09 Sep How To Find Your One Rep Max (The 1 RM)

deadliftPic1Knowing your one rep max (1RM) is a requirement to build an effective strength training program.

Why?

First, that number tells us how strong we are.

The 1 RM is how much weight we can maximally lift for 1 repetition in a given lift.

It’s the ultimate test of our strength.

Another major reason we need to know our 1 RM is because when we’re doing structured strength or hypertrophy programs, we’ll need to use rep schemes and loads based off the 1 RM number.

Let’s take at 400 pound deadlift, for example.

Performing 80% of 1 RM would be 320 pounds.

So, if the program calls for 80% of your 1 RM for 5 reps, we now know that number (320).

The question is, how do we find the  1 RM number?

Here’s 2 ways we can find our 1 RM and keep in mind that our TRUE 1 RM is really something that should be saved for a competition day (I’ll talk more about that in a bit).

1-THE RM CALCULATOR.

The first option is to use this simple rep max calculator to estimate your 1 RM load.

This a predictive model, but I’ve found it to be an excellent tool for the 1 RM that’s pretty close to the actual.

It’s easy to use, but you should be fairly “on target” with your other numbers (your 3 or 5 RM numbers, for example).

Assuming you know your 5 RM load, you can plug that number into the calculator and it will give you the predicted 1 RM.

Simple, right?

I have used this free online tool often and it works well when you need to know your numbers for a specific training program.

What’s the downside?

It’s predictive.

That means it may not be totally “spot on,” but as I mentioned, it’s pretty close.

Again, you should know your 3 or 5 rep max numbers (or at least be in the ballpark) for a solid estimate of your 1 RM.

2-THE RM SESSION.

The 2nd way to figure out your 1 RM is to actually test it.

Have a training session scheduled where you find out what your 1 RM really is.

Here’s how I do it and let’s assume I’m testing the 1 RM of my deadlift.

  • Perform pre-training mobility, as you normally would
  • Begin with 2 warm up sets to build the groove and pattern the movements (3 reps per set is fine, light weight)
  • Next perform 2 “moderate” weight sets, 1-3 reps is sufficient, preparing for the heavier loads
  • Then, I’ll do 3-5 sets of my estimated 1 RM

The 3-5 sets of the estimated 1 RM look like this (let’s assume my projected 1 RM is 400 pounds):

  • 1st attempt may be 365 x 1 rep only, nice and “easy,” an “opener” for the following heavy sets
  • 2nd attempt 380 x 1, should be solid and strong
  • 3rd attempt may be 390-400 x 1 (actual weight depends on how the lift went on the 2nd attempt)
  • Now, I MAY stop here OR go for attempt, say to 405-410 x 1 (this all depends on how I felt with the 3rd attempt performance)

This “template” can be used for any lift or exercise.

To summarize the process, it looks like this:

  1. Perform 2 warm up sets, keep the reps low
  2. Perform 1 or 2 moderate weight sets, keep the reps low
  3. Perform 3-5 1 RM tests and maintain strict technique

Here’s what’s REALLY important to understand here.

This is not really an “all out max” (I’ll explain more below).

It’s a “sorta max” as appropriately named by one of the best in the business, Coach Dan John.

I love the concept of the “sorta max” because this means you’re leaving a little in the gas tank.

For me, it means lifting as heavy as I can without feeling like I went “all out.”

It’s when you pick up a heavy weight and you felt like you could have done just a little more and then having the courage to say “that’s a good lift for today.”

Again, leave just a little in the tank.

I like to think of it as maybe 95% effort (which is extremely subjective, I know).

Remember, the idea with a true rep max is to peak and hit your new PR on the day of a meet or competition.

What if you don’t compete?

Great question.

Still test your 1 RM using the “sorta max” concept, UNLESS, you feel like you are firing on all cylinders and you really want to test “all out” with full effort.

Use your personal judgement here, but keep safety as the top priority.

Personally, I always test with the mindset of leaving just a little in the tank, so it ends up being the “sorta max” approach and with that, I’ve hit new PR’s.

It’s pushing it to the edge that day, but not beyond.

Even doing this, it’s really a great gauge for your best 1 RM number (outside of competition).

WHICH OPTION IS BEST?

More experienced lifters or strength athletes can use the 1 RM SESSION approach, while novice lifters are probably best served with the 1 RM CALCULATOR.

As a more novice lifter, it’s best to focus on the technique of any exercise or lift before testing close to the 1 RM, in my opinion.

One thing that should be understood is that technique should not be sacrificed at any level.

That’s why the actual numbers, in the example above, will be dependent on the technique that day and how I feel.

If my technique is breaking on attempt 2, I’ll may not progress much (if at all) on attempt 3.

I may just work to “clean up” the technical fault on the 3rd attempt instead of upping the weight.

Technique and safety are the most important things.

Strength is a skill and part of the skill is technique.

It comes down to quality over quantity.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT A ONE REP MAX?

This depends on the program, training goals, background, and many other variables.

In general, maybe you could test your “sorta max” once a month, it all depends on the program, etc.

But, you’re true one rep max should be tested very infrequently.

Testing your 1 RM too often is very taxing on your nervous system, not to mention your musculoskeletal system.

Your body will need time to recover appropriately from heavy lift attempts.

No matter what, train safe and enjoy the journey.

Realize that long term training success is a slow, steady progression.

Scott Iardella writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff!  
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