How many times have you been asked, “how much can you lift?” ?
Now ask yourself how you answer this particular question. Is this referring to the number of sessions you do per week or do we default to the gold standard of strength? – one-rep max (1RM). This number goes beyond changing room gloating and can even help with how you plan your training sessions and measure your training progress.
There are a number of things to consider and measuring your 1RM isn’t something that beginners should do straight away.
What is Your One-Rep Max?
A one-rep max (1RM) is the weight in which you can lift for 1 repetition only for a certain exercise. A 1RM could not be performed for 2 repetitions or more. This is a measure of 100% maximal effort and can be seen as a lifters personal best or personal record.
Theoretically a 1RM can be performed on any movement but the most value is within certain compound, multi-joint movements including: squat, bench press, deadlift, front squat, snatch, clean, and clean and jerk.
Why does the 1RM matter?
If your training plan includes weight training then the 1RM is a good measure to see how strong you are at the current moment.
For the non-beginner, most training plans measure the 1RM at the start of the process. This may be then used within a method called “progressive overload. This means, for example, that in week 1 you may be lifting 5 sets of 5 repetitions at 88% of your 1RM. The following week, you may then be lifting 90% on the same repetition scheme. After 6-8 weeks, depending on how the programme is structured, you retest the 1RM.
What are the Risks of 1RM?
Whilst there are benefits to measuring the 1RM, it does come with certain risks. For example, you shouldn’t be attempting a movement that you are not comfortable with.
Measuring the 1RM should be reserved for intermediate and advanced lifts (those with 6 months or more training experience). During this time, lifting weights for muscle hypertrophy is adequate for those beginning their training journey.
Even if you have training for a heavy working load it is still important to understand that the 1RM method is pushing yourself to the absolute maximum. When attempting a new PR , the muscle fibres will not have been subjected to this load and stress and therefore likelihood of failure is high. It is important that you have a spotter when attempting a 1RM.
How Do I Find my 1RM?
There are two main ways in which to calculate your 1RM. This could either be through a formulaic method, using higher reps on a weight to forecast the personal best lift.
If you are following this method, then it is important that you warm-up to start with at the start of your training session. The warm-up should look to activate and prime movements. Once warmed up, select a heavier weight that you will perform for a high number of repetitions, for example, 5-10. You can then use an online calculator to forecast your 1RM. Some coaches and lifters prefer this method of calculating the 1RM as it will normally be performed with better form than a pure 1RM test.
If you are a more experienced lifter and looking for a true test of a 1RM then it is still vital to warm up before any lifting. Planning should take place to determine the placement of spotters or how to bail out of a lift if the lift fails. For example, if you are performing a 1RM deadlift, you do not want to be afraid of dropping the weight on to the floor. The same goes for a 1RM bench press, you do not want to be failing the lift that will leave you pinned underneath the bar.
Finding the 1RM is extremely taxing on both the muscles and the central nervous system (CNS). When we plan for 1RM with our lifters, we start with 10 reps on a light weight and work towards the 1RM within six sets. The athlete should also take 3-5 minutes between sets in order to give the body time to recover. You also don’t want to be hitting more than 3-5 heavy single sets. You want to start the working sets knowing what you are aiming for. To do this , you can either use training experience and current PR levels or use an online calculator to determine a guesstimate of what is possible.
If you test a 1RM and fail (which will happen at some point), you can reflect on the area of weakness. For example, on the bench press, did the fail occur at the lift off from the chest or the top of the lockout? This can then be used to adapt the current training plan to work on areas of weakness.
Once you have attempted the 1RM, you should recover with good source of protein, hydration and rest. It is important that the body is given time to recover and repair.