General warm up with some light calisthenics.  Body warming mostly. I line my athletes up in a row of 3 or 4.  We first jog 25 meters down and back. Once we have jogged, we do high knees down and back. The next exercise is skipping down and back. The next exercise is lateral speed and agility, which simply means sliding sideways and changing directions every 5 meters or so. The last exercise is sprinting 25 meters followed by the junkyard dog. Then we can do any of the stretching movements if they feel that they are weak in a specific area.

Then we: do a light set of 3, heavier set of 2, then no more than 5 singles working to a heavy single. Hopefully a PR!

Dr. Aaron Horschig

Doctor of Physical Therapy, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Owner Squat University

The three areas of a well-rounded warm up include mobility work, purposeful stability and coordination exercises, and a few dynamic barbell movements prior to adding weight to the bar. Of these, foam rolling and sitting in a deep bodyweight squat are two of my favorites. Foam rolling has been shown in research to improve your mobility without any decreases in muscular performance. Sitting in a deep bodyweight squat helps establish a stable and strong bottom position, which is crucial when attempting to lift heavier weights. I would sit in the bottom of the deep squat for around 1 minute and if needed the athlete can hold onto a kettle bell or weighted plate to help offset their balance and sit comfortably.

As far as barbell movements, I like to warm up with the barbell without shoes on. During this time I recommend performing a slow eccentric descent and sitting into the bottom of the squat for 10-15 seconds before exploding upwards powerfully. As far as warmup sets, everyone will be slightly different based on their past experience under the bar. Here’s a quick breakdown of a generalized example:

set 1: 5-8 reps @ 40% (pause first rep for 5 seconds)
set 2: 5 reps @ 50% (pause first rep for 3 seconds)
set 3: 3 reps @ 60%
set 4: 3 reps @ 70%
set 5: 2 reps @ 80%
set 6: 1 rep @ 90%
set 7: 1 rep @ 95%
set 8: max attempt


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Charity Witt

GPA Junior Women’s World Record Holder, 75kg Class (447.5kg Total); APC Record Holder, 75kg Class (180kg Squat, 174.6kg Deadlift)

For squats, I like to have a dynamic warm-up. I’ll typically air squat, do high leg swings (side to side and front to back), a few high knee jumps, then I’ll take my Mark Bell Sling Shot and do banded duck walks side to side and front and backwards. After that, I’ll stretch my calves, hip flexors and groin.

Clarence Kennedy

Weightlifting coach and YouTube personality

My warm-up takes two to five minutes and is usually just short, general static stretching. (Editors’ note: You can see about a minute of Kennedy’s stretches above: pancake stretch, butterfly stretch, kneeling hip flexor stretch, cobra stretch, shin stretch.)

Then I start squatting, the sets look like this:

Bar: 2X5
70kg: 2X3
110kg: 2X3
150kg: 2X2
190kg: 2X2
230kg: 1
260kg (working set)

Image courtesy of Paulie Steinman.

Paulie Steinman

Head Coach at South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club

The most important thing about warming up is getting your body warm. An easy way to know when you are warm is that you have a light sheen of sweat on your body. This can be accomplished by using an exercise bike or a rowing machine for about 10 minutes at a fairly easy pace. We are trying to find the perfect balance between warming up without unnecessarily expending energy.

Next, you should mobilize any parts of your body that are particularly stiff. Maybe your shoulders or your hips. Our goal for mobilization is to get your body to neutral; a place where you can start warming up with the bar without any pain.

Finally, you should start with an empty bar and then work your way up to your first training workset for the day. I advise my lifter not to rest between warmup sets. It completely defeats the purpose of warming up! The first rest should be taken after the first work set, after about five warm-up sets.

Note: Paulie Steinman and Amit Sapir are contributors to BarBend. Read more from them at those links.

Featured image via clarence0 on YouTube and @jrotsinger, @charity_witt, and @ifbbproamitsapir on Instagram.