Maxing out in Weightlifting

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 7.48.29 AM

We’ve been talking a lot about heavy lifting lately. Today, FLIGHT Weightlifting coach Kurt Mullican is on the DAILY with some advice on how you can make the very most out of your next max-out session.  

You’ve been training hard and building your weightlifting skills for months now. You’re well rested, nourished and fully confident, armed in the brightest neon and your favorite gym gear. Just shake-up a few doses of pre-workout stimulant and you’re ready to max out, right?

Well, before you take a record attempt in the gym, make sure you have a specific plan in place for warming up and taking smart attempts. You can’t get any stronger just before you max-out, but you can certainly perform poorly if you fail to plan.

So, here are some tips that will help you warm-up efficiently, plan attempts wisely, and set the highest record possible.

Let’s do this.

#DEAT #dropeverythingandtrain @alexqmaclin

A video posted by (@barbellshruggedpodcast) on


Getting wet

I don’t care how you feel. Before you start lifting you must get lubed up and sweat. A simple dynamic warm-up will help you be flexible, stable, and in good position for your all of your attempts.  

Start with a few minutes of light cycling, rowing, agility or jump rope work to elevate your body temperature and rouse yourself. Once you start feeling loose and warm, grab an empty barbell and perform 10 easy, smooth reps of power pulls (catching the bar high), and also some pulls with full squat catches. Press the bar from behind the neck, both standing upright and down from the squat position. Variety is fine here, just move with confidence, speed, and conviction.

Pro tip: Don’t get TOO warm! Aside from not warming up at all, the other big mistake you might make is doing too much. Remember, once you’re greasy and ready, you’re ready to lift. 


Adding load

Now that you’re wet and ready start by putting about 30% of your best on the barbell. This technique works fine for both the snatch and the clean & jerk. 

Perform an Olympic-style deadlift up to your power position, then hit an easy power snatch or clean. Go full speed, with fury. Then go again. Hit a repetition from the low-hang position, then move down to the floor. These are VERY important sets because if you can “grease the groove” well and hit your positions, you’ll be primed and much more likely to break your record in the attempts ahead. Consistency is everything.

After your 30% set, take a few minutes rest and pull 3-4 reps from the floor with 40%. Rest again while your coach bumps the bar up to about 55%, then 65%. Pull 2-3 more very crisp repetitions each round. After reaching 70% of your best, you can move on to heavy singles. Again, your job is to be as crisp and consistent as possible on each attempt.

The real test begins around 80% of your best. At this point, you cannot hide mistakes and positional flaws by simply manhandling weights. If a lifter is inconsistent through 85%, it’s best to step back and work on improving movement consistency in training before testing. 

That’s the best way to improve performance and limit the risk of injury.  

  A photo posted by Kurt Mullican (@kurtmullican) on


Positive vibes only

So much of a heavy lifting is mental. You MUST create an inspiring, supportive, motivating environment if you want to make big lifts, it’s as simple as that.

When communicating to yourself and others during big attempts, never dwell on what you shouldn’t do. The mistakes and obvious errors. This doesn’t do you any good. Instead, reinforce what SHOULD be done.

When you make an error or miss on the approach to maximum, shake it off quickly (because you must). Remind yourself that these are just warm-up attempts and light weights. Smile. Laugh. Think about the movement as you rest, then calmly retake your attempt. Focus only valuable, supportive, constructive correction.

And hey, if all else fails and you start stressing, just be happy that you’re not competing for North Korea! One bad snatch session there might buy you a one-way ticket to a labor camp.

No, you’re in the gym to have a good time, first and foremost. So keep that in mind.


Fork in the road

After 90%, you’ll have to start adding load in smaller increments. You’ll also need to rest and focus more, with more intent and purpose between attempts. At this point, the mental game is EVERYTHING!

I’ll share a little tip with you that I use with all of my lifters. I like to gauge confidence by asking some simple questions, but again, in a manner that inspires confidence. “You must have slept good last night, huh? You look fast as hell under the bar, and your footwork looks solid!”

I’ll use their response to that statement to feel out the next attempts. If they reply, “Fuck yeah, I feel fast!” then I’ve got all the information I need.

By now I’ve stopped telling them what is on the bar. An experienced lifter will know, but it’s not something that requires open discussion unless it’s super light and you are addressing a mistake. Once more, too much talk before the lift can have an unintended consequence. You have to remember that less is more and that confidence is the number one currency on the platform.

Kurt wasn’t always strong. Check out his story.


The final approach

If the day is not coming together for you at this point, don’t get pissy and upset. Just Hit 95% for a heavy single and then shut it down. I know it’s a little bit of a bummer, but this practice is still hugely productive and will make you a better lifter.

If you DO feel great, take a different final approach. Hit about 93% or so, then go for it! Do not repeat a record attempt you’ve already achieved. Instead, your final target is to BREAK your record. Keep calm when going for the PR. If you miss the first attempt, repeat to yourself, “This is ok, I just had to feel the weight out,” which is true. Regroup. Think about the previous error, and again, reiterate to yourself what you should do on the next attempt.

Get a buddy to slap your trap’s and hammies. Uncork with full effort. Lay down everything you’ve got on the platform for 2 final attempts and see what happens. You might just surprise yourself.

If you’ve got questions about maxing out, just leave them in the comments below. I’d love to help you get stronger.

Swing for the fences, baby.



For more

17 Responses to “Maxing out in Weightlifting”

  1. karl

    Im currently doing the barbell shrugged muscle gain challenge and watching your testimonial was the reason I started this program. You are so right about the positive attitude! I just hit 3 sets of 3 reps at 85% and without the peace of mind this programs training has brought me, I would have failed at least 50% of them. Awesome to see you as a coach Kurt!

    • Kurt Mullican

      Thanks Karl! Thats awesome to hear. In the MGC you will develop consistency at high percentages of your maxes, then CRUSH PR’s pretty often. I’m stoked for you! Hit it hard and make excellence a habit!

  2. Javy Lopez

    Great article. Will definitely follow the tips and advise. I feel like I struck gold!

  3. Shelby

    What advice do you have for someone who is competitions in a weightlifting competition for the first time?

    • Kurt Mullican

      Shelby, take a coach! Read up on how a comp is ran, then have someone you know run numbers for you. If you need help, don’t hesitate to email us and ask a question any time!

  4. Joey D

    My problem is whenever I get like 5-10 lbs within my max and I grab the bar I start thinking in my head,” wow this weight is really heavy. I’m not sure if I can get this or not.” And I just mentally screw myself over, Any tips on fixing this?

  5. Thomas B

    Great article! Lots of stuff I can use.

    Joey D nailed when he said he mentally screws himself over. Same here. Going into the Open my max power/squat clean was 195 and the second-to-last workout forced me to clean 185 multiple times. It was a huge mental struggle and I shut myself down a lot. When the guy next to me made his first lift and people cheered I flung up my bar without even feeling it, and managed to basically muscle clean it four more times in that workout. Very ugly but at least the strength was there. A victory on one hand but a mental defeat on the other. My strength far outpaces my confidence with the bar. With the right technique 205 or 225 should be in my sights.

    Any tips for overcoming mental blocks and just lifting the damn bar the right way?

    • Kurt Mullican

      Yea! Alot of times when doing a strength program, an newer lifter often has the strength but not the technique. Base your percentages a little higher, like 5kg and get consistent with a higher percentage of your maxes. So If your best clean IS currently 185, base work off of 195 or 200 for a little while. Chances are that will push you to get stronger without a whole lot of thinking, and it will give you more confidence when handling weights. Confidence is a “fake it until you make it” type thing.
      Knowing you can handle those higher percentages won’t make approaching your max so daunting.

      • ThomasB

        Thanks for the reply, Kurt!
        That approach worked for my deadlifts, such that if the coaches tell us to work off a percentage of a max, the number I use is my desired max not my recent best lift, and usually the bar will get 20-40 pounds more weight than prescribed. That got me a 40 lb PR on the 1RM in a couple of months and 10 lbs on my 5 rep. On squats a lot of the time I will just go the next size plate instead of using a pair of fives and tell myself that the difference won’t really be felt anyway and it will make me stronger. Just have to work that in, in proportion, to my cleans and snatches.
        The hardest part for me is forcing myself to scale. It’s a conflict between wanting to get stronger by getting used to the weight or staying in the spirit of the workout by choosing a manageable weight. Usually the full weight gets the nod, leaving me crushed and taking far longer than everyone else.

  6. Vincent

    I liked the joke about north Korea but the sad thing is a lot of americans believe this nonsense

  7. dave

    Great article. Do you use this same methodology for competitions? I struggle knowing how I should be warming up before my attempts.

    • Kurt Mullican

      Definitely. The best way to go about it is to take a coach who knows your lifts. The only thing you should have to do is make lifts. A coach who knows you and your mind should handle all the math :)

  8. Howard

    I thought it was a skinny Mike Bledsoe. Didn’t realize it was someone else until watching the video.


Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS