20 Elite Lifters Share Their Pre 1-Rep Max and PR Thoughts

When you attempt a new PR, what goes through your head? Is it a well-crafted personal string of pump up thoughts, or a haphazard lack of certainty? Every lifter will encounter a time when they’re faced with two decisions: Step up and hit the weight, or fill with doubt and save it for another time.

This encounter will come at different times for different athletes. Often times, it’s the realization of another full plate on the barbell (225lbs, 315, 405, and so forth), or it’s hitting a new weight at a meet. Regardless, when the barrier comes an athlete can benefit from having a plan of attack to get their mentality in check before pushing new feats.

To assist in your self pump-up development, we compiled a list from some of the strongest in the game. These are their pre PR and 1-RM thoughts when stepping up to the bar.

1. Ray Williams – 4x IPF World Powerlifting Champion & Squat Record Holder

“My mentality has always been the same…I’ve put in the work and NO MATTER WHAT THEY PUT ON THE BAR IT’S COMING UP, OR BURY MY UNDER THE PLATFORM!

2. Cailer Woolam – All Time World Record Deadlift Holder (198 & 220 lbs)

“There shouldn’t be a whole going through your mind at that point (PR). Meaning, ignore everything around you and only think about executing the lift. Your surroundings should never effect your focus for a PR attempt. The circumstances will not always be perfect.”

“This is why when you’re training in the gym you should practice a consistent set up and treat every lift like it’s a PR. Execute every lift or every set the same way. That way when it comes to that big PR all you have to do is the same thing you’ve been doing for months.”

3. Stefi Cohen – All Time World Record Deadlift Holder (123 lb weight class)

“Before I attempt any heavy lift, especially a PR in competition, I’ve already seen myself successfully completing the lift before even attempting it. I close my eyes, and see myself making the lift to the point where I convince myself it already happened.”

“That’s about it, the rest is automatic, and my mind is blank. I just think about lifting the weight as hard and fast as I can with every single fiber in my body.”

4. Harrison Maurus 77kg Weightlifter – Youth Clean & Jerk World Record Holder

“When I’m going for a PR, I try to not think too much. Maybe a self cue of “extension and fast under”, but not much more.”

“In my opinion, the time for thinking is in training, and come a PR attempt, then the movements should be so ingrained that you don’t need to think about them, and just go make the lift.”

5. Robb Philippus – Previous All Time World Record Squat Holder at 837 lbs

In the week leading up to the meet, “The work is already done, and this is where you get show what you’re capable of!”

The day before stepping on the platform visualize and tell yourself, “Commit to every lift.”

Competition day, “No thoughts, sheer bliss. You CANNOT think during max attempts. It’s another day with the bar, and nothing is really different.”

6. Daniella Melo – 84kg IPF Open Squat World Record Holder

“Before I go for a PR it’s important for me to be in the right mindset. I acknowledge that the weight is going to feel heavy, but I simply remind myself, YOU GOT THIS.”

7. Jamie Hagiya – 18th at 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games

“I visualize myself making the lift first. Then, as I’m about to attempt it I use positive self-talk, telling myself that it’s lightweight and I will make this lift!”

8. Mike Tuchsherer – World Powerlifting Champion

“I try to keep my mentality the same as any other lift. Focuses on verbal cues. I may have a bit more nervous energy, but nothing is intentionally different.”

9. Kelly Branton – 3x IPF World Championship Bronze Medalist

“Before I squat I tell myself to be violent, be aggressive, and I am going to come up so fast I’m going to the it through the fu*king roof.”

“When I bench I think, let’s get this done, so I can deadlift. And when I deadlift I just keep telling myself stay tight, hold on, and stand up tall.”

10. Hayden Bowe – Weightlifting and Powerlifting National Level Medalist

“My mentality is that whatever weight is on the bar, I’ve already done it in my head a million times. I’m already convinced I can do it, and missing just isn’t an option. If I have the slightest ounce of doubt, then I don’t put it on the bar.”

“My dad told me a story once about a golfer who would never admit to missing a putt. Even when someone showed him video of his miss, he wouldn’t admit it. He told me that as a kid, and I applied it to my lifting ever since. I don’t miss, I just make lifts.”

11. Phil Sabatini 94kg/105kg Weightlifter – 7x USAW National Medalist

“First, same lift. It may take longer to hit each position, but once you do it’s the SAME LIFT! It doesn’t deserve any more effort or thought than any other lift before it. Trying to do more, or push harder, throws the whole tempo of the lift off and makes your body rigid.”

“Second, be aggressive. Don’t let new weights intimidate and take advantage of you. YOU’RE THE BOSS, and you tell it WHERE TO GO.”

12. Charity Witt – Strongwoman and Record Holding Powerlifter

“I calm myself and focus. Block everything out. And just tell myself to breathe, focus, and do whatever it takes. I instantly go into tunnel vision and don’t see or hear anything/anyone else around me.”

13. Maddy Forberg – 4x Junior National Record Holding 57kg Powerlifter

“Through trial and error I’ve found that not getting as hyped and crazy works best for me because I get too sloppy. I still slap myself when I need to focus for big lifts, but only when I need it. Whether I’m at the gym or at a meet, before a single I’m always visualizing the lift going successfully. All the cues, pauses, walk-outs, and everything else.”

“Besides the occasional, Maddy you a bad b*tch, let’s get it, inner monologue, my mantra is, you/I deserve to be here. It sounds simple, and not as spicy as other sayings, but when I started powerlifting I had people telling me I wouldn’t succeed, wasn’t made for it, and much more. When competing it’s easy to get caught up in the number and the, so & so is deadlifting for this amount, so telling myself I deserve to be here is just a reminder that I didn’t to where I’m at by accident.”

“For example, at my least meet I was surprised that I was the second to last person in my flight (for deadlifts I was in the middle, and I remember telling my coach, oh that’s weird, maybe it’s not in order yet. He looked at me sand said, Maddy c’mon. I’m not lifting this amount and ranked here by mistake. My saying is a summation of, you’ve worked your ass off to get here, don’t blow it, and, I know what I’m doing and I got this.

14. Jared Enderton – 2x CrossFit Games Regional Athlete

“One thought: Anything worthwhile is worth fighting for. Go fight.”

15. Samrya Zane Abweh – 48kg Elite Powerlifter 518 Highest Wilks

“I think to myself: Don’t be a little b*tch Samyra!”

16. Josh Goldstein – 200 lb Strongman Athlete

“I usually think about a specific cue that is relevant to the lift, or something that has been clicking for me. I tell myself, I got this, and approach the bar. Once it’s in my hands, instincts take over.”

 17. Allison Schuster – 58kg Mash Mafia Weightlifter

“The only thing I do is visualize myself making the lift before I go for it. The entire movement from the first pull to the make, as if I’m in competition. I approach the bar the same way I would in a meet. And my saying whenever I feel worried about feeling heavy is, grip and rip, it’s time to show the bar who’s boss.”

18. Jacob Heppner – 3x CrossFit Games Athlete

“To be honest, I listen to ‘Panda’ on a 1-hour repeat for all my 1-RM sessions. If you watch any of my heavy lifting videos, then it’s always playing.”

19. Marte Elverum – IPF World Record Deadlift Holder

“I pretty much turn on some gangster rap and turn into a b*tch. Don’t really have any specific words in my heads, other than lyrics sometimes. Lil Jon is a good of mine on heavy days.

20. Bonnie Schroeder – Record Holding Powerlifter

“I think about all of the cues I use training, driving all of my energy into the bar, and why I deserve that lift. I refuse to let the weight beat me.

In Closing

Every elite athlete has their own personal pre PR mindset, and it all comes down to finding what work for you best. If you read every athlete’s thoughts, then you can see there are some consistencies with positive self-talk and visualization. But on the other hand, there’s doing things like playing “Panda” for an hour to hit heavy lift, so it’s whatever works.

What’s important is finding what you respond best to, and crushing the weight with no fear.

Feature image from screenshots from @optimusprime_334, @doctor.deadlift, @steficohen, and @harrison_maurus Instagram pages. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.