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Testing your 1RM’s (One rep maxes) safely and accurately!

It’s a fact that many weight trainee’s have never actually performed a ‘true’ one repetition maximum lift.

Maybe they just don’t see the value? Or have been mis-informed that there is “no need to train heavy singles”.

Another possible reason (that is more common) is the safety aspect of performing such a feat. Perhaps they fear the outcome of a failed attempt?

The reality is: One rep maximum testing is actually very safe – providing you know to do it.

This is experience speaking as not so long ago, I switched up my training and began exploring strength training. The transition seemed natural, as I had been doing higher rep, lower intensity work. So before I started a 12 week strength based cycle/phase, I obviously needed to determine my ‘benchmarks’.

So I accurately tested my one repetition max on EVERY compound movement featured in the routine I was about to start.

Genuine one rep maximums vs. Calculator one rep maximums

Now let me quickly point out, another very good indicator tool that is often used is the 6 RM (6 repetition max). Many lifters know their 6 rep maxes. The internet is littered with one rep max calculators, where you can insert your maximum rep count at a particular weight and based on your number, they will provide an estimated prediction of your actual 1RM.

Why is this inferior to actual testing?

Simply because it doesn’t take into account the variations in individual muscle fiber types. The internet calculators work on the basis that everyone has an equal split between fast twitch muscle fibers and slow twitch muscle fibers.

Which is absolutely untrue.

Two people max have a 6 rep maximum of 200 pounds (90kg) on the bench press. According to the generic calculators, both individuals should have a one rep max of around 230-232 lbs. I’m no psychic, but I can virtually guarantee you – this won’t be the case.

Because everyone has a fiber division unique to them! 

One of the two lifters may actually have a one rep max of 250 lbs! The other may only be able to max out at 220 lbs. So what gives?

Well the 250 lb person will be more fast-twitch dominant. Meaning they are capable of a much higher force output, however, their output will not be sustained very long at all (fast twitch fibers have a very low resistance to fatigue).

Whereas the 220 lb person will be more on the slow twitch side of the spectrum. They aren’t capable of as high a maximal force output, but they can sustain their force output substantially longer than a fast twitch dominant lifter. For everything you gain, you lose something, right?

To round off the perspective on this – an evenly divided fiber type individual may indeed have a true one rep max of 230 lbs (as predicted)

True testing done right

To truly test a maximal lift in any movement, safety is the utmost and first consideration. You wouldn’t attempt a maximal back squat without a power rack! You need to be in an environment with adequate equipment.

Warming up is a must. NEVER EVER attempt to perform maximal weights without a thorough warm-up. If you do, you WILL learn the hard way I promise! To warm up correctly, you must first elevate your core temperature in the form of dynamic stretching, mobility drills, light cardio etc.

It’s important to keep the intensity LOW as fatigue is the enemy when maximal strength output is your goal.

This same rule applies to lighter ‘rehearsal’ sets.  A sensible approach for demonstration purposes could look like this:

Olympic bar x 5 reps – rest 60 secs

90 lbs x 3 reps – rest 2 minutes

120 lbs x 1 – rest 3 minutes

140 lbs x 1 – rest 3 minutes

160 lbs x 1 – rest 5 minutes

180 lbs x 1 (assuming your true one rep max was around 180 lbs)

This structure applies to any weight range. Notice the reps are kept low – this is to avoid any lactic acid production. High reps will produce too much fatigue and hinder your test results!

Also, it’s vitally important to RESPECT THE REST PERIODS. You may feel Ok to move on to the next set, but it’s crucial you remain disciplined and use the full rest periods. Because you aren’t training for a training affect. You’re attempting to discover your most maximal effort. Your central nervous system will NEED the rest period!

One rep max testing should remain exclusive to those with adequate experience – experienced enough to be able to execute all movements with sound technique.

Only movements that were executed with textbook form count towards your 1RM.

No rounded back deadlifts, no hyper-extended lower back overhead presses, no hip drive bent over rows and no non-vertical pull ups! 

If you count these in absence of correct form…….the only person that’s truly losing out is yourself.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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