Ramp Up Your Major Lifts For Performance & Injury Prevention
Here’s What You Need To Know…
1. The dynamic warm up is an integral part of the pre-training routine, but it isn’t everything. The use of strategic “ramp up” sets will not only warm you up, but add pain-free volume to your training in the process.
2. If muscle and strength is your goal, incorporating multiple ramp up sets will allow you to prime your central nervous system while ingraining specific movements patterns into your neural library. This leads to cleaner, more explosive movements with a greater ability to load heavy.
3. While there are a few ways to ramp up your major lifts, using this reverse pyramid scheme and taking into account details like movement acceleration and loading is necessary to optimize performance and prevention results.
4. The best “warm up” will blend traditional dynamic movements with ramp ups to provide the best of both worlds, and a greater performance under the bar.
Beyond The Dynamic Warm Up
The generalized pre-workout warm-up has become very mainstreamed in our current day fitness culture. After hearing for years from trainers, coaches and therapists that the dynamic warm up is an essential part of any fitness or exercise program, everyone finally bought in and stopped stretching for 20 minutes prior to any physical activity. This is awesome for the general public looking to stay healthy and get a bit of a sweat dripping off their backs, but for strength athletes, a dynamic warm up is just a piece of the performance puzzle.
Consistently moving heavy loads on a frequent basis with the goal of progressively getting bigger, stronger and more explosive over time needs some special attention in the warm-up department. Through the programming of ramp up sets, strength athletes can utilize movement specific warm ups while not frying their neurological systems in the process. But be careful, if ramp up sets are programmed ineffectively, they can pre-fatigue musculature and neurological conduction patterns, largely limiting epic performances in the gym. Proceed with knowledge, strategy and goals in mind, and reap the benefits of an intelligently designed movement specific ramp up program.
Just in case you were wondering, here is an example of a full body dynamic warm-up that can be used before any type of training session and one which I have utilized with athletes and general fitness population with great success:
Example Dynamic Warm Up
- Jump Squats – 10
- Seal Jacks – 15
- Prisoner Squat – 10
- Push-Up – 6 (2 second hold at bottom position)
- Alternating Forward Lunges – 6 (per side)
- Stick-Ups – 10
- Band Pull Aparts – 10
- Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – 30 seconds (per side)
**Follow up with dynamic effort jumps, throws or sprints
The Introduction of Ramp Up Sets
If you aren’t already familiar with the term, ramp up sets can be defined as preparatory sets of an exercise or movement that are completed with sub-maximal weight to activate specific musculature, prepare active joints for increased loads and intensities, while also grooving a specific pattern in order to achieve pristine authentic movement patterns and form. Think of these as a more detailed and customized version of the generalized dynamic warm up.
Though people have started to get pretty good at warming up dynamically before strength and conditioning work, ramp up sets are usually butchered in the commercial setting. This is likely due to a lack of emphasis placed on their efficacy and importance as it pertains to actual performance in the working sets.
By now, everyone has seen a gym bro approach the bench just to knock out 20 reps with the bar flying off their chests, followed by a few reps with a 45 pounder on each side, then move right into the grand finale by unleashing his inner demons on his max effort press. I’m going out on a limb by saying that there has to be a better way to get warmed up in order to provide an optimal carry over into one’s performance, while not limiting the quality of work that is about to be done.
Programming Ramp Up Sets for Hypertrophy
In my 12-week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program, one key staple of the program was the use of strategic ramp up sets for each movement in a training day. While many programs fail to instruct this minute detail, I wanted to clearly make it a priority because of a few key advantages strategically ramping up your weights provides.
First and foremost, the ramp up sets provide you the opportunity to increase your total workout volume by adding a few sets into the mix for each movement while staying sub-maximal in your exertion. Increasing overall volume is advantageous when the goal is packing on a little extra muscle to the frame. Without going crazy like some of the old Arnold routines which incorporated multiple ramp up sets in conjunction with set and rep schemes of 10×10, we can add a little volume without going overboard.
Many foundational multi-joint strength movements are highly skill-based in nature. The more time you spend under the bar, the better you are able to find your sweet spot in both the setup and execution of a movement. Don’t listen to Allen Iverson; practice is the key when it comes to moving maximal iron and emphasizing hypertrophy.
As extended practice is utilized over time, the neural system will become more highly activated, increasing both the synergistic movement patterns that are coordinated by various segments of the body while increasing available motor units to play a roll in moving a load.
Ramp up schemes also provides you the sensory experience to judge how a load feels on a daily basis. Though in most hypertrophy and strength programs lifters are continuously chasing progressive overload, the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is also very important. Advanced lifters realize that 225 pounds on a bar on two separate days of the week may feel different secondary to other variables in a performance program or lifestyle, and will adjust accordingly. Appreciating that an internal force and activation is just as important as an external load placed on the body, is a key point in achieving hypertrophy gains for the long run.
Determining Loading Using Ramp Up Sets
For most big compound lifts, I have my clients use a three set ramp-up scheme that looks something like this:
- Ramp Up Set 1 – 50% working load for prescribed number of working reps
- Ramp Up Set 2 – 75% working load for half the reps in working sets
- Ramp Up Set 3 – 110% working load for one single rep (explosively)
- Working Sets – Prescribed sets, reps and load
The goal for the first working set is to move the light weight explosively, tapping into your fast twitch muscle fibers and activating available muscles worked during the pattern optimally.
This will be followed up with the second ramp up set where your reps will be half the number of the prescribed working sets (for example, if you are prescribed 10 sets of 10 reps, your ramp up set 2 will be done with 5 repetitions). The tempo of this movement should be identical to the tempo used with your working weight. It pays to know your body and its capabilities in each movement, so take notes during your training sessions whenever possible. Data will become useful as you progress over time.
The final ramp up set will be completed with a load slightly heavier than the load prescribed in the working sets. This will kick on neural activation and prepare you for your first working set. This set also provides you with an option of boosting your working loads for the next set. Based on your RPE on a given day for any movement, attempt to get the most out of your training by boosting your weights slightly and challenging yourself.
It should be noted that the ramp up scheme and example detailed above is just one of many ways to ramp up. One of the other highly popular ramp up schemes is to simply keep the same amount of reps on the ramp up sets as working sets, but just pyramid the weights up during the ramps. Say you are capable of cranking out the 10 prescribed reps for an exercise with 100 pounds for working sets. Three ramp up sets leading up to the three working sets would be programmed to look something like this:
- Ramp Up Set 1 – 50 pounds for 10 reps
- Ramp Up Set 2 – 70 pounds for 10 reps
- Ramp Up Set 3 – 90 pounds for 10 reps
- Working Sets – 3 sets of 10 reps with 100 pounds
This variation of the ramp up scheme is simple and effective. It’s also one hell of a way to increase the overall volume for each movement and the total volume per day or week on specific programming. This is the exact ramp up scheme I use with my FHT members.
This type of ramp up scheme is also preferred for smaller more isolated movements such as direct arm work, direct shoulder work, and even any posterior chain work like back, hamstring and glute emphasized movements that need more overall volume for a preventative pain-free style of training.
The key here is to stay consistent with your ramps and buying into the system before you begin to auto-regulate. Take the time to choose the ramp up style that is consistent with your goals and needs as a lifter, and stay consistent with the amount of ramp up sets and loading just as you would for your work sets. Yes, this style of ramp up is that important, so give it respect.
A New Way To Warm Up
Put both the dynamic warm up and ramp up schemes to good use when designing your own strength training programs, or while you follow along with my hypertrophy focused program right here on the site. Both types of warm ups play a key role in continued progression towards your aesthetic and/or strength goals, so put some time into preparing for each movement, and get ready to reap the benefits!
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and writer, whose published over 300 articles in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s Fitness, Testosterone Nation, Mountain Dog Diet, Bodybuilding.com, and Muscle and Strength, to name a few.
Along with an impressive laundry list of publications, Dr. John works with some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pro Quarterbacks, MLB All-Star Pitchers, Professional Bodybuilders and World Class IronMan Triathletes.
He takes pride in offering uniquely customized programming to clients of all walks of life in the exact same detail and passion as the Pros! Dr. John’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program is now available to you.
Thanks for the info. Now I know what not to do and how to workout more wisely.