Warm-Up Protocol Prior to Worksets

By Ben Peterson

Coaches always want to know exactly what weights the athletes are lifting and the progress that

they are making. Being able to quantify results with actual data not only motivates the athlete to

continue to push himself in the weight room but also validates the methods and practices of the

coach. Despite the need and benefits of having up-to-date numbers for an athlete’s 1RM, coaches are often hesitant to take the time to perform 1RM testing. Whether it's out of concern for injury to the athlete, interference with the normal lifting schedule, or excessively taxing the nervous system, coaches tend to shy away from max testing other than once per year.

But what if there was a way for coaches to test an athlete’s max that could be added safely and

effectively to any workout, a test that doesn't tax the athlete’s nervous system? This would enable coaches to make adjustments almost instantly to their athletes’ workouts, enabling them to maximize gains in a short amount of time. To do this, all the coaches have to do is add one

additional set to the end of the warm up at 80 percent of the current 1RM the day they want to

test, or adjust, the athlete’s max.


A normal and effective warm-up protocol for the bench press may look something like this:

• 1 x 5 reps @ 55% 1RM

• 1 x 3 reps @ 70% 1RM

• 1 x 1 reps @ 80% 1RM

This allows the athlete to quickly stimulate the central nervous system and activate the large,

high threshold motor units without stimulating fatigue. Now, let’s say that it is the first day of a

new microcycle and a coach wants to test his athletes to see if their bench numbers need to be

increased for the upcoming phase. To do this, the coach would have an athlete perform one set at 80 percent of his 1RM for three reps. For example:


• 1 x 5 reps @ 55% 1RM

• 1 x 3 reps @ 70% 1RM

• 1 x 3 reps @ 80% 1RM (test set)

Closely observing the athlete perform the lift by watching the speed of the bar and the level of

exertion the athlete exhibits, the coach can estimate how many reps the athlete could have

actually performed. If the athlete performed the set with ease, maintaining speed throughout the

concentric portion of the lift, the coach may infer that the athlete could have performed five, six,

or more repetitions, in which case the athlete’s max has increased. If the athlete performs the

repetitions but appears to struggle or the bar moves at a slow, steady pace, the athlete's max is

likely unchanged and should remain the same.


It should be noted that the athlete doesn't need to perform all three reps in the testing set. As a

coach becomes more proficient at observing the athlete, he will be able to estimate the total

number of reps that can be performed at a given weight by watching only one or two repetitions.


This is beneficial because it diminishes the stress placed on the athlete even further, taking less

energy away from his work sets. For example:

• 1 x 5 reps @ 55% 1RM

• 1 x 3 reps @ 70% 1RM

• 1 x 1-3reps @ 80% 1RM (test set)

After the testing set is completed, the athlete can proceed with the rest of the scheduled workout

without any adverse effects to performance. Once the coach estimates the number of repetitions the athlete could have performed, that number can be Plugged into the rep max calculator to calculate the athlete's new 1RM.

Being able to watch, evaluate, and change an athlete’s max within the outlines of a lifting

schedule gives a coach a decisive advantage. It ensures that the athletes are using the correct

weights and percentages to maximally tax their system at all times. The biggest factor in

dictating progress in the weight room is intensity. If an athlete has adapted to something where

the stimulus no longer has a high enough intensity to elicit change, the athlete will plateau. Being able to continually change and accurately measure an athlete’s 1RM enables a coach to maintain the right intensity and make gains twelve months a year.


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