Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nobody Cares About Your One-Rep Max

Earlier this summer I found myself sitting in on an exercise prescription lecture for second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students at my university. I’ll likely be delivering this lecture next year, so I wanted to have a look-see at the material that was currently being offered. Plus, I just love being that guy who sits in the back of the room interrupting the professor to add his two cents every so often.

One of the things that struck me during the lecture was the emphasis (or overemphasis, in my opinion) on the one-repetition maximum (1RM). For those not familiar, a 1RM is the heaviest weight you can lift one time for a given exercise.

(Note: if you’re feeling fussy, you can differentiate between a “true” 1RM and a “technical” 1RM. True would be the heaviest weight you can lift, form be damned, just get the weight up any which way. A technical max would be the heaviest weight you can lift with perfect form.)

Devoting lecture time to the 1RM isn’t unique to exercise prescription for physical therapy students. 1RM and the testing thereof gets a lot of attention in most exercise textbooks and kinesiology curricula. This thorough treatment of the 1RM isn’t without reason, of course. Tons of training parameters are based off of it.

Conventional training wisdom dictates that if you want to train for a particular adaptation (e.g. strength/power, muscle gain, or endurance), you do a specified number of reps that corresponds to a certain percentage of your 1RM. In addition, 1RM testing can be used to document performance gains over time.

That’s all dandy, but here’s my beef. Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter or an otherwise advanced trainee, the process of figuring out your 1RM is often unnecessarily painstaking, risky, and uninformative.

The number just isn’t that important.