When I am out teaching my performance workshops (head to the seminars page of the website for the current schedule), I often discuss the idea of lifting 80% of your best effort without a warm up. I feel like I once read Pavel mention this in an article or one of his books. I may also think I remember reading it, but that is beside the point. If I am remembering it correctly, he discussed the body should be able to pull around 80% of your best deadlift without any formal warm up. When I say this to people, they think I am crazy. All sorts of alarms start going off in their head. I hear the classic, “I have to warm up for 45 minutes just to start pulling 135 as my first warm up.” If this is true, you are making a myriad of fundamental errors in just your life, let alone in your training.
Why 80%? I don’t know really. I can’t point you to a magical double blind clinical study that proved this is the weight a human should be able to just deadlift (or any lift, really). I look at it this way. For the average person who is training (particularly the more novice athlete) 80% sounds pretty heavy. It may even sound unreasonable for me to ask you to just put 80% of your best lift on the bar and pick it up. Why is that? I would argue that many people have been convinced by themselves and others that their body will blow into pieces if they are not allowed a proper amount of time, in their mind, to bend and flex and stretch and get sweaty and do 50 reps at lower weights before they attempt 80%.
I am going to guess there may be some of you who will scoff at this idea. 80% can be a significant sounding amount of weight. For me, it is 468 pounds. To most of you, that will sound pretty heavy. To me, it is a weight that I know I can pick up if I focus. Sure it is heavy, but it doesn’t scare me to grab the bar and pull, even if I have just walked into my clinic (though I would argue that loading the bar may have counted as a little bit of a warm up). This is the other reason I think this weight is a good test of your overall readiness. 80% is not a weight you can brush off. It requires a certain amount of attention and focus. It is enough weight that you have to be confident in your positions and ability to set up well, breathe efficiently, and brace your trunk. You have to have lots of practice with creating tension and neural drive with various weights. It is enough that if you lose your focus, it could injure you.
I am not totally advocating for ignoring a warm up and just getting after it either. I don’t think it is a great long term training strategy. I can also tell you that I am not totally convinced that an extensive warm up and lots of little jumps in load while you are working towards you heaviest sets of the day is necessary either. This all comes back to context and what you are training that day. If you are just deadlifting for example, you shouldn’t need some 30 minute super complex warm up with 5 corrective exercises and 15 minutes of foam rolling just so you can grab the bar. I would argue if you have convinced yourself this is necessary for you to train effectively, you have to take a hard look at your lifestyle. I imagine there’s a butt load of fundamental errors you are making just around existing. If it takes you that long to feel confident in your abilities to set up for a fairly heavy deadlift and display your strength, you need to take a hard look at how you are spending all of your non-deadlifting time (or any strength or athletic endeavor for that matter).
I am also not going to be the guy who says something cliche like, “You never see a lion stretch.” That is foolish. This is modern society and you are likely not living a hunter and gatherer lifestyle. The vast majority of you are not moving enough throughout the day and that may be a function of your profession. Some of these lifestyle factors are difficult to avoid. You can definitely look over your day and decide to move around more of the day. These are choices and many times people don’t understand how these thinks can effect their performance in the long view. When things aren’t making an immediate impact on what you are doing, it can be hard to see how it is connected with your ability to train efficiently and effectively.
I also want to mention that if you are not sleeping, eating like crap, not drinking very much water, and leading a sedentary life, you are always going to struggle to just turn it on and display efficient neural drive and efficiency. These are all big pieces to the puzzle. Training age is also a big one. I am not expecting a new athlete to efficiently display their strength in this way, but if you have been training for five or more years and the idea of pulling 80% without a warm up makes you nervous, I’m not sure what to tell you.