An individual's “one rep max” is the amount of weight they can lift while pushing themselves to failure with a weight that couldn't be performed again after that one rep without rest. An individual's one rep max is a true indicator of their strength and power. Most people will stick to the three big compound lifts (squat, bench and deadlift) when looking to lift in their one rep max zone on each of them. The squat, bench and deadlift are seen by most people as the toughest but most rewarding lifts you can do in the gym when they are performed effectively and safely. Constantly lifting your one rep max weight is great for your ego, but it may not be very beneficial if your goal is to increase muscle mass or strength. I would recommend you lift in the 8-12 rep range for hypertrophy or 4-6 rep range to increase strength.
One rep max training is not something I do very often as it is not as beneficial for my personal training goals, as lifting in the 8-12 rep range is for hypertrophy (muscle building). However, knowing your one rep max for a certain lift can be used to give you a rough indication of what weight you should be aiming to lift for different rep ranges. I typically train using a weight that is 75% of my one rep max weight, and I aim to complete 10-12 solid reps with that weight for each set. Working out your estimated one rep max for your lifts can be done using a formula which uses different percentages of the weight you are currently lifting.
Find out how many reps you can do with a certain weight and use this table to work out your estimated one rep max:
Currently I squat 120kg for 10 reps which, according to the table above, is 75% of my one rep max.
Now take the 120kg and divide it by 0.75 (or whatever rep percentage you want to work out from above), which gives the answer of 160kg as my estimated one rep max weight for my squat.
As I've said above, I train mostly with weight that is 75% of my one rep max for three to four sets of 10-12 reps, as this has been proven to be the best way of training for increased muscle mass.
My advice for someone thinking of lifting their 1 one rep max is:
- Warm up! Don't just get to the gym, throw on your max weight and go. Yes, you want to be fresh for your lift, but start with some light-weighted sets to get a feel for the movement and to get that mind-to-muscle connection flowing. If I'm going to lift my one rep max on the squat, I will usually do a good three sets of squats using a weight that I can do comfortably for 20+ reps.
- Get strong first. To be able to handle your heaviest weight for one rep, you want to build up your strength first, not just your strength for lifting but the strength of your joints, tendons and your core strength. I recommend you do a few weeks of strength training in the 4-6 rep range to get your body and your nervous system used to the demands of the heavier than usual weight if you're not used to lifting for strength.
- Get someone to spot you for your one rep max lift. You have to leave your ego at the door sometimes when you're in the gym. It's a great feeling stacking all that weight on the bar and turning people's heads in the gym with your lifts, but seriously have someone close by just in case. The safer you stay in the gym, the longer you're going to be able to train and make progress. This also saves you the embarrassment of failing on your lift and needing help to get it off!
- Training log. Keep track of your lifts and other details about that day of training, for example, the time of day you trained, how many meals you had consumed, how you were feeling, how much sleep you had the night before, etc. Keeping track of the weights you are lifting also saves you time and valuable energy for your next session and is a great way of motivating yourself, as you can easily look back and see how far you've come.
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