How to Max Out in the Weight Room Without Getting Hurt

Here's a safe way to determine your 1-rep max strength.

So you want to know your one-rep max, but don't want to get injured attempting it? Try this strength test using the 5 exercises below, and you will determine your baseline strength so you can increase your athletic performance and understand your current fitness level. Technique is key in all of these exercises and must be followed precisely to get a real measure of your strength.

Before we get into the testing specifics, we need to ask when testing performance-related exercises is important? I believe that testing is appropriate for all athletes who play intercollegiate sports and all high level high school athletes. Individuals who just want to get more fit may also enjoy getting a baseline of strength through these tests. Knowing if you are motivated by performance goals (a strength test) or just want to be healthier will give you your answer.

Lower-Body Max Testing

When testing lower-body strength, a typical one-rep Back Squat max test could suffice for most high level athletes. But for many, testing a Back Squat can be counterintuitive. Instead, try the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat.

When performed properly, this test assesses single-leg (unilateral) max squat strength. The Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat and the theory of the bilateral deficit have been popularized by elite strength coach Mike Boyle. Bilateral deficit simply refers to what we can do bilaterally we will be able to perform unilaterally.

The biggest benefit to performing the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat as a lower body max test is that I have never had anyone get hurt during or after the test.

To get to a true one-rep max, we need to have the loaded weight slowly progress up. If you or your athletes have never "maxed out," start by getting your body accustomed to the movement.

  • Perform 10 bodyweight reps of the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat.
  • Next, perform 5 reps of what you believe to be 50% of your predicted 1RM.
  • After a 2-minute break, perform 3 reps at 75%.
  • From there, attempt your 1-rep max. After 3 to 5 attempts at 100%, you will have your one rep max!
  • Typically, really strong individuals have to attempt the exercise more times than weaker individuals.

Upper-Body Max Testing

For upper-body max strength testing, test a traditional Bench Press (or Push-Up for overhead sports), Pull-Up and Inverted Row.

With each exercise, the max number of Push-Ups, Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows completed consecutively without failure will be the final repetition number. If you're a non-overhead sport athlete and you're a bit more advanced in strength training, a Bench Press and weighted Pull-Up may be better options.

Use the same approach with the Bench Press as with lower-body testing.

  • Perform 10 bodyweight reps of the Empty Bar Bench Press.
  • Next, perform 5 reps of what you believe to be 50% of your predicted 1RM.
  • After a 2-minute break, perform 3 reps at 75%.
  • From there, attempt your 1-rep max.
  • After 3 to 5 attempts at 100% you will have your one rep max!
  • Typically, really strong individuals will attempt the exercise more times than weaker individuals.

Try all of these exercises and re-test them every 4-8 weeks. If you're exercising for the first time, re-test after 4 weeks; if you're a bit more advanced, re-test after 8 weeks.

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Topics: SQUAT | PULL-UP | PUSH-UP | BENCH PRESS | MAX OUT | ROW