Exercise Finding Your One-Repetition Maximum (1RM): A How-To Guide

One-Repetition Maximum (1RM)

One of the foundational aspects of any strength-based program is calculating your one-repetition maximum (1RM), usually for a typical strength/hypertrophy program for the four core lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press.

Your 1RM is the maximum weight you can lift for a single repetition in each of these exercises. Understanding your 1RM is essential because the entire program is predicated on percentages of this maximum effort.

Here’s a deep dive into how to accurately find your 1RM and why it’s so critical for the given program.

Why Is 1RM So Important?

The 1RM serves as the benchmark for your current strength level in each core lift. It allows for the precise calculation of weights in the 5/3/1 program and ensures that you are lifting enough weight to make consistent strength gains, yet not so much that you risk injury.

Traditional 1RM Testing

The most accurate way to find your 1RM is to actually perform a max-out lift under controlled, safe conditions. This usually involves warming up thoroughly and then gradually increasing the weight lifted until you reach your maximum for a single repetition. Here’s a simplified process:

1. Warm-up: Begin with light weights and perform 10-12 reps.
2. Initial Sets: Move to moderate weights that you can lift for 6-8 reps.
3. Near-Max Sets: Increase the weight to a challenging level you think you can lift for about 3-5 reps.
4. Max Attempt: Based on your performance, select a weight you think represents your 1RM and attempt a single rep.
5. Adjustment: If you succeed, and it felt like you could lift more, add a bit more weight and try another single rep after adequate rest. If you fail, reduce the weight slightly and attempt again.

Pay attention to fatigue. It’s important to note that this method can be physically taxing and carries some risks. It should only be performed by those who are experienced with weightlifting and/or ideally under the supervision of a certified trainer or strength coach.

Estimating 1RM Without Maxing Out

Not keen on pushing to the max? No worries. You can estimate your one-repetition maximum (1RM) without maxing out by performing sub-maximal lifts. Simply lift a weight you can manage for 3 to 6 reps, and use the formula:

Estimated 1RM=Weight Lifted×(1+0.0333×Number of Repetitions)

Periodic Re-assessment

Your strength will hopefully increase as you proceed through the cycles. The easiest way to do this is to continue to add 5 lbs to your upper main lifts, and 10 lbs for the lower main lifts.
You’ll evenetually hit a plateau, but I think this is best corrected my taking 90% of your current 1RM, then scaling back 20%. The weights will be lighter. However, you will be able to push through the plateau in due time. Think of it as taking one step back for two steps forward.
This necessitates periodic re-assessment of your 1RM (or at least your estimated 1RM) to ensure that the program adapts to your improving capabilities.

In Summary

Understanding your 1RM is crucial for proper execution of your strength program. Whether you opt for a full 1RM test or an estimated calculation, accurate numbers will enable a more tailored, effective, and safer strength training experience.

Always consult a healthcare provider or certified trainer before performing maximum lifts, especially if you’re new to weightlifting or have any medical conditions.


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