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Q: Do I need warmup sets to build mass?

7204-cmass2Q: I never see you writing about warmup sets anymore. Do I need to do them? I’m interested in building the most mass possible.

A: I’ve been using the 4X mass method almost exclusively, and with that you don’t need warmup sets. The first easier sets prime the pump. That’s because you use your 15-rep max and do only 10 reps. You do that  through four sets, taking only 35 seconds of rest between them.

The weight is moderate with 4X, and because you use your 15RM but only do 10, set 1 is easy and set 2 is harder but not extreme. Sets 3 and 4 are the ones that take effort—but there’s still much less joint stress and risk of injury because the poundage isn’t ultra heavy.

Yet with 4X you still crash through the growth threshold due to quick, cumulative muscle fatigue. That’s why I like it so much, especially at my age, 53.

Now, in some of our programs, such as The Power-Density Mass Workout, my co-author Jonathan Lawson and I use a pyramid on the first big exercise, then heavy straight sets on the stretch-position exercise and, finally, 4X on the isolated-and-contracted move at the end. Warmups are included for the first two exercises only.

For the first—the midrange move, like bench presses—we list two progressively heavier warmups sets, 50 and 75 percent of your first work set.

For the stretch-position exercise—like flyes for chest—one lighter warmup set is all you’ll need, if any. Stretch moves are a bit more dangerous, so we usually do one.

I haven’t trained heavy in years, so I never do warmup sets these days; my workouts are all 4X-style training. Before the workout starts, however, I do a minute or two of some range-of-motion stretches for the muscles I’m about to work.

Since Jonathan isn’t quite 40 yet, he often does some heavy training, usually on the midrange exercises. He will uses a program similar to Power-Density, and when he does, he follows the above protocol of two to three progressively heavier warmup sets before his work sets.

So if and when you go heavy, focused warmup sets are a must. I say focused because you must make the reps controlled just the way you do your work-set reps—one second to lift and three to lower, or even slower—and you must feel the target muscle. It’s important for injury prevention, blood flow, nervous system activation and growth.

Studies on the benefits of warming up muscles have found that doing lighter sets prior to heavy work can help the target muscle contract much better than without them—about 20 percent better, in fact.”

Of course, if you’re using 4X, you get those mass-building warmup benefits with your first two sets.


Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the author of many bodybuilding best-sellers and the creator of Positions-of-Flexion muscle training. For information on the POF DVD and Size Surge programs, see the ad sections in this issue. Also visit  and for info on X-Rep, 4X and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM


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