Here’s a question: How strong are you?
Sure, you hit the gym with your straps and pull off six to eight reps of some heavy lifts. But unless you can put a definitive numerical value to just how much your muscles can handle, it’s not a question you can answer with certainty.
When it comes to lifting weights, one of the main goals is improved strength, which is why it’s important to know your One-Rep Max (1RM) in most of your basic power lifts like squat, bench press and deadlift. This number represents the maximum amount of weight you can move in a single rep.
Despite the importance of determining your 1RM, a surprising number of women in the weight room don’t know theirs. But why should you bother figuring it out and how can you benefit? For starters, calculating your 1RM gives you a definite baseline point to work from: once you know how you stack up, you can gauge your improvements as you continue to aim for PR after PR (that’s gym speak for “personal record”). Secondly, by knowing your 1RM you can then fit your numbers into your workout program. A good program is always built on reps, sets, and percentages based on your 1RM.
But arguably, the most important reason to know and improve your 1RM is that in doing so, you’ll be developing epic strength. And as you know, with increased strength comes a number of health benefits, including speeding up your metabolism by building lean muscle, boosting athletic performance in sports, and improved bone density as you age. The bottom line: whether you’re a man or woman, a powerlifter or a weight-room enthusiast, strength matters—and there is no greater test of strength than your one rep max.
Are you ready to test your 1RM?
If you only ever train in the 8-12 rep range or higher, hold off on testing your 1RM. Gradually increase the weight and decrease your reps (on big lifts) until you are training in the 1-5 rep range; anything beyond that is not improving strength directly.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
A few general rules first before we test your max:
1. Safety first. Always train smart, rested, and properly fuelled.
2. Have a spotter, especially when testing your bench press and squat.
3. Ditch your ego. Listen to your body and go at your own pace.
4. Do not test your 1RM often. Once every 6-8 weeks is plenty.
5. Respect the weight. It will always win.
Warm up with a low-intensity exercise to get your overall body temperature up. Try a stationary bike, or skipping rope for about five minutes. Next, add in some mobility and activation drills, but the goal is to lift, so do not pre-exhaust any muscle groups.
How to: Begin by “training” for your 1RM with the exercise you are going to test. In this example, we’ll use the deadlift.
- The goal is to reach your 1RM in about 5-7 sets, but you want to make sure your warm up sets do not tire you out. You need to conserve your energy for your 1RM.
- Select your starting weight. If you have no idea what your 1RM is, take a safe guess and build from there. For this example, we’ll assume your 1RM on a Deadlift is 225 lbs, but it could be less or more.
- Be sure to rest 3 full minutes between sets for recovery. When training heavy, rest is crucial.
Now you have done a proper “ramp up” to test your 1RM. If you bang out your presumed 1RM (in this case, 255 lbs) add another 5-10 lbs and try again, but always keep in mind this rule: “Don’t Miss A Lift”.
Missing a lift means having improper form due to too much weight or fatigue. The goal is to test in the 90-95 % range but to not miss a lift. The lift you miss has a greater chance of causing injury, as well as leaving you mentally defeated.
Written by Rob King, CPT, Founder & CEO of Heavyweights Fitness | Photography by Paul Buceta
Model Jessica Rinaldi