Tips On Warming Up For A One-Rep Max

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The basics

Before we jump to any conclusions, you should keep in mind that warming up for a one-rep max is something you could call an ‘individual thing.’ Some people blast out a new PR in the middle of an extremely demanding workout while others walk into the gym, do a single warm-up set and immediately load the bar with a new max. There are all kinds of people, so it all depends on your personal preferences.

If you find yourself missing weights your calculations claimed you could handle, there’s a good chance that you didn’t warm up properly, especially if you usually depend on good preparation in order to achieve success. Don’t overdo it, though – you may not have done enough to prepare your body and mind for a one-rep max, but there’s also a chance that you did too much warming up and exhausted yourself way before you achieved your objective. As with many things, balance is key.

 What does “warming up” actually mean?

Different readers will interpret this term differently, although most agree on one thing – there’s something you call a general warm-up and then there’s the specific warm-up.

The general warm-up is what you do in order to prepare your whole body for the ensuing physical stress; this is a basic activity that serves only to improve your blood flow and increase your heart rate. Think five minutes on the bike, 1,000 meters on the rowing machine or even a brisk walk.

The specific warm-up is when you do exercises that target the muscles you plan to work on. If you want to do squats or deadlifts, opting for the bike (followed by some mobility drills) would be a good option. If you’re aiming for the bench press, get those muscles stretched and prepared, otherwise you’re in for a bad time!

The importance of specific warm-ups

Once you’ve finished with the general warm-up, it’s time to decide what muscles you’ll be pumping up next. There’s no simpler way of saying this, but the best way to warm up for a max lift is to do the exact same exercise with a smaller weight.

Don’t go too light, though, aim for submax. Push-ups may be a perfectly suitable exercise if you’re looking to warm up your shoulder joints, but if you’re going for the bench press, it’s much better to prepare by doing some lighter-weight bench pressing. It’s simple, you practice the lift, warm up your neuromuscular system and your muscles and joints will be ready.

Aiming for that one extra RM

As you will notice from the table that follows, we went with some pretty general numbers that should apply to many of you enthusiasts out there. Should you feel that they are off at any point, feel free to do your own calculations – maybe you need more time for rest after each set, maybe you need more reps, it’s all up to you.

When in doubt, always estimate a lower 1RM. You wouldn’t want to go harder than you can actually withstand. Depending on your strength and the technical difficulty of the lift, you should be able to hit your max somewhere in between 5 and 12 sets. The stronger you are, the more warm-up sets you’ll need to get to your top number.

Warm-up set # %1RM* Reps Rest after set*
1 30-50% 8 2 minutes
2 60% 5  2 minutes
3 70% 3  3 minutes
4 80% 1  3 minutes
5 90% 1  5 minutes
6 (max out) 100% 1 5-15 minutes
7+ (max out) + 2-5% 1 5-15 minutes
*Approximate values

A couple of extra tips to remember

When jumping to the next weight, the increase should never be any bigger than the previous increase. If you go from 100 to 130, don’t go to 200 on the next increase, no matter how confident you feel. Go for 150 to 160, instead.

Once you get up to 80% of your 1RM, you can stick with two reps. Go for more and you’ll turn a warm-up set into a work set, which is fine for training, but this is warming up we’re talking about.

Don’t bother with warm-up sets with 95% or more of your 1RM – it’s more than heavy enough to tire you, but not heavy enough to prove anything.

You may or may not have noticed this, but it’s paramount that the only warm-up set where you will actually improve your 1RM is the last.  This is paramount and many have failed in achieving this simply by failing to comply with this simple, yet crucial rule.


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