Tip: Use Primer Singles

Here are two ways that smart lifters prime their bodies for monster lifts and new personal records.

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The point of warm-up sets is to prime you for your working sets. Do too few warm-ups and you won't be ready. Do too many and you'll lose out on precious pounds or reps. Submaximal singles done with pristine technique and lightning-fast speed can boost confidence and wake up high threshold motor units to get you ready for your working sets.

There are two ways to use "primer" sets:

1. An overreach single before a lower-weight, higher-rep set.

This first option simply uses a heavier weight than your top working set for a single. Choose a weight that's less than your max but heavier than what you want to do for reps, and hit it for one authoritative rep. For example, if you wanted to bench 225 for 8 reps, warm-up like so:

  • Empty bar x 8 reps
  • Empty bar x 8
  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 205 x 3
  • 220 x 1
  • 235 x 1 (primer set)
  • 225 x 8

After crushing 235 pounds for a single, 225 will feel lighter, giving you the confidence you need to smoke the set for higher reps.

2. A repeat speed single after a multiple-rep warm-up set.

This method involves "retaking" a warm-up set for a single instead of multiple reps. Plenty of accomplished powerlifters advocate using more low-rep sets instead of a few high-rep sets to ramp up to heavy weights. This approach lets your retake a weight to get in extra warm-up volume while building confidence through high-speed singles. For example, if you were working up to a new squat max of 405 pounds:

  • Empty bar x 10 reps
  • 135 x 5
  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 3
  • 225 x 3
  • 275 x 3
  • 315 x 3
  • 365 x 3
  • 365 x 1 (primer set)
  • 385 x 2
  • 385 x 1 (primer set)
  • 405 x 1 (PR)

Squatting 365 for 3 reps and 385 for 2 reps helps you feel out the weight, but retaking each weight lets you dial in perfect technique and work on explosive speed. The singles should feel easy after multiple reps, allowing you to carry that confidence into your PR attempt.

Tony Bonvechio is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. Follow Tony Bonvechio on Facebook