My true 1 rep max, what is it and how do I prepare?

Everybody loves to see what their max strength is in lifting. In Olympic lifting, it is a test of power, strength and technique. 

Both CrossFit and The Barbell Club devote time to develop quality liftingcontrolled movement, and managing intensity. We use the  1 rep max to benchmark clients periodically and to track the progress of their development. Since the Barbell Club focuses on building strength, this is tested at the end of every cycle. 

Why do we test? 

People tend to join our programs to either change the way they look or get stronger and fitter. Fitness tests are sporadic - they vary in the time domain, intensity and skill level. Strength tests are more primal and require a bigger CNS drive. 

1 rep max testing is a test of strength. CrossFit adopted some tests from powerlifting, the back squat and deadlift. We moved the bench press, a horizontal press to strict vertical press as it has more applcaion in everyday life - it's 'more funtional'. 

So what happens during a true 1 rep max? 

A 1-Repetition Max is, theoretically, an indication of your nervous system's ability to recruit a maximum number of the muscle's contractile components. A 1RM is essentially a combination of your neurological and muscular ability to display of your maximum force production capacity, through the “recruitment” of very high numbers of “motor units”.

This varies depending on age ( Neuro Muscular Efficiency decreases with age - through mostly because it tends to be untrained) and sex. Male's have a greater NME so can dig deeper and produce more power. But, a woman can bounce back much faster. This is why the 30 power clean test at 80% of a 1RM has such a varied degree of performance between men and woman. Woman win nearly every time. 

Strength VS Power

It's backwards that the typical bodybuilder thinks they are 'strong'. Yes, they have a lot of lean muscle tissue, so yes they are 'stronger' than the average population. But if train slow, you test slow. You need to train with power (power = [weight x distance] / time) in small reps to truly develop high NME. Train fast to develop power and find success in your 1RM. A bodybuilder will not have as high NME as a sprinter. Fact. Usain Bolt is much more powerful than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

An example: 

The deadlift at 150kg: P = W x D / T. P = 150kg x 1m / 2s. Power = 75kg per second. 

The power clean at 60kg: P = W x D / T. P = 60kg x 1.5m / 0.5s 180kg per second. 

This is obviously a rough example, but you can see that a lighter load over a shorter distance creates power. Both can be 1RM tested. But you have to be strong for both, and powerful for one. Both test the NME, but they are different tests. 

Now, what we preach isn't a 'theory', it's 50 years of strength and conditioning research. But pop culture would have you believe a bodybuilder is athletic and intensity exercise classes are the fix to all your fitness woes. But that's another story. So let's move onto the test. 

How should you properly warm up for a 1RM test? 

  • Dynamically move. We do this in every class, warm up the body and start to drive the connection between the brain and body by giving movements patterns that compliment the test. 

  • WAKE UP THE CNS. Maximum force production or MAX OUT lifting is all about your BRAIN. Your muscles are obviously at work in a max lift, but our Central Nervous System (CNS) is the real driving force. Fast broad jump, seated box jump. Anything explosive without load. 

  • Load correctly. A beginner will perform more reps and sets, maybe 8,8,6,6,4,4,2,1..1. This is because they are still learning the motor pattern and the load isn't as intense because they can't drive as deep, they don't have high enough NME or lean muscle. An advanced athlete may follow the prescription 3,2,1,1,1,1,1...1.

  • Don't be linear. If you have an old PR at 100kg, don't follow 20,40,60,80, 100. Instead 50, 70, 85, 95, 97.5, 100. As you move up through the sets the differential should get lower and lower. This depends on athletes too. A woman will be able to handle more volume but less intensity in theory (assuming training age is the same) to a man. So it depends on you, your preference, your sex, your training age, your metabolic age and how much you have it between the eyes. ;) 

Good Luck! 

Smart Performance