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How To Warm Up For A New PR

Article written by Matt Mills
I have seen this too many times to count, when a new lifter is going for a new PR:  The lifter will start out with a very light weight, which is smart, but then will continue to do high reps at that weight, as well as the next few sets.  The problem with this is, by the time you get to hit your new PR, you are most likely burned out from all of the energy that was expended on the warm up sets.  All of a sudden that new PR feels a lot more heavy then it should have.  Let’s take the bench press for example:  Even the most experienced lifters will start with just the bar to work on their set up, and make sure they set the groove for the following sets.  We will use 315lbs as the previous one rep max, and the new PR attempted will be 325lbs.  Typically 135lbs is put on the bar and an easy 10-12 reps is easily done, followed by 185 for another 8 reps or so.  Just with the first two warm up sets the lifter has already moved 2,830lbs, and may have even began to lose bar speed at 185. 

While warming up to a heavy set, you should never let the speed of the bar slow down, because this is where fatigue sets in.  As you approach every set, you must attack it and move the weight as fast as possible.  As Brandon Lilly told me “Squat 135 like it’s your max, and squat your max like it’s 135.”  Now if your max is 135 then I think you get the point of this statement.  Obviously a 500lb squatter will have confidence and speed while squatting 135.  This same approach should be taken when that lifter goes for his new PR.  A common mistake is to load the warm to an easy weight and get sloppy with your form.  Any time you approach a bar, you should have the exact same set up as you would going for a new max.  When you get lazy because it’s “easy weight”, you only reinforce bad habits that will carry over to your heavier lifts.

When going for a new PR, you should keep the reps low while warming up to conserve energy for the heavy set.  This rule goes for whether you are going for a 1RM, or going for a 3RM.  Many times in a program, I will call for reaching a heavy single, double, or triple without giving any amount of sets to do.  The reason for this as it is will depend on the strength of the lifter.  A novice lifter with a deadlift of 315 may get there with as little as 5 sets, while a more advanced lifter with a deadlift of 600lbs will take closer to 10 sets to properly work out to that weight. 

Let’s use the example of someone going for a new 3 rep max and the goal is 500 for 3 reps.  Here would be an effective set and weight scheme to have a better chance of achieving this goal:

Set 1: 135 x 5 25% (of 1RM)
Set 2: 225 x 5 40%
Set 3: 315 x 3 58%
Set 4: 365 x 3 67%
Set 5: 405 x 3 74%
Set 6: 455 x 2 83%
Set 7: 500 x 3 New PR

Notice how in the beginning the jumps in weight are much bigger than the later sets.  This is again to conserve energy.  Obviously 135 to 315 are going to be easy weight for someone who can move 500lbs.  The jumps get smaller as the weight gets over 65% of their projected max.  I also made the jumps very easy to follow.  I like to use the least amount of plates as I warm up so don’t feel you have to stay to the exact percentages that I outlined above.  Also, notice that the set before 500 was only for 2 reps, and not 3.  The reason is to keep the speed of the reps as fast as possible to boost confidence.  I’m sure there have been plenty of times when you warm up and end up grinding out another rep that only wastes energy, but gets in your head.  If we had gone 455 for 3 then the third rep might have been a little slow making them only doubt themselves coming into the next set.
Now let’s take a look at how we would approach a new 1 rep max.  We will use the example of someone going for 600lbs, and then someone going for 315lbs. 

Set 1: 135 x 5 22%
Set 2: 225 x 5 38%
Set 3: 315 x 5 53%
Set 4: 365 x 3 61%
Set 5: 405 x 3 68%
Set 6: 455 x 2 76%
Set 7: 495 x 1 83%
Set 8: 525 x 1 88%
Set 9: 565 x 1 94%
Set 10: 600 x 1 PR

As you can see, once we get about 80%, we only do singles from then on.
Now 315:

Set 1: 95 x 5 30%
Set 2: 135 x 5 43%
Set 3: 185 x 3 59%
Set 4:  225 x 2 71%
Set 5: 265 x 1 84%
Set 6: 315 x 1 PR

As you can see the stronger lifter will need a lot more sets to properly build up to their max.  I will say that these are only suggestions, and in the end you know your own body best.  Try these out and let us know if you hit any new PR’s!

5 thoughts on “How To Warm Up For A New PR

  1. We just did new squat PRs today. I should have read this before, although it went well anyway. Great info for the upcoming PRs this week.

  2. I do something similar, but I don’t look much on percentage. I use the plate measurement and feel gassed when I get to that PR set. I will DEFINITELY be trying this within these next few weeks!

  3. You don’t have to stick to the percentages I outlined exactly. I actually wrote the weights to do first, then figured out the exact percentages. Just stay roughly within the outline of what I have. No reason to break out the calculator for every warm up set so just stay within a certain range.

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