Progress comes easy when you first start lifting weights. You show up and get stronger almost without even trying.
As you get stronger, though, smooth sailing turns into choppy waters. Progress stops being linear. Some weeks you’re a little weaker, other weeks you’re a little stronger, and it becomes harder to tell if you’re really getting stronger or not over time.
At this point, the best way to measure your progress is to start tracking your one-rep max.
A one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition of a given exercise through a full range of motion with proper technique.
There’s a problem with actually testing your one-rep max, though:
True one-rep max tests are time-consuming, risky, and exhausting, and can significantly disrupt your normal workout routine.
Thus, a better alternative is to estimate your one-rep max using what’s known as a rep-max test.
While not quite as precise as a real one-rep max test, rep-max testing is far less arduous and still accurate enough to track your progress over time.
Let’s get started.
5:18 – Why should I track my one-rep max?
13:26 – How do you do rep-max testing?
21:16 – What are some tips for performing your best on rep-max testing?
Mentioned on The Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Howdy ho, and welcome to Muscle For Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about Rep Max testing and why it is probably the best way to measure your progress in the gym, especially when you are no longer a newbie, because when you’re new for the first year or so, progress comes pretty easy, right?
You just show up and you pick some stuff up and you put it down, and then you show. Again, you add some weight again, again, again. And rinse and repeat. It is pretty easy. It, uh, in the beginning feels like you almost are cheating. Right. But as you get stronger, that smooth sailing turns into choppy waters.
Progress stops being so straightforward and so linear. Some weeks you’re a little bit weaker, you have to take a little bit weight off the bar, or you get, uh, a few reps less than you did with your working weight in the last time you did the workout. Other weeks, you’re a bit stronger and you feel like you could add weight to the bar or you could do more reps than you’re going.
And it just becomes hard to tell if you are actually progressing, if you are actually increasing your whole body strength over time. And that is the key, as a natural weightlifter getting stronger, increasing your whole body’s strength. That is the way that you continue to gain muscle. And that is particularly true when you are an intermediate or an advanced weightlifter.
In the beginning, you can gain a fair amount of muscle, especially muscle size without. Much strength, but after your first year or so, if you want to keep getting bigger, you are going to have to keep getting stronger. And for women listening who are turned off at the thought of getting quote unquote bigger, think fitter, think more muscle definition, more muscle tone, more athletic looking.
And so once you have entered this phase of your fitness journey, when you can’t just show up every week and add five pounds to the bar or get an extra rep or. When progress becomes slower or less obvious, it makes sense to start measuring your one rep maxes to start tracking your one rep maxes. And in case you are not sure exactly what I mean by that, you can probably guess the definition.
But just to be clear, a one rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition. Give an exercise through a full range of motion with proper technique. Now, there’s a problem with this though. There’s a problem with doing true one RM tests. They are time consuming. They’re a bit risky, they are pretty exhausting, and they can significantly disrupt your normal workout routine.
Therefore, a better alternative, at least for most of. Weightlifters competitive power lifters aside, basically because they actually do need to do proper one RM tests, but most of us don’t need to. We don’t need to actually load the bar with 100% or even 105% of our one RM and go for one instead. We can use the rep.
Test. It’s not as precise as a real one rep max test, but it is far less difficult and it is still accurate enough and productive enough to allow you to track your progress over time. And in this podcast, I’m going to break it all down. I’m going to explain what a rep max test. Is how to do it, how often to do it, what not to do.
So you can start incorporating this tool into your training and use it to make sure that you are always moving ahead, that over time you are always getting a little bit bigger or a little bit fitter and a little bit stronger until eventually, of course, you reach your genetic ceiling for muscularity or fitness and.
Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef.
Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their. Body ever, and you can find them on all major online retailers like Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores. And I should also mention that you can get any of the audio books 100% free.
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That’s B U Y legion.com/audible and sign up for your account. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it, and if you wanna learn time proven and evidence-based strategies for losing fat, building muscle and getting healthy, and strategies that work for anyone and everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, please do consider picking up one of my best selling books, bigger, lean or Stronger.
Thinner, leaner, stronger for women and the shredded chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipes. All right. Let’s start this discussion with why you should track your one rep Max. I commented on this in the intro, but I wanna say a bit more about it before I talk about rep max testing and how to do it now, in case you did not listen to the intro and you are not entirely sure what I mean by.
One rep Max, even though you can probably guess what it is. I’ll just define it again quickly here, which is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for a single rep of a given exercise through a full range of motion with proper technique that is a one rep max. Now, why is the one rep max important?
Well, if your one RM has stopped going up on an exercise, that’s a red. That something probably needs to change in your training, your diet, your lifestyle habits. Because if your one rms, particularly on the big exercises, the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, the overhead press, if those numbers have not changed in some time, like let’s say a month or longer, then you are stuck.
In terms of gaining muscle and strength. Now, if you’re cutting, then that’s okay. That is the way it is. If you are not new to lifting, you expect to be stuck, and really, if you can end a cut without having lost any strength, then you’ve done really well because most people are going to notice a slight drop off in strength, probably around the eight week.
Mark sometimes the six week mark when they’re cutting. Usually what they’ll find is the working weights that they’ve been using are just heavier. Like if they could bench 2 25 for, let’s say four sets of six before cutting after six or eight weeks of cutting it now is looking like 6, 5, 4, 4. And then as they continue cutting, they may even need to drop the weight.
They may even need to go down to two 15 because they put 2 25 in the bar and then on set one, they get two or three. Anyway, if you are not cutting, if you are eating at maintenance, and especially if you are in a slight surplus, if you are lean bulking or lean gaining, then you. Definitely wanna see your one rms, particularly on your big exercises going up over time.
And if you don’t track your one rms, it’s very easy to fall into a fuzzy kind of performance purgatory where maybe you think that you’re getting stronger, but you’re really just spinning your wheels. And this. Often happens to people after their newbie gains have been exhausted, because as I mentioned in the intro in the beginning, when you’re new to resistance training, when you’re new to proper weightlifting in particular, it’s very easy to know that you’re progressing cuz you’re basically just getting stronger every single week.
But after six or eight months or so, for most people, That’s no longer the case. You can’t just add weight to the bar every week. You can’t even necessarily add reps to the bar every week, meaning that if your working weight is, let’s say it’s 1 55 now on the bench press, and you did three sets last week and you got 5 55, and then now in the next time, the next workout where you’re doing the exercise, you may still just get 5 55.
You may not even be able. 6 55, for example. Another common problem that intermediate weightlifters run into is they will take one or two steps forward and then take one or two steps backward. So for example, they may add weight or add reps to an exercise semi consistently over a period of time, let’s say 5, 6, 7 weeks, and work their way up to let’s just.
Deadlifting 315 pounds for five reps. Great. They’ve progressed up to that, but then they have a few workouts that just feel off and they have to drop the weight back down to like 2 75, and then they have to spend the next few weeks retracing their steps back to three 15, which feels like progress. If you had to go back to 2 75, but of course in the bigger scheme of things that is not progressing, and that cycle of progressing, regressing, progressing, regressing for a net wash basically can go on for a long time.
I know I’ve been there myself. There have been long stretches of my training in the past where weights went up and then down, and reps were up and down, and it was hard to know what was happening because I wasn’t following the advice that I’m gonna give you in this podcast. I wasn’t properly tracking my one RMS and doing proper rep max tests.
Contrast that with my training today though, which is in line with everything you find in my book, beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger, which is meant for intermediate and advanced weightlifters. It is what to do after bigger, leaner, stronger, basically. And in bb s, you do track your one RMS on the big primary exercises, as I call them, and you do that.
With proper rep max tests that are done once every four months. So the training macro cycle is four months and it culminates with what I call in the book A Strength Week, which is rep max testing to see if you have gotten stronger in the last four months. And when you start training this way, and when you start programming your training, according to those one rep maxes, which is also part of the beyond bigger, leaner, stronger program, you escape the training equivalent of yo-yo dieting.
You can really see. Whether you’re making progress or not. And if you’re not, then you can take measures to fix that. But if you’re not tracking your one rms, it’s very hard to know. So you can think you’re stuck. For example, I’ve seen this many times over the years, somebody thinks that they have hit a plateau, a training plateau.
They’re not gaining muscle or strength when actually they’re not. They’re just not tracking the right things to know. They are maybe just watching the scale or they’re looking in the mirror, or they are remembering their prs, or they are focusing on certain exercises that they care the most about or like the most, but not really paying attention to how they’re doing on other exercise.
And so again, the best way I know to avoid those issues and to really know whether you are making progress or whether you are stuck, is to track your one rep maxes. And I prefer Rep Max tests over true one RM tests. Now, why a true one rep max test involves lifting the heaviest weight you can for a single rep.
So you’re doing one rep and you have to use good form, and you are usually. Taking that one rep to just shy of muscular failure, like you can barely get it. And while that is the only 100% accurate way to know how much weight you really can lift for a single rep on that exercise, it’s also time consuming.
It’s risky. It is exhausting because to test it, you first need to train with lighter weights and lower volumes for several days up to even a week beforehand to make sure that you are rested and ready for it. You then have to push yourself very close to muscle failure, which is where your technique is most likely to break down, and that of course can cause an injury.
And another disadvantage is you are probably gonna feel pretty drained for at least a few days after you do your one RM testing. And that means you’re just gonna have to dial back your training. You’re gonna have to use lighter weights or lower volumes, or maybe even just take a few days off. Many people do that, and this is why I prefer rep Max.
Testing. It’s safer, it’s more enjoyable, it’s more time efficient, and it gives you an accurate estimate of your true one rep Max. Accurate enough to work for our purposes to allow us to properly program our training and continue making progress. The rep Max test is not as accurate because as learn it involves some matting, so you will get better data from the true one rep max.
But the rep max testing method is accurate enough. It works. It allows us to program our training properly and to continue making progress. Alright, so now let’s answer the question of how do you do it? How do you do Rep max testing? Well, the rep Max test works basically the same way as the. Uh, one rep max test tongue twisters, except you lift slightly less weight for as many reps as you can before your technique starts to break down.
So typically a rep max test involves lifting a weight for like two to six reps, but it is always more than one, and it can even be as high as. 10 or 12. I prefer though the two to six or maybe seven or eight range, which mostly just depends on how much weight you load on the bar. Another term that people use to refer to Rep max testing is amrap testing as many reps as possible amap.
And the reason that. To go for that two to six rep range in my amap or my rep max tests is that I just think it is a good balance between accuracy, one rep max accuracy and difficulty. A number of studies have shown that lower rep sets in that range of two to six are more accurate for predicting your one rep max than using higher reps, like eight plus reps.
And you can do those two to six rep sets without getting as blasted as with a true one rep max. Now, after you perform a Rep Max test, you then use some math. You use an equation to predict your actual one rep max based on how many reps you got with the weight that you had on the bar, and a simple way to do it the simplest way to.
Is to just use a good calculator, which you can find [email protected]. If you look at the learn menu, so if you are on a computer and you hover over, learn, it’ll drop down. Or if you’re on your phone, I believe you have to tap on Learn. And then nested beneath that, you’ll find tools, blog, podcast, and workout app.
So if you tap or click on tools, you’ll then be taken to. Tool hub over on the website and we have a one rep max calculator. That’s one of the tools that you can find there, along with several others. Total daily energy expenditure calculator, weight loss calculator, body fat percentage calculator, calorie calculator.
We have quite a few and we’re always working on the next one, so you may wanna bookmark that page actually and check it periodically to see what new things, what new trinkets, we have added. What you do then is you take, let’s say your bench press, you’re gonna do a rep max test on your bench press, and in a recent workout you did six reps with 185 pounds, let’s say, since you wanna stay in that two to six rep range in your rep max test, you then bump the weight up a little bit.
You want to go a little bit heavier. Let’s say you go to 1 95 to just keep you in that range. Then you do your warmup as you normally would do, and you just do as many reps as you can with 190. Pounds and you keep going until your form starts to slip. So for example, on the bench press, you might find that your butt starts to come off the bench.
Okay, that’s your last rep. Or you might find that your elbows start to rise. They start to rise towards your shoulders, they start to flare out more. You have to cheat a little bit more to keep the weight going up. Okay? That’s your last rep and you. And let’s say that you get five reps with that 195 pounds on the bar, and you then head over to legion athletics.com and you go to the tools hub and you check out the one rep Max calculator.
You put in 1 95 for five, and you find that your one rep max is 219 pounds and that’s it. You have successfully done a rep. Test. Now I want to break the whole process of getting there. Down though there are eight simple steps that you should follow when you are going to do a rep max test. The first one is deciding what exercise you want to do it for.
What exercise are you trying to estimate your one rep max on, and move that to the beginning of your workout. So for example, if you normally incline bench press before you flat bench press and you want to test your flat bench press, Strength your one rep max. Switch that around. Do your flat first, do your rep max test on it, and then you might want to do another set or two if you want to get some more bench press volume in before you move on to the incline.
Or maybe you’re gonna do it some other way. It really depends on the programming and what you’re doing with your training on the whole. But the. Important point is don’t do the incline first and then do your am wrap on the flat because you’re not gonna perform as well. So the next thing is, the second step is do a thorough warmup.
Do a proper warmup. If you’re not sure how to do that, head over to legion athletics.com and just search for warm. Up for workouts and you’ll find an article I wrote that explains how to do that properly. Then when you’re done warming up, rest three to four minutes, at least three to four minutes before you do your AMRAP test, make sure your heart rate has come down and make sure that you’re ready to give it your all.
Uh, then you load the bar or you. , you know, pick up the dumbbells with the weight that you think you can lift for two to six reps and set up brace properly. Make sure that you are paying attention to your form because the weight is heavy and you’re gonna be pushing yourself. And then do as many reps as you can up until where your technique starts to slip, or you just reach muscle failure.
And if your technique is starting to fall apart, if you are starting to bow your knees in on the squat, or maybe you feel. Back rounding a little bit on the deadlift. That’s the end of the set. And of course, if you reach muscular failure, which I would not recommend on, certainly on the squat and deadlift, maybe it happens on a bench press or another exercise that you want to test, then of course that’s the end of the set.
And if you got two to six reps, then you write down how much weight you used and how many reps you got, and that is your rep max. Now, if you got seven or more reps, I would add five to maybe 10 pounds to the barbell of the dumbbells, and then I’d rest another 3, 4, 5 minutes. And. Again, you might be a little bit tired, but you probably will still have enough gas in you to beat the performance on your first set, and then after you finish your rep max test, you can finish your regular workout as usual or do otherwise if you’re programming calls for it.
For example, if you’re following beyond bigger than or stronger, you would do an abbreviated version of your regular workout afterward. Just because the AMRAP sets are tough, especially on the squat and deadlift. And then of course you note down your one rep max, you take your rep max and you turn it into an estimated one rep max and you save that somewhere and you do that every three or four months or so.
And keep an eye on how those numbers are changing if you are doing the most important things mostly right, most of the time in the kitchen and gym your one mss, at least on your big exercises, should be nudging upward over. They’re not going to be making large jumps unless you are brand new, but you should see them slowly increasing over time until eventually you reach your pinnacle of potential strength.
Of course, you can’t gain muscle and strength forever, but most people are gonna be able to consistently. Gain strength, probably 4, 5, 7, maybe even 10 years. Muscle building tends to taper off probably around year five. There’s not much left. Uh, five years of proper training and proper eating, but strength, you usually can get a bit more out of your training than your muscle in terms of time of progress.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the shredded.
Last, I just wanna share five additional tips for performing your best in your rep max testing. And it’s not as grueling as a one rep max test, as I’ve said, but it’s also no picnic. So the first thing is make sure that you get plenty of sleep beforehand, because research shows that sleeping even an hour or two more than usual can significantly increase your athletic performance.
If you can get a little bit more sleep the night before you do your AMRAP testing, it may make, uh, it may make a difference. It may help you get a couple more reps with the weight. For example. Another tip is to reduce your training volume the week leading up to your test. And this is technically known as tapering when you strategically reduce your training volume, which can be defined in many ways, but I’m just talking about hard sets, how many hard sets you’re doing in each workout or in each week that is known.
Tapering and it is one of the simplest and most effective ways to boost your performance, to boost your strength, to boost your muscle endurance. And a simple way of doing this, a simple protocol for tapering before you do rep max testing, is to just cut your reps and sets in half during the week leading up to your test or your.
Tests, plural, if you’re gonna do multiple, but keep the weights heavy, so your normal training weights, but just half of the number of sets you normally do and half of the number of reps you normally do. Big reduction in volume, no reduction in intensity. So basically D load. De-load the week before you do your AM wraps.
And if you’re not sure what de-loading is or how to do it, just head over to legion athletics.com and search for de-Load and you’ll find an article I wrote called How to use D Loads to Gain Muscle and Strength Faster. Okay, my third tip for you is to recruit a spotter. Recruit someone who can watch you while you do your bench press and your squat, not your deadlift, uh, and not your O H P or overhead press, but particularly.
The squat in the bench press, it’s smart to have someone watch you while you do it and catch the weight if you start to fail. And this not only makes the rep max testing safer, it also just helps you lift more weight because when you know someone has your back, as you are getting close to failing, you are willing to.
Push yourself a bit further than if you’re on your own, and rightfully so. If you don’t have a spotter, the priority is not getting hurt, not reaching that point of failure where you have to bail on the weight, for example, and hope that it doesn’t land on your face or doesn’t break you in half. In the case of the squat, Now the key to using a spotter properly is communication.
Tell them how many reps you’re going for and when they should or shouldn’t touch the bar or touch the dumbbells, for example. You want them to know that they shouldn’t touch the weight until it stops moving completely or it’s moving backward. My fourth tip is get fired up. Uh, tap into what Teddy Roosevelt called our barbarian virtues.
Play your favorite workout music. Play it loud. Imagine yourself feeling strong and powerful and absolutely crushing the set as the cool kids say, maybe with some energy despair, I don’t know. Read some inspirational quotes beforehand. Do whatever you need to do to shed your nice civilized veneer and embrace a little bit of that savage streak in all of us.
You know, it’s there and it makes a difference in your lifting. It really does. If you can tap into it, if you can activate it, even if it’s just. 10 seconds. And my final tip is if you’re not already using a pre-workout supplement like Legion Pulse , give it a go 30 to 60 minutes before, have a full serving of Pulse, get the caffeine, and get the other ingredients that’s improve your mood and that sharpen your mental focus and help reduce fatigue and even boost your strength and endurance because, It can help, it can help a little bit.
You might notice that you get a couple more reps with Pulse than without Pulse. And if you combine that with more sleep, I mean shit, that’s pretty significant. Now that means that you’re gonna be putting more weight on the bar, right? If you’re getting an extra three to four reps because of sleep and pulse, uh, with a weight that you normally maybe do four reps with, well now you get to add five or maybe even 10 pounds on the bar for.
Rep Max Test. Alright, my brothers and sisters and iron. That’s it for this episode. I hope you found it helpful. Thanks again for joining me today, and if you’re curious about how else you can incorporate Rep Max testing in your training, check out my book Beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger, which is for intermediate and advanced weightlifters.
And for the lovely ladies who are listening, don’t let the title turn you off. Yes, the book is written for men, but there is a lot in it that you can learn as well, and there’s a lot that you can use in your training. The program itself is probably not going to be exactly what you are looking for. You are probably gonna want a bit more lower body volume.
But that’s pretty easy to do. And if you read the book, I would say that you are almost certainly going to be capable of just doing it yourself. And if you’re not, you can just shoot me an email, [email protected] and I’ll be happy to help you out. And as far as where you can get the book, you can get [email protected] in the shop, or you can get it anywhere online where you like to buy books.
Oh, and while we are on the topic of women and beyond, bigger, leaner, stronger, I should mention that I do plan on doing beyond thinner, leaner, stronger. But unfortunately I can’t do it anytime soon because I have a book coming out in the first quarter of next year with Simon and Schuster, and part of that agreement is I can’t self-publish anything from now until then.
And I believe for the six. Following the release of that book, I believe that’s how the embargo works. And then I can release one book at that time and then I can release another book. I can self-publish another book, I believe six months after that, and then six months after that and then the restriction expires.
I believe that’s how it works. And I’m not sure yet which books I’m going to be self-publishing in those three slots. Uh, one of them may. Beyond thin, leaner, stronger. I just have a couple of other options, including one manuscript that’s basically done. So it’d be kind of silly to not publish that. And another that I’m chipping away on that will probably be done as well by that time.
So I guess I’ll just have to see, I’ll have to see how the production flow plays out. Anyhow. Happy rep max. Testing, happy training, happy gaining, and definitely keep an eye on the podcast feed this week because I have an interview with Sam Vick coming on how to use mobility work and massage for happier joints and muscles, as well as another q and a where I’m gonna talk about mouth guards, compression clothing, and skipping breakfast.
All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or. Wherever you’re listening to me from, in whichever app you’re listening to me in, because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility.
And thus, it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well. And of course, if you want to be notified when the next episode goes live. Simply subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss out on any new stuff. And if you didn’t like something about the show, please do shoot me an email at mike muscle for life.com.
Just muscle f o r life.com and share your thoughts on how I can do this better. I read everything myself, and I’m always looking for constructive feedback, even if it is c. I’m open to it and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.
That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at multiple life.com. And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
+ Scientific References
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- Mayhew, J. L., Johnson, B. D., Lamonte, M. J., Lauber, D., & Kemmler, W. (2008). Accuracy of prediction equations for determining one repetition maximum bench press in women before and after resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(5), 1570–1577. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31817b02ad
- Reynolds, J. M., Gordon, T. J., & Robergs, R. A. (2006). Prediction of one repetition maximum strength from multiple repetition maximum testing and anthropometry. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 584–592. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-15304.1
- Dohoney Paula, Chromiak Joseph A, Lemire Derek, & Abadie Ben R. (n.d.). Prediction of one repetition maximum (1-RM) strength from a 4-6 RM and a 7-10 RM submaximal strength test in healthy young adult males. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228503989_Prediction_of_one_repetition_maximum_1-RM_strength_from_a_4-6_RM_and_a_7-10_RM_submaximal_strength_test_in_healthy_young_adult_males