Simply doing 10 or 20 reps of an exercise because you ‘feel’ like it or ‘because that’s what everyone does’, isn’t based on any specific science. Training the correct way is all about science, if you aren’t using the correct training principles you are simply guessing and merely playing around in the gym.
This is part 2 of our new Strength blog series where we will be looking at all things strength related. Be sure to read part 1 where I discuss what % you should be aiming at increasing upper vs lower body weights every 4-6 weeks.
Make it your own
If you aren’t training at the correct intensity, then you aren’t training correctly, and you’re wasting precious time to get to your goals.
I personally use 2 methods to determine a client’s true resistance prescriptions. The first one is the ‘1RM test’ for intermediate to advanced individuals and the second is the ‘Multiple RM testing method’ for beginners or those who don’t push themselves to the max on a regular basis.
Knowing your actual weight prescriptions is much more personal and targeted to your own individual needs, rather than just doing what everyone else does.
1 RM Test protocol
This methods is a well tested and very accurate way of finding your own specific prescribed weight that will ensure you get max results as every single session is based on the results of this test.
Just a few rules first:
- I prefer not to do this test with beginners as they need to push themselves to their limit. There is always the risk of pushing too far in a heavily weighted test especially if you haven’t done this process before. If you have been consistently pushing yourself hard in training for at least 6 months the this 1 RM test is for you, if not rather opt for test 2.
- 1RM tests are done with multi-jointed structures only. These include exercises where 2 or more joints are used like the knee and hips at the same time, or the elbow and shoulders at the same time. Single joint exercises produce very inaccurate results. So bench press and squats are good examples, a bicep curl’s testing won’t be accurate are are not included in this series of tests. I’ll typically use 1RM tests for bench, overhead press, squats, deadlifts and the variations of these lifts.
- The lower the amount of reps (1-5) you complete, the more accurate the testing is. A high amount of reps also tests muscle endurance (8 reps and up), which is a factor we don’t want to test here. We only want to test maximum strength, not strength endurance. Keep it below 5 reps and ideally as close to 1 rep as possible.
- You only have 4 attempts at this. If you are taking 5 attempts or more you are going into the realm of muscle endurance once again. keep it short and simple to test only max strength.
Okay let’s get started, we will use the bench press as an example here, the same protocol will be used for squats, deadlifts and other multi joint compound movements.
- After a good 10 minute warm-up that includes elevation of the heart rate, shoulder, elbow, wrist and core specific movements – choose a bar and load it with a weight that you can complete about 8-12 reps with relative ease. This is your 1st of the allowed 4 build up set.
- Rest 3 minutes as the energy system you are using needs sufficient time to recover the force generated by the active muscles. In this case the chest, shoulders, arms, and core.
- Now here is where the action starts – this is your 2nd of the 4 build up sets. Load the bar up with additional weight where you can complete between 5-8 reps. Keep in mind that the best results that are the most accurate will be when you only complete 1-2 reps because the resistance is too heavy to do more reps than that. So don’t hold back too much on loading those weights.
- Now rest 5 minutes to give your active muscles a full recovery.
- Load additional weights onto the bar in order to score somewhere between 3-5 reps. This is now your 3rd set of the allowed 4 sets.
- Once again rest a good 5 -7 minutes in order for a full muscle recovery. Because it’s maximum effort after this! So rest well. The phosphate system you are using to lift max weights recovers between 3-7 min. So for this 4th attempt be sure to rest the full 7 minutes to get your best and most accurate lift.
- This is your 4th and final go at this, so ensure you choose the heaviest weight that you can possibly lift.
- Write down the amount you have lifted in kg/lbs and how many reps you have completed. Ideally you want to lift 1 rep here as this represents the true 100% max lift. Use the following graph as a guideline. It represents your maximum ability. You need this number to calculate your training goal.
As an example – let’s say I managed just 1 rep of 85 kg in the bench press test. That means my max strength / 1 RM in the bench press is 85kg, and this is very accurate. If you managed 2-5 reps be sure the use the table above and calculate the 1RM as a max lift ideal.
Train for your own goal
Now that we have the 1Rm or max weight you can handle, we can use a percentage of this to train for muscle endurance, hypertrophy, max strength or power. Let’s say you want the best beach body then a combination between hypertrophy and muscle endurance will be the weight you need to train on to reach your goal. Simply training on a 1 rep lift at 100% your max ability will increase your strong yes but it won’t give you the beach body you crave. You have to train specifically towards your goal by using the correct percentage and and reps to reach that goal.
In part 3 I’ll show you what weight, reps and sets you need to use from the info you have gathered to train for your max strength, muscle endurance, hypertrophy or power goal.
For now try the 1RM test on your squat, deadlift, bench press or overhead press and let me know how it goes.