How to Warm Up for a Max (Benchmark) Test

How to Warm Up for a Max (Benchmark) Test

exercise how-to guide strength training Jun 29, 2024

To measure the progress of your hard work in the gym, it's good to periodically do a Benchmark Test. A Benchmark Test is another term for Max Test. The goal is to test the maximum weight you can lift for a specific exercise.

In an ideal world, we perform a 1-Rep Max (1RM) test, where you lift the maximum weight with perfect technique for just 1 repetition (and no more).

However, performing an absolute 1RM test is not for everyone. It takes years of training to physically and mentally prepare for it. Unless you're doing Powerlifting or Olympic Weightlifting, you're probably not solely focused on 1RM numbers.

To measure your progress, it's also not necessary to do an absolute 1RM test. A max test between 2-10 reps will suffice. Nowadays, we have 1RM calculation apps at our disposal. This means you can do a max set with more than 1 repetition and then calculate your estimated 1RM. For example, if you do 5 repetitions with 100 kilograms in the Bench Press, your estimated 1RM is 113kg.

I want to emphasize that this is an estimate, and your strength level in the real world can be higher or lower. The fewer repetitions you do, the more realistic the estimate will be.


Recently, I received this question during a benchmark training:

“How many sets should I do, and how much weight should I use?”

It’s important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all method. Different people use different methods to prepare for a max test, and all can work. It takes years of training and experience to determine what works best for you.

However, I will give you an easy formula you can use to safely prepare for a max test if you lack this experience. The goal is to adequately prepare your body and mind for the task you are about to perform:

The specific exercise with max weight for max reps (read: as few reps as possible).

The only thing you need to know beforehand is your numbers. The numbers you need are the weights you have trained with and possibly your previous benchmark result.

For example, if your last benchmark was 5 x 100kg for the Bench Press, then your estimated 1RM is 113kg. If during the training block your heaviest set was 10 x 90kg, then your estimated 1RM is 120kg. You can work with these numbers.

Since the last time you did a 5RM set instead of a 1RM, you shouldn’t immediately aim for a 1RM set with, for example, 117.5kg. Theoretically, that should work, but that doesn’t mean it will in practice. If you aim for a max set with 110kg, then there’s a good chance you can push that weight 3-4 times. That means an estimated 1RM of 116 or 120kg. But who knows, you might press the first rep so easily that you can still increase the weight. This entirely depends on the day, your focus, your experience, your progress, and how well you have warmed up.

The Preparation

Okay, you have your numbers now. Let’s assume 110kg for the top set.

See the plan below as an example preparation for your max attempt. The goal is to physically and mentally prepare your body for a heavy max set. The sets should activate your muscles without tiring you out. Therefore, rest long enough to be fresh for your max set.

The warm-up for the Benchmark set:

  • AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible (with good technique)

Benchmark During Group Training

If you do a benchmark test with us in the gym during a group class, we adapt the plan a bit. To ensure the time per exercise, we do the benchmark test in a modified format. We start with a general warm-up and then warm up the specific exercise for the test. You can still follow the above schema with a slight adjustment.

During the class, we perform the build-up sets in an E2MOM format (every 2 minutes a set). This is set 3 to 7 from the schema. In the warm-up, you do set 1 and 2.

If the penultimate set is very taxing and you need a bit more rest for the max set, you can take it. Those extra 1-2 minutes won’t make much difference in time.

Bodyweight Exercises

I’ve just shown you how to effectively warm up for a benchmark test with a barbell exercise. If you know your numbers, you can easily determine your build-up sets. With bodyweight exercises, it’s a different story.

You can’t easily determine the absolute weight like with a barbell exercise. But, of course, there’s also a method to effectively warm up for bodyweight exercises. The only number you need to know is the max number of reps or the max weight you aim for in the test (e.g., 7 pull-ups with bodyweight).

Here’s an immediate difference with barbell exercises. Let’s take push-ups and pull-ups as an example. Both the push-up and the pull-up can be done for a 1RM with extra weight (if you have the strength). But you can also do them for a max number of reps.

If you do the exercise with extra weight, the calculation becomes a bit easier. For example, if you can do pull-ups with 15kg extra weight, then this would be a logical warm-up:

Chances are, you’re not yet doing pull-ups with extra weight. Athletes in this situation often find it challenging to warm up properly. But it’s still possible.

Every bodyweight exercise has one or more regressions—similar exercises that are easier (lighter). For the pull-up, that’s the bodyweight row with the rings, for example. For the push-up, that’s push-up on knees (level 1), bench push-up (level 2), and possibly push-up negatives (level 3; lower on the toes, push up on the knees).

The pull-up is easier to make lighter than a push-up because you can use bands for assistance. You can also combine these bands perfectly. You can start with, for example, black + blue, then black + green, until you reach your starting point—with or without a band.

For the push-up, it’s a bit more difficult because you have fewer steps. Then you simply do fewer warm-up sets or you double 1-2 steps. Here’s an example:

If you’re not yet strong enough for 1 push-up on the toes, you can also test with a regression, such as the bench push-up. In that case, you skip steps 4-6 and add a set of ring push-ups before step 1.


Ultimately, there’s a way for everyone to effectively warm up for a Benchmark Max Test. The more experience you gain in the gym, the better you’ll know your body and the easier it will be to gauge how to warm up.

I’ve been training for over 21 years. I don’t need a schema to warm up; I can do it by feel. That’s not surprising, as I’ve done it thousands of times. Wisdom comes with years, and it’s no different with warming up for a max set.

How you warm up effectively is not set in stone. The lower your strength level, the easier the warm-up is. The stronger you become and the higher the weight, the more steps you need to take to warm up safely and effectively. There’s a big difference between maxing out with a 200kg or 60kg deadlift, regardless of the strength difference.

General Warm-Up

I’ve deliberately not covered the general warm-up you do before the specific warm-up (aka the exercise itself). This is different for each exercise. If you do a benchmark test with us in the gym, you’ve always already done a general warm-up.

If you use this method outside our gym, make sure you first use a cardio machine like a rower, bike, or elliptical for 5-10 minutes. You can add dynamic stretches, especially if the target movement feels stiff. Practicing the used joints in a larger range of motion makes it easier to get into the correct posture afterward.

If you don’t know how to do a good general warm-up, hire a trainer to teach you. This is an investment that pays off many times over. Your health is your most important asset. A good warm-up can save you a lot of trouble and significantly increase the outcome of the Benchmark—definitely not unimportant!

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