How to Guide:
Preparing To Max Out on Squats!
I remember when I first started getting into training, prioritizing my health and fitness, and lifting heavy weights I read a quote that went something like this:
"The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It's about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.”
I did not really learn the absolute truth of this until I was working up a one rep max. Something incredibly unique happens to a person that has something close to a true 1rm loaded on a bar across their shoulders. There is a mindset shift when it's just you and a barbell loaded with weight. Impossible weight that is crushing you down a little deeper with every passing moment it is on your back. Lowering the weight down into the bottom position feels more like an airplane slowly crashing into the earth. Every single muscle screaming and fighting for some kind of leverage that makes sense. Then once you have bottomed out, almost like a rubber band that’s been stretched to elastic integrity testing lengths, you tense every muscle in your body in an effort to simply stand back upright.
If it’s just not your day or you had some kind of technical/positional error and it ends up pinning you down into the safety bars of a rack, it sucks. Missing lifts is a demoralizing feeling. Especially when going for a new max. If you make it through. If you lock out your hips and extend your knees and win the battle against gravity, then it’s a great feeling. Few things in life mimic the feeling of just smashing weights that you were not capable of lifting before.
That is exactly what this post is aiming to do. Arm you with some tips and tricks to help you have a better chance of setting that new PR and fighting the literal weight of the world on your shoulders.
Tip 1: The Week Before Your Max Out Attempt
This tip is more of an introduction to supercompensation. Supercompensation is a term used by coaches to describe a period of decreased training volume to have a large physiological rebound to maximally perform a sport task. Supercompensation is the goal of peaking and tapering programs for strength sports. Really, supercompensation is sought after in pretty much every other sport as well. Whether its peak performance in a team sport, a faster 100m sprint time, or squatting as much as you physically can, it’s important to understand this supercompensation concept.
So, two great questions at this point are what is really happening when we supercompensate and how do we do it? Hopefully, you’ve been following a structured training plan for a few weeks or months and you’ve seen a noticeable difference in your strength compared to when you started. You got stronger through systematically adding weight on the bar and have progressed in volume (sets x reps x weight) over the time frame that you have been utilizing this lifting program.
Volume is a double-edged sword in that you need it to get stronger and it beats the crap out of you. This supercompensation period allows you to completely heal from the thrashing that the volume you’ve been doing has done to bother your muscles and nervous system. With your body already in a heightened mode of repair from the training you’ve been doing, dropping the volume for a few days will continue those repair and recuperation processes with less actual damage and stress to recover from.
Seven days is a good timeframe for this period of reduced volume due to a training principle called “Residual Training Effect.” Residual Training Effect is basically how many days you maintain something you’ve been training for before you see a decrease in performance without training for it anymore. For example, if you train to increase your muscular endurance for a few months and then completely stop training, you have a Residual Training Effect of about 30 days. This means you shouldn’t see a quantifiable or marked decrease in your trained level of muscular endurance for about a month after you stop training for it. Unfortunately for high neurological demand physical skills like Maximum Strength and Maximal Rate of Force Development, we are looking at a Residual Training Effect time of about 7 days. So, we really do not want our supercompensation time frame to be longer than a week.
Here is how I suggest people supercompensate. There are many different methods of peaking and tapering for maximal performance. What I am going to layout is a super easy way to do it that has worked for tons of athletes. The week before your new 1rm attempt, finish up your last training session of regular weight and regular volume. For the rest of this week, continue your training frequency. Training frequency is however many days a week you lift. Lifting three days a week? Then lift three days a week in this little deload week. Four days? Still lift four days.
For each day you lift, cut all of your normal volume of all your accessory exercises by 50%. You can lower your volume by one of two ways: either cut the total reps in half or drop the weight by half. So, say all your accessory work is 4x10 with 40lbs. You can either do 2x10 with 40lbs or 4x10 with 20lbs. It really doesn’t matter. We just want to see that volume drop by 50%. For your main lifts (I am going to assume they are squats, bench, deadlift, and overhead press), try to do two or three, what I like to call, “Mock 1rms.” For simplicities sake, lets say you train squats twice a week. Remember, you are keeping your training frequency the same during this supercompensation period. So, your first squat workout should look just like this:
Do your normal warm-ups
Do 3 sets of 1 rep with 80% of your 1rm (actual or estimated)
Move on to your assistance work.
Your second squat workout should go as follows:
Do your normal warm-ups
Do 3 sets of 1 rep with 70% of your 1rm
Move on to your assistance work.
The reason for setting it up this way is to allow you to get some mental reps in. Really use these few reps to dial in all of your own personal mental cues as well as solidify your technique. I like to film these sets as well, to see if there's anything in my form I'd like to try to change in the future at heavier weights. Any small inefficiencies you have in form are easy to hide at lower weights, but will start to show themselves once you start getting heavier.
Following this plan the week before your 1rm test will definitely have you prepared to get it done!
Tip 2: Postactivation Potentiation (PaP)
This is such a sneaky little neuromuscular “hack.” The idea behind PaP is that doing some super explosive, super high rate of force development movement sometime before a performance where maximal speed or strength is important will actually boost that performance. We don’t need to get super technical here. Just add a few jumps to your warm-up routine on the day you test your 1rm. Something as easy as a standing in place tuck jump for 10-15 reps is enough to amp up your nervous system.
Tip 3: The Plank Cheat Code
I always suggest hitting some planks and side planks before squatting or deadlifting heavy weights. Doing short bouts of isometric core work has an interesting neuromuscular benefit of improving core stiffness for a short time. Bracing your core is incredibly important for protecting your lower back and improving mechanical advantage while squatting. This little “cheat code” allows you to brace harder.
Tip 4: Fixed Attempts and a Structured Warm Up
It is so easy to let your inner meathead take control and load up too much weight too fast. I like to use a fixed approach for my attempts for a new 1rm and the warm-ups leading up to it. The whole process should look something like this:
- 10 minutes of light aerobic activity or dynamic warm ups
- 3-5 minutes of soft tissue mobilization like foam rolling
- 3-5 sets of planks for 10-20 seconds
- 10-15 jumps
- A few squats with an empty bar
- 3-6 squats with 20% and 40% of your max
- 3 squats with 50% and 60%
- 1 squat with 70% and 80%
Once you hit this point, it is game time. When you start lifting weights over 90% of your max, you have an extremely limited number of reps you can do before fatigue causes technical breakdowns in your form. I suggest only giving yourself three to five lifts once you hit that 90% mark. Stick with 90%-92% for your first lift, 95%-97% for your second, 101% on the third. If you absolutely crush that third attempt, go ahead, and move up in weight a little bit. If you miss the lift or it is an all-out grinder, shut it down for the day and reevaluate the training that brought you to this point.
- Cut total volume by 50% but keep frequency and intensity high for the week leading up to the new max attempt.
- Do some kind of explosive jumping for 10-15 reps as the last warmup before you begin your barbell work.
- Do planks in your new max attempt warmup in order to improve core stiffness. 3-5 sets of 10-20 seconds seems to be adequate.
- Have a structured plan for your warmups and maximal lift attempts.
What do you think about these tips? What was helpful? Let us know in the comments below!