A Better Way to Calculate Your 1RM

blog PL max It’s never been easy to accurately determine the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one rep.

You either expend a ton of time and energy as you lift, rest, add weight, lift, rest, add/reduce the weight, etc. – judging, missing, and guessing your way throughout the haphazard journey. This cycle continues until you find a true one-repetition maximum (1RM). The process, at best, will take 15-20 minutes per exercise and it can be exhausting – literally and figuratively.

Or you perform a submaximal set to failure and plug your numbers into an equation that may, or may not, have been clinically tested. Furthermore, many indirect methods (i.e., submaximal lifts) that calculate a 1RM require you to fail at a specific rep, say, rep 10 or the calculation won’t work.

Like I said, it’s not easy to figure out your 1RM.

But knowing your 1RM for the lifts you perform is beneficial, even if you’re not a competitive powerlifter, Olympic lifter or strongman competitor. There are two reasons why.

First off, many programs use percentages of the 1RM during the course of a training cycle to determine how much load you should put on the bar in each workout. Obviously, you’ll need to know your 1RM to get those training loads dialed in correctly.

The other reason it’s helpful to calculate your 1RM is because it’s not easy to always know if your maximum strength is increasing when you’re doing the most common type of exercise – submaximal resistance training. Last month you were using 60-pound dumbbells for 8 reps, this month you’re lifting 50-pound dumbbells for 12 reps. Did you get stronger?

It’s not easy to tell, right?

Before I outline the best indirect way I’ve found to determine your 1RM, I’ll say here that the purported risks of performing a true 1RM, from time to time, are often exaggerated. If you’re a person that has been training for a few years and adheres to strict lifting form, you should have little to worry about.

However, there are legit reasons why people don’t want to put in the time and effort to figure out their true 1RM. And many of you probably train people that don’t feel comfortable working up to the highest load and intensity possible.

If your clients feel that performing a 1RM test for the deadlift will cause them an injury, it probably will. No use in trying to convince them otherwise, just follow the clinically-tested calculation below and you’ll get the most accurate estimation I’ve found.

The 8-12 Formula Method

Step 1: Start with a load you would rate as a 5-6 on an intensity scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) and perform 3-4 reps. Rest 1 minute.

Step 2: Add 10-15% to the load in step 1 and perform 3 reps. Rest 2 minutes.

Step 3: Choose a load that you feel will cause you to fail around 10 reps and perform as many reps as possible.

Of course, the likelihood of failing at exactly 10 reps is pretty low, even for experienced lifters who know their strength. And that’s the beauty of this formula: as long as you fail somewhere between 8-12 reps, the calculation will work. (Note: If you get less than 8 reps or more than 12 reps during the test, you’ll need to rest 3-5 minutes and try again with a lighter or heavier load.)

Here’s the formula:

(Load x Reps x 0.03) + Load = 1RM

Let’s say you tested the dumbbell overhead press with 60-pound dumbbells. You performed 9 reps, but failed to complete the 10th rep. The calculation will look like this:

(60 x 9 x 0.03) + 60 = 1RM
16.2 + 60 = 76.2

The calculation estimates that you could do one rep of the overhead press with 76 pound dumbbells (if they existed). But finding 76-pound dumbbells isn’t important: what’s important is being able to calculate your 1RM through various submaximal training cycles so you can determine if your maximum strength is increasing.

My advice: let math spare your joints.

Stay Focused,

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What the Hospital Taught Me

blog acute in patient The title of this post was intended to be provocative. However, I wasn’t in the hospital as a patient – I was there to learn how to treat patients with a vast array of orthopedic and neurological dysfunctions.

As part of my Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) training at the University of Southern California, I’m required to perform clinical rotations to develop my skill set. This summer I was assigned a clinical experience at a hospital in downtown Los Angeles that caters to trauma victims. It was, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. So I wanted to share what I’ve learned, and encourage any upcoming trainers or therapists to delve into that world.

One of the many reasons I went back to school to pursue a DPT degree hinged on the fact that, as a performance specialist, I figured out that I needed to improve my knowledge base beyond what my typical clients could teach me. Continue reading

Build Your Glutes Fast!

blog glutes runner It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, everyone wants impressive glute development. But many people don’t know how to intelligently train the glutes to achieve the best look and performance. So I’m here to tell you how to do it as quickly as possible.

First, let’s cover the primary functions of your largest glute muscle: the gluteus maximus. At the hip it provides the torque for extension, abduction and external rotation. However, most lifters put too much emphasis on the hip extension action during their workouts and this can lead to poor glute development and performance.

Let me explain. Continue reading

A Better Way to Correct Lifting Form

blog megaphone If you’re a trainer, coach or physical therapist it’s essential to use effective coaching cues. For years we’ve been telling clients to “squeeze this” or “brace that” or a host of other verbal instructions that often weren’t as beneficial as we’d like.

You might know what it feels like to squeeze your glutes during a squat or lunge, but most people don’t – even professional athletes. The problem is that most clients never learn how to correctly activate certain muscles. The key word here is “learn.”

Over the past few decades, Gabriele Wulf, Ph.D., has been a pioneer in the research for determining how people learn complex motor skills. She and her team have studied the effects of different verbal cues for jump height, balance, posture and even golf. I’ll save you the work of thumbing through all her studies on PubMed and get to the bottom line: External cues work better than internal cues.

So what does that mean to coaches, trainers and therapists? It means you could get better results by using different words while coaching exercises that are typically problematic.

The deadlift, for example, is an exercise that requires a good, solid hip hinge. Therefore, we often tell clients to “hinge at the hip” during the descending phase. Or we tell them to “push your hips back as you go down.”

However, those are internal cues because you’re telling them to focus on a body part. Continue reading

Squeeze More Muscle into Your Training

blog biceps squeeze Muscle growth requires tension. If you haven’t been gaining muscle, one likely culprit is a lack of high-threshold motor unit recruitment during your sets.

When the tension of your muscle contractions is too low, you’re not stimulating the muscle fibers that have the most growth potential.

This holds true for any muscle group.

However, the calves come to mind here since they’re one of the most notoriously stubborn muscle groups – if you chose the wrong parents. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding he mentioned that one of the ways he got his proportionally puny calves to grow was with super-heavy sets of incline leg press calf raises.

In essence, he forced his calves to produce more tension and they grew because of it. But you’ll quickly run into a wall of fatigue and joint strain if you only add weight to your exercises.

There’s a simpler, safer and more effective way to get more tension and growth out of your sets: the squeeze. Continue reading

Q & A: Whey Protein and the Deadlift

This week I decided to answer two questions I recently received from a reader. -CW

Chad, my dermatologist recommended that I stop using whey protein. However, I know you recommend it for pre- and post-workout nutrition. What should I do?

CW: First off, acne is primarily caused by excessive inflammation in the body. So anything that reduces inflammation can help clear up your skin. You can put every acne cream ever invented on your face and it still won’t work nearly as well as cleaning up your diet by adding anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and wild fish.

So the question is: does whey protein increase inflammation? I believe that 99% of them do because the natural immune-boosting nutrients in whey have been destroyed through heating and acidification processes used in most whey protein powders. However, what if whey protein is manufactured the right way, thereby keeping the immune-boosters in tact? From what I’ve experienced with clients, a clean whey protein such as Warrior Whey will probably decrease inflammation in most people. Continue reading