Calling all weightlifters: Do you know your one-repetition maximum (1RM)? If you don’t, here’s why you should and how to measure it if you haven’t already.
Your 1RM is the maximum total effort to produce one repetition of a lift, usually reserved for “big lifts” like a bench press, squat, or deadlift. For example, if the most you can deadlift for one rep is 200 pounds, that’s your 1RM. That doesn’t mean compromising your form to get rep though, which is an important distinction.
Whether you’re into strength, hypertrophy, or endurance training (or don’t know the difference), grab the best adjustable dumbbells and read on to learn why calculating your 1RM matters, how to test it safely, and why doing so might improve your workout results and help you build strength and muscle.
Why should you test your one-rep max?
Learning how to calculate your 1RM should keep you on track to achieving your exercise goals, whatever they may be. It’s common for powerlifters and strength training advocates to test a 1RM, but others may think it’s irrelevant to them, which it’s not.
Taking the time to test your 1RM will help you optimize your training plan and improve performance by giving your body the right stimulus to achieve success. It is also a good indication of your current strength and the progress you have made or have yet to make.
Unless you’re training competitively, you won’t need to test it often. But even if you do it once or three times a year, you’ll need to factor in prep training and a recovery regimen for testing, which means hitting the relevant stimulus. But how?
Hypertrophy vs strength training
First, let’s summarize the difference between building strength and building muscle, considering that the 1RM is a test of total strength known as absolute strength. Strength training builds strength and improves the power of muscles, while hypertrophy training refers to building muscle mass.
Strength training involves lifting heavier weights over 85% of your 1RM (once calculated) for fewer reps of between 2-6 and higher sets of 4-6 (as a guideline). Rest time is only a few minutes between sets, allowing your body to adequately recover from the neuromuscular impact of this style of training.
If you’re training for hypertrophy, your reps are between 8-12 and 3-4 sets with no more than 90 seconds of rest between sets. This method of muscle growth uses progressive overload, which means that you will gradually increase the load over time to stimulate your muscles. As a result, you’ll be raising a smaller percentage (65-85%) of your 1RM, which is why the calculation is important. Otherwise, you may be over or under working out your muscles.
Anyone training for muscular endurance also needs some understanding of maximum power to lift light enough weights for sustained periods. You can find out more with our hypertrophy vs strength training guide, and we also cover high reps vs heavy weights for the endurance enthusiast.
One-rep max exercises to try
Exercises typically include:
These compound exercises are a starting point if you want to try several attempts at one rep max.
How to test your one-rep max
The process will look different depending on your previous training experience and skills, but here are some guidelines. A general rule of thumb is to test exercises you know and have practiced regularly with good form rather than attempting new lifts.
We recommend setting a date for the test and gradually working your way up closer to your maximum capacity by decreasing volume (lower reps) and increasing weight as you get closer. You could start training several weeks in advance to set yourself up for success and keep an eye on your form by enlisting the help of a spotter or personal trainer, or by using a mirror.
Do not attempt to test your 1RM without any preparation, as this is a one-stop shop for injuries and will not give you an accurate measurement. We don’t recommend testing several lifts in the same day, so try to spread them out to give your muscles time to recover, no more than two a week.
For most athletes, the best time of day to test is the afternoon, but this depends on personal preference. Most people have more energy in the afternoon and others prefer to start their workouts early. For those who want to train in sync with their menstrual cycle, here’s more on cycling exercise. Yes sir, you will feel stronger at certain times of the month.
As you would before any resistance program, include a mix of gentle cardio and dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up. Try to make them specific to the muscle groups you will be targeting in the test using various activation exercises. For example, we like to use this bodybuilder’s hip mobility exercises before squatting.
Adding a resistance band is also helpful for engaging various muscles and saving static stretches for your recovery routine later.
Construction: Heater Set
Don’t rush and build slowly. We recommend having a coach or spotter on hand to keep you safe and responsible.
Start with just the barbell and add plates in 4-6 sets until you reach a challenging load, decreasing the reps each time. Remember, you’re only preparing your muscles and nervous system, so try not to overdo it.
An example could be:
Set 1: 10-12 reps at 30% of the 1RM attempt
Set 2: 8-10 reps at 40%
Set 3: 6-8 reps at 50%
Group 4: 4-6 reps at 60%
Group 5: 2-4 reps at 70%
Group 6: 1-2 reps at 80%
Once you reach a challenging 80-85%, build in smaller 5% increments until you reach around 90-98%, then work your way up to individual attempts.
Time your rest periods for no less than two minutes so your muscles can recover. Some people like to start with less rest for lighter lifts and work their way up as they go, sometimes reaching 4-5 minutes.
Start your attempts with a single lift each time and add incremental weight each round – this could start at as little as 0.5kg plates or slightly more (like 2.5kg) if you think you have more in the tank. Make sure you maintain good form and a full range of motion. For example, fully extend your hips at the top of a deadlift.
At the point of failure, you have reached your 1RM!
Now you can make more informed decisions about how to lift for various training styles, including hypertrophy, strength and endurance, and progressively add weight to reach your goals. It also means less fatigue in the gym when warming up and prepping for lifts, as you’ll know roughly what weight range to work in, which could also inform your 5RM or 10RM, for example.
If your results aren’t what you intended, identifying these weaker areas will help you or your coach develop a specific and actionable training plan.
Some shortcut formulas published by NFPT (opens in a new tab) give you an idea of your 1RM and submaximal lifts, but we believe the best way is to go under the bar and give it a try. Also, if you exercise regularly or with a trainer, you’ll have a rough idea of where you land in most exercises, and an experienced trainer will have an idea based on previous clients.
However, if you need a quote for more workouts or warm-ups without risking injury, you can use a formula to guide you.
If you’re going to try your own, warm up beforehand and gradually increase by 10%, then step down to 5% additions when you’re near the max. Repeat the test a few times a year, depending on your goals.
More from Tom’s Guide
#test #onerep #maximum #matters