When building up to top work sets or a max for the day, would it be smarter to make the lift start easy and become hard? Or, would it be smarter to start the lift normal and it become easier?
Something rarely talked about is the ability to apply boosts at certain warm up attempts to elicit more speed or power. For example, in the Squat; from the empty bar up to 185lbs, I may not even have my shoes tied up. At 225lbs I will tie my shoes and feel more secure and confident under the bar. At 315lbs I would add some knee sleeves and some chalk to my hands for the first time in the session. The bar would feel secure in my grip and my bounce out of the hole would start to seem more dynamic and engaged. At 365lbs I would add my wrist wraps and take a final beltless warm up. It is slightly heavy and by doing it beltless I need to concentrate much more, yet the wrist pain is relieved that I had up until this point. At 405lbs I throw my belt on not at full strength but a couple notches out. Even a couple notches from full I get a massive boost in speed as my body spends way less energy on stabilizing and more on the actual squat. At 455lbs I add another notch to my belt now one away from full, and add my knee wraps with little tension. Again, just by adding that new belt notch, walking out feels like a breeze, I am so stable unracking that the weight feels like nothing on my back. Now I am stable and confident and take a big breath and drop quick into the hole with the nice surprise of my knee wraps giving me the jump of a lifetime, the weight almost popping off of my shoulders. Now I would head to my final warm up around 500lbs. I want this weight to be the best one yet, the most confident going into a max attempt. I go full belt, absolutely as tight as possible on my knee wraps and put a song on I like. Unracking the bar feels heavy obviously, but with that added final belt notch I am slightly more stable than the last which makes my walkout more confident than the rep before. With the knee wraps as tight as they can go I know I will need some speed on the way down to give them enough force to get a good rebound. I take a big breath and drop and pop out of the hole, little to no struggle going into the top set of the day, fully confident as every rep so far had felt good for some reason or another, adding one thing in at a time to give me either more confidence, more speed, more stability or even the music putting me in a better mental state.
Now, the key to finding your boost stages is to use your brain and not to let the ego get in the way. If you have a notion in your head that you want to save your belt until 300lbs yet your last rep was slightly out of position, not as quick as you wanted or your back tweaked slightly, your going to want to add it in when you need it, not when you think you want it. The difference being, your not going to get a boost if you save something too long, your actually going to have a warm up rep with more struggle than you want, which in turn makes you less confident and scared for the next rep. You can not have a set plan when to add things in because you think it would be cool to do beltless this or shoeless that, you must have a rough idea, and then let it be a fluid thing that can change when certain things occur. Using boosts improperly will have a negative effect on your session which cannot happen in a sport where the bars only goal is to break you any chance it gets, finding some instability or technique error to screw you on.
Plan of action:
Each major lift will have its own priorities. For the squat, adding in more stability and bounce are key. You never want to have an unconfident walk out so be weary of when to add belt and how much to add. You also never want to have a slow reversal out of the hole when warming up, so be sure to dial down how to warm up properly for yourself. Think about having knee sleeves folded down at knee level giving a little compression to the patellar tendon than roll them normal onto the knee when you need extra bounce. Knee wraps can be wrapped tighter and tighter so only use so much at first to not have a super speedy first set with them, but when you go up and you already had them as tight as you can go, you will not gain any more bounce.
For bench, major breakdown will occur when the body is unstable moving on the bench as well as the wrists folding back. Think about warming up light with feet on the bench to get the upper body ready without over stretching your back into an arch when you don't need it yet. When some weight is added put your feet down but not full arch. At about the same time each person will have a weight that gets real. Add in the wrist wraps and full arch and you will have more tension and more speed when you need it. Once your in full arch you can add more leg drive as you build up and a belt if you need more intra-abdominal pressure.
For the deadlift, its just you and the bar. The only real boost you will gain is from the belt. You must systematically add it in a couple belt loops away and build up so each rep is more confident than the last. This is definitely not the lift to wait too long. A rough deadlift warm up can do terrible things to your confidence going up. Make sure you have a number in your head which you always know is safe to do beltless and then at that time decide if you can do another or not. This may be around 55-65%, any given day no matter how your feeling, you should be able to walk up and smoke this weight beltless. Once you have this sure fire number in your head you can then prolong using the belt or if its not feeling the best add in basically full belt right away for the rest of the session. Right around this time as well, you could think about adding in wrist wraps, nice and tight and well below the wrist. This will compress the forearm tendons giving you a slight grip strength gain on the bar. Once the deadlift has all its physical boosts added in you can only add in mental boosts. This would be your favourite song as loud as can be, friends and lifting partners cheering and motivating. Ammonia inhalants also help a ton at big weights to take away all thoughts in your brain and light your nervous system up in order to have nothing going in your body but thinking about the rep that is about to take place.
In the end, everyone will have their own routine and their own method. But applying boosts correctly can have a major benefit on your training sessions and your overall performance in max out and competition settings.