How To PR on Test Day

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The end of a training cycle is always my favourite time in the gym. The nervous anticipation. The extra little bit of energy. The grunts, the shouts, the clang of metal on metal as the plates are loaded onto the bar… 

The unmistakeable smell of fear, excitement, sweat and adrenaline all mixed together into a lethal PR busting concoction. 

squat test

It’s the time when the hard work everyone has put in over the last few weeks is finally realised into tangible numbers and results.

But it’s also the WORST time for me in the gym, because nothing sucks harder than seeing someone disappointed because they haven’t got the results they were expecting.

See here’s the thing – there are quite literally a metric f*ck ton of things that can contribute into you having a good or bad test day. Things you’ve probably never even considered or realised. So it’s not ALWAYS reasonable to expect to PR.

But on the days you DO feel good… well how do you go about that? That’s what I’ll be talking about in this post.

Before going on tho, let’s qualify the below with a couple of things that will probably make your test day sub-optimal (from a strength perspective at least):

  • You’re dieting, losing or have lost weight recently – less kcals and bodyweight means hitting a PR at the end of any training cycle when you’re already decently experienced will be miraculous. Mass moves mass, and the less mass you have, the harder it’s going to be
  • You’ve finished a training cycle (or series of cycles) not designed to improve your strength, but instead were working on other physical qualities like strength endurance, hypertrophy, conditioning or power (that’s something we do probably 30-40% of the time in RevFit)
  • You haven’t deloaded towards the test day, and instead have tested just to get a baseline for the next training cycle
  • You’re tired, sick, pissed off, stressed, injured, etc etc etc….

There’s more, but they’re the most common things that can effect your test day. And sometimes – you’re not even testing to get a PR, you’re just testing to set a baseline for your NEXT training cycle, so you can PR off the back of it.

Remember – a well structured macrocycle (…that’s a year of training) will have a number of phases that build upon each other to deliver BIG PRs in the long run. You just got deal with delaying the short term gratification sometimes.

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But… I really wanted to keep THIS blog post about the actual test session itself. I’ll talk more about training cycles, deloading, visualisation etc in a different one. Which I’ll probably call “The Fly In The Ointment – Things That Effect Your Big Day”.

THE ACTUAL TEST DAY

The goal of your test day is to lift the maximum weight possible for that day (remember, not every day will see a PR). So you need to be warmed up and primed, but do so without wasting too much energy. Here’s what I suggest;

Warm up as you normally do – if you’ve been following a smart, sequential warm up, there’s no need to change it on test day. It’ll only throw you off your game.

Selecting appropriate weights is the next step.

The stronger and more experienced you are, the longer you’ll need. But as a general warm up, this should work;

  • Bar 2×10
  • 50% (or 60kg, whichever is lighter) x5
  • 70% x3
  • 80% x1-2
  • 90% x1
  • 95% x1
  • 100% x1
  • 105% x1
  • 105+% x1….?

If you’re lifting between 50 and 250kg, that should do it. If you’re lifting more than 250kg… you probably need something a bit more sophisticated!!

SUPER NINJA BONUS TIP

One thing I hear again and again off dudes is how muchof  a shock to the system a new PR squat can feel like. Trying to control the crushing weight as the bar bites into your back, and you scramble to set your feet, pull your chest tall, lock your core in, control the weight down and explode up can really throw you if you’re not used to it.

Enter… the super-max walkout.

In order to get used to having a heavy, heavy weight across your back – you get set up by using a HEAVY, HEAVY weight instead. So when you DO go for your 100%, it feels easy. Here’s how you’d set it up;

  • Bar 2×10
  • 50% (or 60kg, whichever is lighter) x5
  • 70% x3
  • 80% x1-2
  • 90% x1
  • 120% x1 walkout – walk back and hold for 5-10s
  • 95% x1
  • 100% x1
  • 130-140% x1 walkout – walk back and hold for 5-10s
  • 105% x1
  • 105+% x1….?

I caution you now tho – you should probably only look at using a super-max walkout at the end of a BIG squat training cycle. It’s a tool to use wisely because it is VERY fatiguing, not something to bust out every time you’re working up to a heavy single.

CONCLUSION

I could write another 1,000+ words on testing, but instead I’m going to give you a few bullet-pointed things to remember instead;

  • When you’re testing for a new PR – get the PR first. That means you take a safe 2.5kg PR instead of a risky glory hunting 5kg PR
  • If the weight doesn’t scare you, or feel like it’s going to crush you, you probably have a few kg left in the tank
  • Only ever test to technical breakdown – that means if the lift starts to look different as you add weight, you’ve probably added enough
  • However deep you squat with an empty barbell – that’s where you squat to EVERY TIME
  • Use safety racks. And when benching, make sure you have a spotter
  • Think about things in relative terms, not absolutes – if you bench 30kg and hit a 2kg PR, that’s a 7% jump. It’s like a 200kg squatter getting an extra 13kg on the bar. 2kg may not sound like much, but it’s a HUGE gain
  • Try to finish on a high – if you hit a big PR and are buzz’n, leave it there. Don’t get greedy and miss the next one because your successful day will immediately turn into a failure
  • Leaving a little bit in the tank will guarantee your NEXT cycle ends in a PR as well

Until next time – may your squats be deep, and your PRs high!

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James Hanley

Strength Coach. Performance Specialist. Dog Lover. Powerlifter. And the guy behind the scenes in RevFit that keeps the plates spinning.