Preparatory changes in neural activity before the execution of a movement have been documented in tasks that involve an instructed delay period (an interval between a transient instruction cue and a subsequently triggered movement). Such preparatory activity occurs in many motor centres in the brain, including the primary motor cortex, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area and basal ganglia. Activity during the instructed delay period reflects movement planning, as it correlates with parameters of the cue and the subsequent movement (such as direction and extent), although it occurs well before muscle activity. How such delay-period activity shapes the ensuing motor action remains unknown. Here we show that spinal interneurons also exhibit early pre-movement delay activity that often differs from their responses during the subsequent muscle activity. This delay activity resembles the set-related activity found in various supraspinal areas, indicating that movement preparation may occur simultaneously over widely distributed regions, including spinal levels. Our results also suggest that two processes occur in the spinal circuitry during this delay period: the motor network is primed with rate changes in the same direction as subsequent movement-related activity; and a superimposed global inhibition suppresses the expression of this activity in muscles.