Stop Obsessing Over Your One-Rep Max

Unless you are competing in weightlifting, get over your need for a one rep max. It is bound to cause more trouble than it's worth.

"How much do you bench, Bro?"

Right now in a gym somewhere, some lifter just asked someone else this question, and far too often this is not only asked but also followed by a response with an actual number.

Here's the thing, unless you compete in a lifting event (Power or Olympic), you have almost no reason to care about your one rep max. Even more importantly, nobody else is going to care about how much you can bench.

Bench Press

But many will argue that testing your max will result in better workouts. You can base the sets you perform off of your max and can be confident that you are properly challenging yourself. Yes, that sounds great but the reality is not always perfect.

Properly testing takes a week or two, which means if you test in between every program, you are testing for upwards of 10 weeks per year. That amounts to lots of lost training time.

Additionally, testing is the riskiest aspect of the weight room, as pushing the heaviest weights increases the chances of injury. I wrote a year-long training plan for high school athletes as a project, and included testing in it at various times. Eric Cressey challenged me to defend why I would have high school athletes one-rep max as a way of monitoring their improvements.

He was right to question this. Why have novice lifters, who are most likely not using great form, lift at their max? That is a recipe for disaster.

Furthermore, technique can improve, which could appear as a gain in strength that really was just a result of better technique. There are a few other factors that can also determine just how well a max weight attempt will go. Two of these are fatigue and stress, which go hand in hand. Multiple stressors can affect anybody at just about any time, and they can cause more fatigue on top of general stress.

With stress and fatigue, results will not be what you want to see on a consistent basis. They cause you to not hit the weights you should hit, and because they are constantly changing, they will vary what you can do on a daily basis. What you might be able to lift on Monday of one week, you could be unable to lift by that Friday because of something as simple as a lack of sleep.

With just stress and fatigue, it is clear that a one rep max will not always be accurate and that it will almost always fluctuate. This should make it clear enough that constant attention on your max is not ideal.

Instead, using a system that allows you to track your progress on a daily, weekly and monthly basis is as useful as max testing every four to 12 weeks. Having a system that makes you track your progress allows you to successfully transition from one program to the next without the need for testing in between.

If you feel the absolute need to test, then use a plus set on your final set of your main lift on the week prior to a Deadlift. With this you will rep out a weight until failure and can use this chart to estimate a max from the amount of reps lifted. Rather than missing time to test, you have a way to sneak testing into programming. While it won't be a true max, it is safe to say a one rep max test will probably not produce a true one rep max result anyway.

Especially with young males, lifting for ego and maximum weight happens a lot, and teaching them to change to lifting for proper form with the right weight will cause greater results. Keeping everyone safe and healthy is the goal of the weight room, and should be a point of emphasis for not always trying to test a max.

Unless you are competing in weightlifting, get over your need for a one rep max. It is bound to cause more trouble and worse results than it is worth.