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How To Determine Your 1 Rep Max

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter, having an idea of how much weight you can lift will allow you to strategically plan for your workouts. To determine this, you will need to perform a 1-RM or estimated 1RM test, to assess your current training status.  Doing so will not only help you with determining the load to use each session, but it will give you the ability to retest your strength again after your program to see the progress you have made. Here is how to determine your 1 rep max.

What Is a 1 Rep Max (1RM)?

A 1RM or estimated 1RM test is the maximum weight that you can lift one time.  Typically this is done with compound lifts or multi-joint movements such as the squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press, clean and jerk, but really it could be applied to any exercise. 

How To Determine Your 1 Rep Max

There are multiple ways to test for your 1RM and how you test it really depends on how accurate you want to be. First, let’s talk about the quickest and easiest way to do it. This is not the most accurate method, but it gives you a rough estimate.  Now I want to note that this hasn’t been studied and proven, but I do use it when in a pinch.

1. A quick method is to find a moderate to heavy weight that you can lift with good technique for no more than 8 reps. This doesn’t work with higher than 8 reps and the lower the number of reps the better.  So you take the number you lifted and you count each rep minus 1.  Now we are going to treat each one of those reps as 10 lbs and add that to the weight you lifted to determine your 1RM.  For example, let’s say you lifted 315lbs for 3 reps.  So take away 1 rep and you have 2 left, so 2 x 10 is 20+ 315 means your e1RM is 335 lbs. Now as I mentioned this isn’t 100% accurate but it beats having to use a formula. 

e1RM

2. The second method to estimate your 1RM (e1RM) is using the Brzycki formula. This is the gold standard. So to use this, it is simply the weight x (36/ 37-reps).  To test our first calculation we will use this formula. So using the same example from above, we had 315lbs for 3 reps so we have e1RM = 315 (36/37-3) = 333.5 lbs.  So as you can see, this proven formula isn’t too far off from my quick test to be used in the gym. 

Brzycki

3. The final way, which is the most accurate, is to truly test your 1RM which will take some time and a couple of spotters.  

Now the first thing you want to do is a general warm-up to increase total body temperature, then do some movement prep. Then you want to do a specific warm-up to the lift that you are testing and build up to the 1RM as displayed in the picture. 

1rep max warmup

This will produce the absolute most accurate results for you; however, as mentioned you will need a couple of spotters and some time allocated to do this.  Also, I want to point out that after doing a 1RM test like this you should give yourself about 2 days of recovery especially from higher loads as testing your 1RM is very taxing on the nervous system as well as the musculoskeletal system. 

The entire goal of the 1RM test is to determine your capacity in order to build your workout program.  After finding your one-rep max, you are going to use that number as your starting point and your workouts will be based on a percentage of that point.  

Recap

So let’s take it from the top.  You first need a little training history of ideally 6 months before you test your 1RM.  From there, you can use a formula such as the Brzycki formula to estimate your 1RM or you can do the actual test.  Use this number to help you determine the amount of weight to use during your lifts. You can start to use various percentages of your 1RM to build a plan for yourself. This is where the basis of true programming starts.  Lastly, be sure to re-test your 1RM every 6-12 months in order to always be working at the upper limit of your abilities.   

Joseph Rosi, DPT

Dr. Rosi is a performance orthopedic and men’s pelvic health physical therapist. He has a passion for helping people get out of pain, recover from an injury, and increase performance. He believes everyone should take the time to learn how to move optimally before injuries ever occur. Outside of working with clients, he spends time with his wife and loves to travel the world.

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