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“The only people in the entire resistance training population who need to know their 1RM for any exercise are competitive power lifters and [Olympic] weightlifters.” Ralph N. Carpinelli, Medicina Sportiva, June 15, 2011

One-Rep Max (1RM) Meaningless for Most People

How Much You Can Lift Once and for Reps Is Fixed 

The only time I paid attention to 1RM was during my Olympic lifting days. For basic bodybuilding exercises, I have always selected poundages for specific rep ranges through trial and error. I was not aware that some resistance training experts believe it is important to know 1RM for each exercise before planning a training routine. That sounds like a good way to get hurt before you begin. A new study suggests that my instincts have been essentially correct.

 During my years (14 to 35 or so) as an Olympic lifter 1RM was my primary concern. I sweat blood for every pound.

Let me tell you what I learned from a comprehensive review and analysis by Dr. Ralph N. Carpinelli published June 15, 2011, in the journal Medicina Sportiva.

Unsupported Claims

The claim is that a specific percentage of 1RM is required to maximize increases in muscle size or strength. Some outlandish assertions have apparently been made. For example, an adjustment of 5 or 10 percent has been said to cause a change effect of two or three times. Another claimed that 75% 1RM produced an effect size ten times greater than training with 70% 1RM.

The ideal percentage is said to vary based on training experience. A position paper recommended 50-70% 1RM for novice trainees, 60-80% 1RM for intermediate trainees, and 70-85% 1RM for advanced trainees.

All of that is nonsense, according to Carpinelli. “It has been reported recently that different percents of the 1RM ranging from 40% 1RM to 90% 1RM and different ranges of repetitions such as 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, etc. have failed to elicit any significant differences in strength gains in the preponderance of resistance training studies,” he writes in support of his view.

“From a practical aspect,” Carpinelli adds, “prediction equations would require trainers and coaches to know a multitude of equations, which would depend on the equipment used for each specific exercise, and the age, sex, and training experience of each trainee.”

These claims are “primarily unsupported opinions” and are largely “without any scientific foundation,” Carpinelli reports.

Injury, however, is apparently rarely a concern. Carpinelli reports that the risk of injury for healthy individuals during assessment of 1RM is minimal if done with proper form. That’s beside the point, he says, because “the primary question is whether these assessments are really necessary.”

There's a simpler and better approach.

Strength-Endurance Relationship Fixed

Carpinelli says training experience doesn’t matter. Most training studies, he reports, “support the concept of an unaltered specific relationship between 1RM and relative muscular endurance for each specific exercise in different individuals.” The relationship between how much you can lift once and how much you can lift for reps is fixed for each individual; it does not change with training. While 1RM is of little importance, the strength-endurance relationship is significant; it provides an accurate gauge of strength gains for each exercise.

For example, if your eight-rep maximum in the bench press is 100 pounds and you progress to 120 for the same number of reps, it is reasonable to assume that your bench press strength has increased by 20 percent. Your 1RM has very likely also gone up 20 percent. You can test yourself if you like, but it’s not necessary. Your muscular endurance and strength go up in unison. The relationship doesn’t change.

The relationship probably varies based on the individual’s balance of fast- and slow-twitch fibers, which is genetically based. (My idea; Carpinelli doesn’t guess.)

That’s good to know, I believe you’ll agree. The relationship is unique to you and may vary from exercise to exercise, but that’s not a problem. You don’t need to know precisely what the ratios are in order to know that your muscular strength and endurance are on the same trajectory.

Most power lifters operate on this assumption. They begin a training cycle with higher reps and gradually increase poundages and lower reps as they peak for competition. They don’t focus on single rep lifts until the end of the training cycle; even then most of their training is two reps or more. If you’re not going to compete, there’s no need to ever do single reps. Frankly, I can’t remember when I last did a maximum single in any exercise.

The Bottom Line

“There is a direct relationship within individuals between muscular strength and performing a maximal number of repetitions with a submaximal resistant,” Carpinelli concluded. “This relationship does not change with training and is more relevant to progressive strength gains than knowing the actual or predicted 1RM, which appears irrelevant.”

If you don’t plan to compete, forget 1RM and concentrate on improving your performance with submaximal poundages. Select a rep range and manner of performance that suits you and work on improving over time. “There is very little evidence to suggest any particular range of repetitions, rep duration, or the amount of resistance for any muscle group will result in a superior specific outcome such as strength gains…,” Carpinelli assures us.

“The bottom line to stimulate strength gains is to select a load that requires a reasonable effort on the final repetition of a set and gradually increase the resistance…,” Carpinelli explains. There is little, if any, difference, Carpinelli observes, between a one rep maximum and the final rep of a set done with maximum effort. That makes sense, doesn’t it? A maximum effort is a maximum effort.

To maintain interest and motivation, you’ll probably want to vary the rep range and manner of performance. For example, you might want to change rep duration (slower or faster) or do no-lock repetitions at times. Something new almost always adds a spark to your training. Just keep in mind that the effect is mostly psychological. A big part of training success is psychological; without motivation your sunk.

The possibilities are practically endless. How you do it is up to you. Train with effort and you can’t go wrong.

Do keep in mind that rest is important. Stress without rest is a prescription for failure. I have found that the hard day, easy day approach keeps the body and mind fresh. For details, see my book Ripped 2 http://www.cbass.com/PRODUCTS.HTM

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