How to Warm Up for a One-Rep Max Deadlift

By Nick Nilsson
Author of Time-Volume Training


Getting ready for a One Rep Max attempt is not simply just a matter of loading up the bar and lifting it.

When it comes to warming up for a 1RM, you have to strike a balance between getting not getting warmed-up ENOUGH (and risking injury or not getting a true 1 RM) and warming up TOO MUCH, and compromising your strength (and again, not getting a good 1RM).

Nick Nilsson Deadlift - 475 pounds

This is the strategy that I use...and you can use it as a guideline to base your own preparations on, or take whatever parts of it you find useful.

This is what I've found works for ME. You might need more or you might need less (and yes, you CAN apply this template to any other exercises you want to max out in).



1. General Warm-Up

First, I'll do some general movement stuff to get the blood flowing. This includes arm circles, jumping and jogging in place.

warm-up arm circleswarm-up arm circleswarm-up arm circles

warm-up jogging in placewarm-up jumping

I will also do a unique warm-up method designed to activate all the muscles of the hips, core, and upper body, as well as move blood out of "sequestration" in the abdominal area (where your body stores it when it's not needed for activity).

Squat down and set your elbows inside your knees then push IN with your thighs as you push OUT with your elbows. Bear down on your core muscles to help squeeze the blood out. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.

Then repeat with the arms on the outside of the knees...pull in with the arms and push out with the hips.

warm-up hips and corewarm-up hips and core

This is a great quick warm-up technique that I use almost every time I train. And yeah, it looks a little strange but it WORKS.

Now we get to the actual lifting...


2. The Lead-Up Sets

When it comes to the weights used for this warm-up, they are partly dictated by how I'm loading up the bar. I'm not using a specific % of 1 RM for these...for ease of loading, I'm just adding plates until I get closer to my 1 RM.

First, I start with a single plate loaded on either side of the bar...135 lbs...and perform 4 to 6 reps with it.

Warm-Up Deadlift - 135 lbsWarm-Up Deadlift - 135 lbs

Depending on how I feel, I may do an additional set with this light weight after a short rest.

Then I'll put another plate on either side for 225 lbs and do a set of 2 to 3 reps.

Warm-Up Deadlift - 225 lbsWarm-Up Deadlift - 225 lbs

After a minute or so of rest, I'll put 315 lbs on the bar by adding another plate to either side again. At this weight, I'll do just 1 to 2 reps. As we get into the heavier loads, we cut back on the number of reps and increase the rest time a bit.

Warm-Up Deadlift - 315 lbsWarm-Up Deadlift - 315 lbs

We're not trying to be a hero on the warm-up...just prep the body for the VERY heavy loads to come.

Next, I'll go up to 405 lbs and do 1, maybe 2 reps at the most. Again, this is not for setting records...this is just for nervous system activation and prepping the muscle and connective tissue.

Warm-Up Deadlift - 405 lbsWarm-Up Deadlift - 405 lbs

Now we're getting closer to the max weight...I've got 455 lbs on the bar. It's a weight I know I can do but I know it's getting challenging. Make sure you take at least a couple of minutes rest here before doing to your "indicator" rep.

Warm-Up Deadlift - 455 lbsWarm-Up Deadlift - 455 lbs

This set is important as it gives me an indication of how much higher I can go for a max attempt. If this rep was doable but very hard, I would only go up a little bit. If it was still easy, I'd go up more.

After doing one rep with this weight, I determined that I should go up to 475 lbs for my 1 RM for the day.


3. The One Rep Max Attempt

Take AT LEAST 2 - 3 minutes rest before attempting the weight. This is important to make sure you're fully recovered and ready for action. Not so much that you cool down...just enough that you're recovered.

Now it's time to hit it!

One Rep Max Deadlift - 475 lbsOne Rep Max Deadlift - 475 lbs

I likely could have done another 5 to 10 lbs on the bar, but 500 lbs wasn't going to happen.

You're done!

Now, if you're maxing out at a lower weight, you can still do this amount of lead-up work, just using smaller weight increases...e.g. adding 25 lb plates instead of 45 lb plates like I did on each time.

You can apply this strategy to maxing out on ANY lift...though it's definitely more useful for the big lifts like deadlifts, squats and bench press (maxing out on a curl doesn't require this much lead up work).


If you've ever had a hard time figuring out how to get ready for a One Rep Max attempt, definitely give this strategy a try. I've found it to be very effective.

Use this calculator to estimate your current One Rep Max for any lift.


Need More Help?

Learn how to increase your One Rep Max Deadlift here...



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