On occasion, then, I'd be willing to bet that you have been asked such questions as, "How big are your arms?" or "How much can you bench press?" With regard to this last question, does it really matter that you know what your current unfatigued maximum single effort (MSE) is in the bench press, or for that matter any other exercise? The answer is Yes, especially if you are an Olympic lifter, powerlifter or power-bodybuilder, who base the amount of poundage used from one set to the next in a given exercise on a current unfatigued MSE. Powerlifting guru Louis Simmons calls this Percent Training.
There are some advocates who strongly advise against doing single rep maximums. It is their opinion or conclusion that doing a single rep maximum lift is dangerous, injury-producing, and counter-productive to a person's training protocol even when the exercise repetition is done with perfect motion and precise form.
These die-hard opponents also feel the one-rep system can, over time, tear down the body mentally and emotionally as well. Not only that, but they go on record and state that maximum single reps are only an indicator of a maximum poundage that can be performed correctly in a full positive and negative range of exercise motion. They say it is not an indicator of anaerobic "size-strength" or endurance.
I have to disagree, and here's why. Many of the world's strongest bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and powerlifters have found the one-rep system to be one of the simplest, quickest, and least taxing ways to make the greatest gains in muscle size and strength in the least time. I have personally found the one-rep system to be a tremendous shortcut in acquiring tremendous muscle bulk and power gains.
Other obvious advantages in doing single reps is that they can reveal the anatomical sticking points in the bottom, middle, and top positions on just about any exercise. For example, of a person is stalled at the mid-point of a supine bench press, then more anterior deltoid work is in order in the form of perhaps parallel bar dips or barbell front raises on an incline bench.
Wouldn't it be terrific, though, to be able to determine what a single-rep maximum might be in a select exercise, but without actually having to do one? Of course it would, especially if you ever decide to employ percent training. Okay, here's how you can determine what your single-rep maximum is in just about any select exercise. This is accomplished by using an assigned coefficient (@) to a corresponding number of repetitions. The coefficient is a multiplier which is used to find the maximum amount of poundage that can be correctly performed for a single repetition.
Understanding Assigned Coefficients
So that you clearly understand the concept of assigned coefficients (@) to a corresponding number of repetitions, the following chart will be most helpful.
|Number of Reps||Coefficient(@)|
The maximum number of repetitions (NR) listed in the left column does not exceed 10 for the following reason: repetitions higher than ten do not accommodate for golgi-tendon readiness or the feel of really, really heavy poundages. Therefore, additional repetitions at 11 and beyond and assigned coefficients would not accurately reflect what a true all-out single-rep maximum might be.
How to Use the Coefficient Table
The following scenario reveals how to use the Coefficient Table. Back on November 29, 1996, at a special strength event in Boston, Mass, my friend Ted Arcidi, the cinder block Hercules and monarch of the bench press blasted up 9 full exercise range of motion reps in the supine bench press with 500 lbs. for a world "rep" record, and all without the aid of a bench shirt. The ninth rep was performed to absolute momentary positive failure. What a demonstration of Herculean raw power at its best!
To determine what Ted's single-rep maximum in the bench press was, simply refer to the Coefficient Table. Nine repetitions (listed in the above column) has an assigned coefficient of @-1.30 (listed in the column to the right). Five hundred pounds is then multiplied (x) by the coefficient (@) of 1.30: (500 x 1.30 =650-pound single-rep maximum).
Please realize that the chart is not chiseled in stone and a particular answer may vary by a plus (+) or minus (-) 5% depending on a person's prior or present traits of training protocol and as well the development of the "will." In Ted's case, he was on the comeback trail, so-to-speak, from very serious surgeries on both elbows (read about it in my 3-part feature-length article in the June, July, and August 1997 issue of Iron Man magazine), so he feels, in all honesty, that his single-rep maximum is perhaps 5% lower than what the Coefficient Table reveals.
However, the Coefficient Table has stood the test of time and has proven to be quite accurate on just about all compound and many isolationary exercises. To enhance the most accuracy from the Coefficient Table there are a couple of specific training factors to be considered.
Factors To Consider
Specific Warm-Up Sets
Specific warm-up sets serve as the physical and mental preparation for a maximum single set. There are some 13 physiological adjustments which occur during warm-up sets. Three of the most important ones are:
- Muscle temperature increases
- Muscle viscosity decreases
- Arterioles and capillaries supplying the muscles dilate and open up.
Do only what is minimally required to accomplish the 13 physiological adjustments. A guideline for accomplishing this would be to perform 1 or 2 specific warm-up sets, doing 10 or so reps per set with approximately 50%-65% of a maximum repetition set. Rest approximately 1.5 to 2 minutes between the two warm-up sets. Excess specific warm-up sets increase lactic acid into the muscles which in turn can lead to undue muscle fatigue, so don't turn the warm-up sets into a workout session. Rest approximately 3.5 to 4 minutes after the second warm-up set and then perform a Maximum Repetition Set.
Maximum Repetition Set
The maximum repetition set you choose to do (be it a 3RM, 5RM, or 6RM, etc.) must be executed with the most poundage involved that you can correctly do. For example, if you do 300 lbs. for 6 reps in a select exercise, but can actually do 8 reps to positive or concentric failure, then you must use the assigned coefficient for 8 reps and not 6 reps.
When multiplying with a coefficient, always round off an odd or unusable answer (poundage) either up or down (your choice) to the nearest five-pound interval.
A Final Comment
The mathematically-derived Coefficient Table has been a tremendous benefit to me and thousands of other power bodybuilders for determining a true single-rep maximum in a selected exercise. I sincerely hope it will do the same for you as well.