Last week we did a little test to see how many reps you could do (whether of push-ups or your favourite exercise) and how long you could hold something like a plank. This week, let’s take a look at that classic strength benchmark, the one rep max (1RM).
The idea is to determine the heaviest weight you can lift. Powerlifting and weightlifting competitions are set up to let you show off a maximal lift, but if you’d prefer to keep your true max efforts to the platform, it’s fine to do a low-key max out day. Go for the heaviest weight you can lift smoothly, or one that leaves you feeling like you have a rep or two in the tank.
Personally, I enjoy maxing out every chance I get, whether that’s at a meet, at the end of a multi-week training cycle, or nearly every day on a Bulgarian-inspired program. I log my max lifts in my strength training journal every time I hit a new number, and it’s pretty amazing to look back at how this year’s lifts compare to the ones I did last year.
A caveat, though: if you want to compare, you should choose lifts you’ve been working on consistently. If all you’ve been doing is push-ups, your bench press max may not be very impressive. But if you were to train bench presses for a few weeks, your strength would quickly translate to the new format.
How to test your 1RM
If you’ve never tested your max before, or haven’t done it in a while, here’s how it goes.
Before you begin, make sure that if you were to fail the lift, you could do so safely. If you’re bench pressing, make sure you have a spotter or you’re doing it inside a rack with proper safeties. For a squat, you can use a squat rack with the pins set properly, or you can practice dropping the bar if your equipment and space allow.
All set? Start warming up. Lift some light weights that you know you can handle for multiple reps, and then add some weight and go again. Usually, when I get around 80% of what I think my max might be, I’m doing singles instead of multiple reps.
Above 85% or so, I only add 5% at a time, or sometimes less. It’s much better to sneak up on a PR (personal record) little by little, than to think “well, I just got 82 kg, so let’s go for 200 next” and fail it. Pay attention to how each single feels — did it move fast, or was it a grind? — before deciding how big a jump to take with the next one.
You’re done when you either miss a lift, or when you make a lift that was such a grind you know you couldn’t possibly add another pound. Write down your new max in your journal — whether it’s an all-time PR or not — and congratulate yourself. Then, start working on beating it next time.
Want to keep reading? Check out this piece on how high your heart rate should be when working out.