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Prep For image1

Posted in: Articles by ProSource, Training Articles
By Patrick Striet, CSCS | Oct 10, 2013

5 Workout Preparation Techniques for
Lifting More Weight and Getting Stronger

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If you have read my prior work here at, you know I'm a big proponent of starting your workouts with one heavy multiple-joint exercise and trying to get stronger on that movement. To me, getting consistently stronger, in the form of setting 1 RM or multiple-rep max personal records (PRs), is the life blood of any successful muscle building program. Sure, volume and "pump work" play a huge role as well, but getting each muscle group strong as hell lays the foundation and, over time, allows you to use heavier weights on the higher volume rep work which spurs muscle hypertrophy.

With the above being said, a lot of people don't "set the tone" for hitting PRs. What I mean by that is their preparation prior to their first main exercise in a workout is haphazard and incomplete. I've seen countless guys and gals walk into the gym, put their ear buds in, maybe do a couple of arm circles or toe touches, blow snot out of each nostril, and jump immediately into their first exercise of the day. As the old saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail" and, when it comes to setting personal records and getting consistently stronger, I couldn't agree more.
You have to prime your body and central nervous system if you want to get stronger.

This is especially true if you are an intermediate to advanced trainee with some trench time. "Newbies" may be able to get away with just walking into the gym and not doing a thorough warm-up, but that approach won't cut it if you are already fairly strong, are handling heavier weights and have outgrown your beginner gains. As you get stronger, if you want to continue to make gains, you have to take a more comprehensive approach and prep your body if you want to set PRs.

Over the years, I've developed a 5 step approach for optimally preparing your body to set PR's. Let's take a look at each step:

Soft Tissue Work
Setting PRs starts with doing some soft tissue work in the form of foam rolling or lacrosse ball work on the muscles used in your first main exercise of the day. Soft tissue work helps break up adhesions and "hot spots" along the muscles, irons out the fascia which covers your muscles, optimizes length-tension relationships, improves range of motion, and generally improves the quality of your soft tissue.
Thirty to sixty seconds of rolling on the targeted muscles and about a half dozen different drills is all it takes. For upper body pressing and pulling movements, I use a foam roller or lacrosse ball on my pecs, triceps, forearm flexors, upper back and lats. For lower body movements, I roll out the quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, and IT bands.

Investing 5 minutes on "poor man's massage" is well worth it. If you do this stuff before each workout, you'll notice you'll feel a lot less tender as the weeks pass, and this is the goal: improved soft tissue quality. Don't skimp on this stuff.

Short-Duration Static Stretching
Static stretching before strength and power activities is a controversial topic. Many strength coaches frown upon it and don't use because they feel it decreases force and power production. Other coaches feel the claims of decreased force production and performance are either exaggerated or unsubstantiated.

I see both sides of the argument. That being said, I've always felt better -- and my clients have too -- stretching a bit prior to a workout. I think if it's placed properly in the over all warm-up (in this case, after soft tissue work) and not done for super long durations or in high volumes, your strength and power won't suffer. Hitting a handful of 15-30 sec static stretches for the muscles used in the your first and main exercise of the day isn't going to negatively impact you, especially if both a general dynamic and exercise-specific warm-up precede the static stretches.

If you perform static stretches PRIOR to your dynamic and specific warm-up drills, 10 minutes will likely have passed before you get into your main set(s). This is more than enough time for any potential negative effects of the static stretches to have diminished. To me, the transient increases in joint range of motion and reduction of joint stiffness justifies the inclusion of a few short-duration static stretches. If you put these in the right spot during your warm-up, don't go overboard with them in terms of duration or volume, and give yourself enough time before you start your main movement, you'll be just fine.

Dynamic Drills
After you've taken care of your soft tissue and hit a few static stretches, it's time to go through some dynamic drills which specifically prepare and prime the muscles used in your first main exercise of the day. These drills also generally prime your entire body and CNS by raising body temperature, increasing heart rate, and "lubing up" all of your joints.

If you are hitting a major upper body push or pull, this is the time for arm swings and circles, side lying windmills, thoracic extensions and rotations, shoulder dislocations, light face pulls and push-ups, dynamic lat stretches, etc. If you are hitting a major lower body exercise, this the time for glute bridges, cat/camel drills, hip fire hydrants, Cossack squats, leg swings, quad and hip flexor mobilizations, spider man lunges, hamstring marches, hip hurdle drills, etc.
The goal here is an active movement-based series of drills which take the joints used in your main exercise of the day through a full range of motion. When you are finished with this 3rd step, you should be sweating a bit and feel primed and confident to move onto your first exercise of the day.

Exercise Specific Warm-ups
Now that the general warm-up has been completed, it is time to "grease the groove" and perform warm-up or ramp -up sets on your main exercise of the day. Going back to the first paragraph above, I feel setting PRs and getting stronger is the life blood of any good training program, and the exercise specific warm-up should be performed in a way which primes and prepares you to set a PR but WITHOUT unnecessarily fatiguing you and preventing you from using your top weights.

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The way to do this is to perform several lower rep warm-up sets (1-3 reps) towards your goal weight of the day. Doing too many warm-up reps is a sure fire way to burn out early, so limit the rep volume on each set. I've found the best way to warm-up for a PR is to start with the bar and perform 5-8 reps. After that, I'll take 10% or so of my goal weight for the day, add this amount to the bar on all subsequent warm-up sets and do 1-3 reps on each set until I've reached my top set which I'm trying to hit a PR with.

Let me provide a real world example. Let's say my goal is to set of squat PR of 315 lbs for 5 reps on my top set. My warm-ups may look like this:

Bar x 8 reps

75 lbs x 3 reps

105 lbs x 2 reps

135 lbs x 1 rep

170 lbs x 1 rep

205 lbs x 1 rep

245 lbs x 1 rep

275 lbs x 1 rep

295 lbs x 1 rep

Rest 3:00

PR set @ 315 lbs x 5 reps

  Harness the Power of PAP
While following steps 1-4 above will drastically improve the quality of your training and allow you to set more frequent PRs, experimenting with this final step can take your training to even greater levels. PAP stands for "post activation potentiation."

Without getting overly scientific, PAP basically involves lifting a weight heavier than that which you plan to use on your top PR set to induce a high degree of central nervous system stimulation. This results in greater motor unit recruitment and force, which can last from five-to-thirty minutes. PAP increases the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle. In laymen terms, this means that doing a heavier set prior to your PR set can actually help you fire higher threshold muscle cell motor units which, in turn, allows you to perform better on your PR set.

So, going back to the warm-up example in step 4 above, before you perform your 5 rep PR set at 315, try hitting a single rep at 335-340 lbs., rest 3:00 minutes, and then do your 5 rep PR set at 315. You may find you might get 6 or 7 reps instead of 5. I've been using PAP sets prior to my PR sets for several months now and I'm thrilled with the results.

With PAP, you are basically trying to "take the brakes" off of your CNS. Exposing the target muscles to loads heavier than what you are attempting on a PR set essentially "fakes out" your CNS, and your body interprets the PR set weight as much more manageable.

If you want to take this a step further and get even more out of PAP, try performing 1-2 reps of an explosive movement using the same muscles as those involved in your main lift between several of the warm-up sets on your main lift. The explosive movement really stimulates the CNS, and primes you for greater performance. If you use this technique along with the supra-maximal set before your PR set, you can really surprise yourself.

Let's put it all together using that same 315x5 PR squat set warm-up example from above:

Bar x 8 reps

Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

75 lbs x 3 reps

Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

105 lbs x 2 reps

Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

135 lbs x 1 reps

Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

170 lbs x 1 reps

Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

205 lbs x 1 reps
Body weight jump squat or box jump 1-2 reps

245 lbs x 1 reps

275 lbs x 1 reps

295 lbs x 1 reps

315 lbs x1 (PAP set)

335 lbs x1 (supra-maximal PAP set)

Rest 3:00

PR set @ 315 lbs x 5 reps

So, there you have it, 5 steps to setting PRs. If you want to set the tone and consistently shatter PRs, give several or all of above a shot and start to consistently implement these strategies in your workouts. Until next time, stay strong and live fit!

How many of you are stuck on a plateau when it comes to increasing your 1RM for bench or squat? What are you doing to start progressing again? Let us know in the comments field below!

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Disclaimer: The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.

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