I’m sure you’ve heard this one -
“Hey bro, how much d’you bench?”
As annoying as that question might be, it’s actually useful to a degree and puts into perspective the topic of this article.
When someone directs the above question at you, what they’re really asking for is the maximum amount of weight you can lift with good form for a single rep on the bench press – or your one rep max.
It doesn’t just apply to your bench though – you will have a one-rep max on shoulder presses, barbell rows, even biceps curls! Typically though, when talking about one rep maxes, we’ll usually be talking about “the big 3” – the squat, deadlift and bench press.
Knowing your one rep max is important when following most training plans, but it’s absolutely crucial if you’re working with a DUP setup.
Why You MUST Know Your One-Rep Max
You’re probably wondering –
“Nick, what’s so important about a one rep max?
I’m not a powerlifter or weightlifter – I’m never going to step on the platform.
Can I not just lift heavy weights and work ‘til I’m tired? That’s what all the big guys in my gym do!”
Sure, if your goals are purely bodybuilding-focused, and you always follow traditional body part splits, never dropping below 6 to 8 reps per set, then you probably could get away without knowing your maxes.
But if you care at all about strength, you really do need an idea of your maximum lifts.
The main reason for this is because it gives an indication of your progress. How do you know you’re getting stronger if you never test where you’re at?
Additionally, I’d argue that even if you don’t really care about strength, and are purely in the weightlifting game for aesthetic purposes, you still can’t neglect your one rep max.
After all, remember that the most important factor in increasing muscle size is total training volume.
Volume = Weight Lifted X Reps
Therefore, to get bigger muscles, you either have to increase your reps, or the weights you’re lifting (or both,) hence the best way to increase volume is by getting stronger, and to know you’re getting stronger, we come full circle – all the way back to needing to know your one rep max.
Finally, plenty of programs (such as DUP) tell you how much weight to lift as a percentage of your one rep max (usually noted as % 1RM).
Now that’s cleared up, let’s get to it …
How to Test Your One Rep Max
General Guidelines -
- Always test your one rep max first in a session – never do it after training another exercise, as fatigue will limit how much you can lift.
- If you’re testing multiple one rep maxes in the same session (i.e. you’re doing a mock powerlifting meet and setting your squat, bench and deadlift maxes) don’t schedule any other training for the day before or the day after.
- Set aside at least 40 minutes to test each lift.
- Have a spotter present to assist you should you get into difficulty and provide support and encouragement.
- Ensure you’re competent with your technique. One rep max testing is NOT for newbie lifters – get at least 6 months of solid training under your belt before you test.
- Always run a thorough mobility warm up.
- Prepare for this to be tough … seriously tough!
Lifting Guidelines –
- Perform a light warm up set or two of 6-10 reps using around 40-50% of your predicted one rep max. (So if you’re squatting, and think your max will be around 320 pounds, go with one to two sets of 6 to 10 with 130-160 pounds.)
- Go up to 60% and hit 5 reps.
- Add more weight to the bar so you’re at around 70% and nail 3 solid reps.
- Go to 80% and get 2 reps. (So using the squat example, by now you’d be around 255 to 265 pounds.)
- You may wish to repeat this 80% set if it felt a little shaky.
- Go to 90% and get 1 rep. (Again, do a second set if it didn’t feel smooth and powerful.)
- Put enough weight on the bar to take you to 100% of your predicted one rep max. You might wish to vary this though, depending on how your warm-ups felt – go lighter if you felt unsteady, or heavier if you’re confident.
- Attempt the rep, making sure you psyche yourself up enough to get motivated, but not so much you’re over-hyped.
- If you miss this, don’t worry. Either try it again in a few minutes, or take a little weight off and drop to 95%.
- If you got it and it felt good, add 5-20lbs (depending on feel) and attempt another rep in 5 to 10 minutes time.
- If you got it, but it felt like a gut-buster and you had nothing left, call it a day – you have your one-rep max.
- Repeat the above 3 steps as needed, until you’ve got an accurate gauge of what your true one rep max is. Remember that the heavier you go, the more rest you’ll need, so don’t be afraid to take plenty of downtime between attempts.
The Results Are In …
How did you fare?
If it was your first time running a test, then it can be a little daunting, as you’re never sure exactly what lifting such heavy loads will feel like, or how your higher-rep work will translate to low-rep, maximum effort lifting.
The important thing is to realise that in the gym, you’ll never hit a true one-rep max, as these will come in competition when you’re more stimulated and have your head in the game.
What gym testing will do however, is give you an idea of exactly how strong you are, and enable you to follow percentage-based programs like DUP far more effectively, and get better results from them.