Create a Pre-lift Routine

Greetings Relentless Family!

In last week’s article, I talked about taking Yoda’s advice and changing your mindset. The end goal is to stop “trying” and to commit to getting something done. In particular, I talked about applying this to lifting. We delved into the “what” and the “why”, which is all well and good, but it’s pretty useless without a “how.” That’s today’s topic.

So, how exactly do you convince yourself that you’re simply going to lift a weight, rather than try to lift it? There are a few different strategies including psyching yourself up with music, pre-workout or other stimulants, or positive self- talk. I’m not a huge fan of any of these strategies. Pre-workout only goes so far and you can become desensitized to its effects. You can’t always control the music to recreate the same effect, and getting super psyched repeatedly taxes your nervous system like crazy. This can cause you to prematurely exhaust yourself before you even get under the bar. Positive self-talk is great, but it takes an incredibly strong mind to believe what you’re telling yourself, and it doesn’t work for everyone.

Instead of those strategies, I prefer one that is repeatable regardless of environment: create a pre-lift routine. Set up the same way for every single lift, no matter if it’s a warm-up or a PR attempt. (This may vary from movement to movement, but you should use the same routine for every lift of the same type.) Go through the exact same motions every time before you lift. I’ll use myself as an example. As you’ll see in the video below, this is my pre-squat routine:

1. I get loose by shaking out my shoulders and arms.
2. My right hand goes on the bar.
3. My left hand goes on the bar.
4. I try to bend the bar by engaging my lats. When I feel my lats get tight, I know my whole back is going to stay tight through the whole lift.
5. I find the proper bar position on my back. In this case, the high bar position.
6. I check to make sure I’m centered under the bar.
7. I tuck my hips under me to keep a neutral spine (I’m less able to do this in my work set, you’ll see).
8. I unrack the bar and walk out roughly 4 steps (when it’s heavy, I have a few shuffle steps to square my feet).
9. I get set in my squat stance.
10. I brace.
11. I squat.

In the left screen, I’m doing jumping squats with 185 lbs, a warm-up set. In the right screen, the weight is 305 lbs, a work set. While I take a little longer with the work set, the pre-lift routine is pretty much identical. This routine gives me a mental checklist to complete and takes my mind off of the fact that I’m going to be lifting heavy. It also helps me lift heavy without having to get super amped up.

Pre-lift routine checklist

My squat routine is about 9-10 seconds, which is on the longer side. Most of my routines are shorter than this. In general, you want yours to be as long as necessary. If you go too long, you’ll have more time to psych yourself out. One of my friends in Philly has a pre-snatch routine that takes about 14 seconds. I would use this length as an upper bound, and I’ve mimicked the routine here:

These are just a few ideas for you to try, but at the end of the day it’s about what works for you. Now that you know the strategy, have at it! Experiment a bit, and create a routine that works for you. There is no wrong way to do this, as long as it gets you in the right mindset, and you can repeat it in every environment.