How To Test Your 1RM (One Rep Max)

By October 14, 2016Move

If you are new to working out, you may not know what your one rep max (1RM) is. If you’re planning on lifting weights, knowing your 1RM is one of the most important things to keep in mind when designing your workout plan.

So what is an 1RM anyway?

Well, it’s the most weight you can lift with good form for one rep (like, after that you CANNOT lift any more without sacrificing form).

This number gives you not only your training percentage for your strength program, but also a benchmark to improve upon as you progress through your training. Basically, it helps you to see yourself get better. 

It’s possible to find your 1RM on any and all exercises you do, but knowing your 1RM on the most basic and isolated movements (like a bicep curl or tricep extension) won’t really do the trick for creating your training program. Compound movements on the other hand (like squats, deadlifts, bench presses and overhead presses) require a lot more varied muscle involvement. These exercises are where your strength is optimally built. Therefore, these are the ones that are best for finding your 1RM.

How to Test Your 1RM

We’re gonna go through it step-by step. 

If you don’t already know your 1RM, you can calculate a pretty close number by using a calculation software like this one. So going into this test, you don’t actually have to have lifted the heaviest you can for one rep and failed — you can just use the training you’ve done with higher reps to figure out what this would be before testing. By knowing your 5 rep max on a lift, for example, it will figure out roughly where your one rep max might be. From here, you can warm up for testing your one rep accordingly.

If you currently have a one rep max, then you can use this number to warm up accordingly to test your current 1RM.

The Warm Up

Everyone’s warm-up is going to look different as you focus on your preferred mobility exercises. Some people might need more attention on their calves while others may need to focus more on shoulders.

For everyone, though, the warm-up before testing your 1RM should be dynamic (non-static stretching) to warm up for the lift. For a squat or a deadlift, the warm up should focus on hip mobility, ankle mobility and warming up the hamstrings and glutes. A warm up for a bench press or over-head press will focus on shoulder and wrist mobility. Again, all warm ups will be unique to the individual preforming the lift.

After the dynamic warm-up, perform as many warm-up sets as you need without going to failure or wearing yourself out. You want to optimally be warmed up in the movement while working up to your prescribed weight in order to be comfortable in the lift without injury.

Work Up the Weight

Now that you’ve warmed up, you’re ready for some more weight. A sample of how you should load your weight using your sample 1RM from before goes as follows:

30% for 8 repsweights-646496_1920

40% for 6 reps

50% for 4 reps

60% for 2 reps

70% for 1 rep

80% for 1 rep

Attempt 1 at 90-94%

Attempt 2 at 96-100%

Attempt 3 at 100-104%

The percentages used are either based on your known one rep max or 90% of your calculated one rep max. If you have not tested your one rep max before, but used the calculator from above, it is best to do the calculations off of the 90% of your estimated one rep max, because the number calculated is an estimation. You do not want to sacrifice form or risk an injury for heavier weights.

So there you have it! Your 1RM is however much you could do at the end (with or without that 104% increase). 

The Take-Away…

Important notes are that everyone is unique and will go about testing his or her 1RM differently.

Always go off of how you are feeling. If you feel great and want to take out a few warm-up sets, then go for it. If you feel like you can get a fourth attempt then go for it. But always have a spotter when attempting a 1RM.

And NEVER compensate your form. See #2 and #4 of this article for added reasons to be safe when attempting something new. Form and safety is your main priority. 

Lastly, remember that your one rep max is for your benefit in improving on your strength. Don’t compare your number with anyone else’s. You should focus on increasing that number when you retest it in four or more weeks!

Check out these articles too: 

Weight loading based off of Layne Norton’s Ph3 Trainer

Author Natalie Nishi

I am a recent Psychology grad from University Oregon. I am currently learning the ropes of being a personal trainer. When I'm not in the gym I am taking pictures of my dog and binge watching Suits.

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