How To Test Your One-Rep Max
If you want to improve, you need to know where you stand right now. Here are two Layne Norton-approved methods of testing your one-rep max!
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A lot of people talk about their one-rep max (1RM), but few of them actually go to the trouble of testing it often enough to make it useful for their goals and programming. You will, though, and I'm going to show you how.
Whether you're a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, or just someone looking to do your best work in the weight room, this is the lowdown on one-rep max testing: Why it's important to you, why it's useful to know it, and how to actually test it. If you're doing my PH3 13-week power and hypertrophy trainer, you need this information!
Layne Norton's Ph3 Trainer 1 Rep Max
Watch the video - 6:01
What Your 1RM Means for You
In the simplest terms, your one-rep max is the amount of weight you can lift for one rep on any given lift. Many people think this information is only useful for powerlifters, and while it's definitely important for them, it's still useful to know your ultimate strength as a bodybuilder.
Why? The one-rep max is important to know not only because is it the ultimate measurement of your strength, but because it can help you optimally build out your training block. Once you know your one-rep max, you can then set accurate percentages for different goals, such as hypertrophy-specific work, strength-specific work, and power-specific work.
For example, if I do some hypertrophy-focused lifting, staying at about 3 sets of 10 reps, I know I should be training at around 75 percent of my one-rep max. This will allow me to complete the reps and sets and set up an appropriate amount of specific weight for that exercise. If I didn't know my one-rep max, I would have to go by feel. I might set the weight too high and fail to hit the appropriate rep range, or too low to get the training effect I'm seeking. By knowing your one-rep max, you can objectively set up your training program.
Don't get me wrong: Training by feel can be effective, particularly for beginning lifters. But it also leaves plenty of room for error. And the more advanced you get, the more important it is to dial in your percentages to keep growing.
Technically, you can determine your one-rep max on any movement, from deadlift to triceps kick-backs. But I think it's most useful for compound movements, and in particular, strength-focused movements. Single-joint movements are more difficult to test accurately. So keep your testing focused on the big presses and pulls, and continue to train by feel on your isolation work.
How to Test Your 1RM Less-Experienced Lifters
I have two protocols for testing a one-rep max. One is for people who don't have much experience testing their max, and the other is for those who have extensive testing experience. If you haven't tested yourself many times before, here's how to determine your max before starting the PH3 13-week trainer.
Start by using this one-rep max calculator for whatever exercise you want to know. Take a weight and a number of reps you know you can do with good form—seriously, no chest-puffing phony numbers here! For example, if your best-ever rep-out set on the bench press is 200 for 8 reps, plug that in. That will give you your estimated one-rep max and all the accompanying percentages. The fewer reps, the more accurate it will be. So 5 reps at 215 is more accurate than 8 at 200.
Answers are rounded to the nearest 5lb weight.
Once you know your max, take note of 90 percent of your estimated one-rep max. This is the amount you'll to use to test. Using the 90 percent number for your max will give you a much more accurate representation than if you use the 100 percent number.
Before you start stacking plates, perform a thorough dynamic warm-up. I suggest you utilize the warm-up below. It was developed by Dr. Rori Alter, a licensed physical therapist and nationally-ranked power lifter. Once you've completed the dynamic warm-up, do as many warm-up sets as you need—without going to failure or wearing yourself out—and lift that 90 percent weight for as many reps as you can. Next, take that number of reps, plug it into the calculator below, and refigure your one-rep max. That's the max you'll use to build out your first week's programming on PH3.
Barbell warm-up complex (perform as circuit)
How to Test Your 1RM More-Experienced Lifters
If you have plenty of of experience testing your one-rep max, you probably have a very specific protocol you've been using for a while. This is the one I use. Try it out and see if you like it any better than what you're doing now.
Again, before you actually begin the testing attempts, go through Dr. Alter's dynamic warm-up in the table above. It's perfect because it includes both mobility work and dynamic stretching. Once that's done and you feel warm, you'll perform six warm-up sets and three attempts. I recommend resting between each warm-up set for as long as you need to be mentally and physically prepared for the next set. This is no time to rush!
Here's how you'll load your warm-ups:
- 30% for 8 reps
- 40% for 6 reps
- 50% for 4 reps
- 60% for 2 reps
- 70% for 1 rep
- 80% for 1 rep
Once you've done your 80 percent for a single, you're ready to begin your attempts. Here's how you'll load them:
- Attempt 1: 90-94% of current 1RM
- Attempt 2: 96-100% of current 1RM
- Attempt 3: 100-104% of current 1RM
For each attempt, let your previous single determine where in the percentage range you load. If your last warm-up single felt really easy, go on the higher end for your first attempt. If it felt heavy, go on the low side.
Phase 1: Max Weight Calculator
Answers are rounded to the nearest 5lb weight.
How to Get the Most out of Your 1RM Testing
Because this is a test, not a workout, you want to do everything you can to feel ready to perform. If you're feeling stiff and need an extra warm-up set or two, that's fine. But don't go overboard. You don't want to wear yourself out before you even begin testing.
On the flip side, you don't want to do too few warm-ups. If you do the appropriate amount of sets, it's not going to wear you out. It's just going to ready your body to express its maximum strength.
Because you're using as heavy a weight as possible, testing your one-rep max can be dangerous, so I recommend using a good spotter. I also recommend using the best form you possibly can. If you squat high, bounce the bar off of your chest on the bench press, or hitch your deadlifts, you're going to get a higher number than you should. Thus, the weights are going to be too heavy when you go into your program, you'll miss reps, and the program won't be effective.
It goes without saying that the potential for injury is also higher with larger weights. You may be able to cheat your deadlift form at 60-70 percent and get away with nothing worse than a sore back, but at 100 percent of your 1RM it could be bad news.
How Often Should You Test Your 1RM?
How often you retest really depends on your goals. If you're a powerlifter or someone who is training with very specific strength goals, you're probably going to test it a little more often than you would if you're a bodybuilder. If you're primarily a bodybuilder, doing it a couple of times a year is sufficient, because it's not specific to your goals. You could do it every three months, every six months, or even just once a year, when it's helpful to build out a strength-focused training block.
Once you have an accurate picture of your one-rep max, you're ready to raise it. I can't think of a better way than my PH3 13-week power and hypertrophy program . Put that number to good use—and then outgrow it!