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Just You and an Empty Barbell

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Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.

– Antonio Machado

I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback lately about 1 rep max days – specifically, why we don’t have more of them. I get it. You like working out, but lifting heavy can be such a rush. It stokes our egos. We love the whole strategy of the attempt. How many warm up sets should I do? Where am I hoping to land? Should I take bigger jumps or incremental? And finally, that feeling when we hit that personal record and explode into our happy dance.

But what happens if you’re just not feeling it that day? You were out late, or had too many cocktails, or ate a crap ton of Hot Cheetos the night before? What if you didn’t warm up properly, or were feeling particularly stiff and sore that day? What if you’d been away from the gym for a while and had not been training that lift? With so many variables, hitting a new 1RM on any given day can be kind of a crap shoot.

Which is why I like to reframe the discussion: “Find something heavy for the day.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have PR goals, or to try and hit certain numbers. It simply reminds you to celebrate what you can do, today. It takes the pressure off. It reminds you that you don’t have to hit your lifetime PR every single time you lift. It encourages you to stay present, and to take pride in working within your current capacities, no matter what those are.

And if you really want to improve your lifts? Spend time with an empty barbell! Practice and perfect that bar path, those squat mechanics…that front rack position. As some of you may have heard me say, “Perfect practice at light weights makes perfect form at heavy weights.” Or, as Logan Gelbrich, owner of Deuce Gym, would say, “Hold the standard.” Work towards good technique. It will pay you dividends in the end.

No one knows this better than the godfather of American weightlifting, Coach Mike Burgener. Coach Burgener developed what is called, fittingly, The Burgener Warm Up. Done with an empty barbell, this warm up is about as simple and straightforward as you can get:

Put in the practice and reap the rewards!

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