Redefining The One Rep Max

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Once or twice a year athletic programs will perform a 1rm (rep max) to gain a perspective of their athletes over all basic strength.  Depending on the sport and its needs, strength coaches can develop the proper program from the resulting test maxes. A big obstacle that stands in the way of the strength coach is developing a program specific to each the sport and the athlete.  How can a strength coach develop a workout plan that is athlete specific when there are thirty or more athletes with different adaptation levels, athletic ability and different levels of personal drive to succeed? These elements should all be considered when constructing a program that will allow athletes with different levels of ability to perform at their best.

For me, designing a program is like poetry; it has structure, flows smoothly, and has rhythm. I like to think of it as a bull-whip.  The tempo of a whip is a transfer of the motion, starting with your arm, transferring that energy in a rhythmic fashion into the length of the leather, resulting in a nice effortless “CRACK” of the whip. This is how I construct a program.  If at any moment the 1rm is not figured into a program properly then we will never get the greatest result at the end. As in the whip, if we never get a smooth rhythmic motion at the beginning then we will never get the “crack” we want at the end. Make sense?

I am guess everyone reading this knows how to arrive at a percentage of a 1rm right?

If it slips your mind then this will refresh your memory.  Let’s say your actual 1rm in the Power Clean is 400lbs (182kgs).  A basic ‘linear path of adaption program’ is a great way to track progression.  As an example, I will choose a 6 week pre-season phase for Track & Field athletes.

The first week you want to use 65% of their max and progress forward from that.

400lbs x .65 = 260lbs

Simple enough right?  Here is an example of what a six week program would look like using 400lbs as the 1rm.

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Well, what would you say if I told you your 400lb max lift in the power clean is too heavy?  Yes, I just told you that 400lbs is too heavy!  Let me explain why.  On the day an athlete attempts a 1rm he/she they’re in a state of arousal, and if they are a high school or college athlete they may have used a caffeine supplement to help aid in their performance.  Athletes cannot keep up that type of intensity every workout.  Strength coaches will argue that attempting the percentage of weights used and failing is still beneficial.  Being successful on completing two sets of all its reps and failing on the third set has some room for argument. Yes, you are going all out and eventually getting stronger.  However, is this type of strength, the strength we want in sports in order to jump higher, run faster or throw further? I’ve known many athletes that were strong, but terrible at sport.

What I have found with the athletes I have worked with, along with my own training, is to lessen the 1rm when making a program.  A Power Clean of 400lbs is still 400lbs (for your ego, lifting war stories, etc). In the case of developing a plan that allows a progression of adaption, success at completing reps, a muscle contractile unit that moves more efficiently in the realm of displaying power and the overall goal, increase sports performance; 1rm weights must be lowered.

MY RULE OF THUMB is this:

  • Power Clean/Snatch 1rm -30lbs
  • Back Squat/Front Squat 1rm -40lbs
  • Bench Press/Incline Press 1rm -30lbs

Lowering an athlete’s 1rm and implementing that weight into the micro/macr-cycles percentages will allow the weights to be heavy enough for you to adapt and grow each week with limited platues, but even more importantly, leading towards greater sports performance.

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If you are truly a believer in following the original 1rm, be aware your athletes will miss reps and perform slower in sport. Even if they push hard and fast the reality is, if the weight is moving slow then their contraction is slow.  If you are really set on having your athletes perform a true percentage of 1rm, then try to do it in your pre-season strength phase. Once you’re in season and in the thick of things follow my “RULE OF THUMB.” Another reason to follow my theory, it leaves room for energy in other areas like technique and quicker recovery. Has anyone seriously had a good technical day when they were extremely sore? I sure as hell haven’t. More times than not, an athlete would get injured.

Take the “meathead” out of lifting and bring in common sense. Move weight more efficiently, and do it consistently week in and week out by following a well laid out program that lowers the initial 1rm.  Your performance depends on it!

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