Reaction time (RT) is shortened when a warning signal precedes the response signal, a finding attributed to response preparation during the foreperiod between the warning and response signals. In a previous experiment, we delivered transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) during the short constant foreperiod of a warned RT task and found simultaneous suppression of motor evoked potential (MEP) amplitude and reduction of short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) on warned trials (Sinclair and Hammond in Exp Brain Res 186:385–392, 2008). To investigate the extent to which these phenomena are associated with response preparation we measured MEP amplitude and SICI during the foreperiod of a warned RT task in which three different warning signals specified the probability (0, 0.5, or 0.83) of response signal presentation. MEP amplitude was suppressed (Experiment 1) and SICI reduced (Experiment 2) equally in all of the warned conditions relative to when TMS was delivered in the inter-trial interval (ITI) suggesting that the modulation of primary motor cortex excitability during the foreperiod does not depend on momentary response expectancy induced by the warning signal. The reduction of SICI and suppression of MEP amplitude can be explained by assuming that a warning signal induces automatic motor cortical activation which is balanced by a competing inhibition to prevent premature response. A composite measure which weighted both speed and accuracy of response was positively correlated with the MEP amplitude during both the foreperiod and the ITI, suggesting that high motor cortical excitability is associated with optimized preparatory strategies for fast and accurate response.