Successful strength training programs often start with one-rep max testing. Knowing your max gives you valuable information that will help you get the most out of your program. So following a testing strategy that helps you find your true max is critical to your performance.
By correctly testing your one-rep max at the beginning and end of each training phase, you can determine whether you got stronger—and if your training program is effective.
The amount of weight you lift should be a percentage of your one-rep max. This ensures that you’re actually performing the exercise in a way that will help you achieve your desired size, strength and/or power goal.
You should perform a max test on your Bench Press, and other primary strength exercises such as the Deadlift, Squat and Overhead Press. You can also test your max on Olympic lifts (e.g., Clean, Snatch, Jerk), but only if you have experience with these moves.
One key to finding your one-rep max is to gradually warm up your body. It’s a fine balance, but if you carefully limit the number of reps you perform and gradually increase the weight, you’ll be able to lift more weight because your muscles will be prepared for the heavy load and won’t be too fatigued. And this type of progressive strategy ensures that you won’t shock your body and cause an injury.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association provides the following one-rep max testing protocol, which is commonly used by strength and conditioning coaches.
Test your max no more often than once every four weeks, ideally at the beginning and end of a training phase. And remember, always use a spotter.
One-Rep Max Test Protocol
Set 1: Warm up with a light weight for 5-10 reps. Rest for 1 minute.
Set 2: Add 10-20 pounds to an upper-body lift, 30-40 pounds to a lower-body lift. Perform 3-5 reps. Rest for 2 minutes.
Set 3: Add 10-20 pounds to an upper-body lift, 30-40 pounds to a lower-body lift. Perform 2-3 reps. Rest for 2-4 minutes.
Set 4: Add 10-20 pounds to an upper-body lift, 30-40 pounds to a lower-body lift. Attempt 1 rep. If you can do the rep, rest for 2-4 minutes and proceed to Set 5A. If you miss the rep, rest for 2-4 minutes and proceed to Set 5B.
Set 5A: Add 10-20 pounds to an upper-body) lift, 30-40 pounds to a lower-body lift. Attempt 1 rep. If you can complete 1 rep, rest four 2-4 minutes and repeat until you cannot lift any more weight.
Set 5B: If you miss a rep, subtract 5-10 pounds from an upper-body lift, 15-20 pounds from a lower-body lift. Attempt 1 rep. If you miss that rep, repeat until you find a weight that you can lift.
Continue adjusting the load until you find your 1-rep max. Ideally, you should reach your max within five sets so you’re not too fatigued.
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