The 1 Rep Max Principle – Know WHAT You’re Lifting, To Know What You SHOULD Be Lifting!

In order to make a change, we have to do more than we did before…that’s where using your 1 rep max comes into play! All too often the 1 rep max is used by avid gym goers as a way of exhibiting their masculinity and absolute strength among their peers, this is all very well and is indeed, a valid way of gauging progress. Using a 1 rep max for the sole purpose of assessing total strength is fine, but it comes with risks such as overreaching, muscle strains and acute lifting accidents…you just gotta type 1 rep max lifting fails into YouTube for proof!

Using the 1 rep max just to get an idea of your total strength however is like using ‘Titan’, the world’s most powerful computer just to send an email to your Nan in Yorkshire! Yes, assessing total lifting/pressing capacity in one fell swoop has its benefits but there is so much more to the 1 rep max than meets the eye.

You can and should use the 1 rep max to gauge progression not just with regards to total capacity, but also in relation to what weight you lift per set of say 10-12 reps. Progression is key, and if you were benching 50kg for 10 reps when you first started for example, equating to maybe 50% of your 1 rep max, then it’s time you raised it…how much by is where the 1 rep max comes in. There is no set rule for what percentage you should increase the weight by, this is subjective and dependent on several variables, but a general rule of thumb is to work at approx 50-60% of your 1 rep max for endurance training, 75% for power (performed at high speed, say 1-2 secs for both positive and negative movement) and 85-90% for strength, enabling you to complete approx 4-5 reps per set.

For example:

Sticking with the bench press analogy, say your 1 rep max is a respectable 100kg, then endurance training (50-60% 1 rep max) would equate to a weight of 50-60kg for approx 12-15 reps, power training (75% 1 rep max) would be approx 75kg for 6-8 reps whilst strength training (85-90%) would necessitate a weight of say 85-90kg for maybe 4-5 reps per set.

If you wish to find out what your 1 rep max is in the safest way possible, and without entering the YouTube fail hall of fame, then use the following:

Perform reps with a weight that will result in you failing in fewer than 10 reps, and then use the following table to 1.) Find the amount of reps you failed at in the table below e.g. 8, and 2.) Find the %1 rep max that corresponds to it e.g. 78%, and finally 3.) Divide this by the weight you were using by the percentage i.e. 78 and multiply by 100.

Table: 1 Rep Max Converter 

Reps % 1 Rep Max
1 100
2 95
3 90
4 88
5 86
6 83
7 80
8 78
9 76
10 75

(Baechle, T, R and Earle, R, W, 2008).


Baechle, T, R and Earle, R, W, 2008. Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning, 3rd Ed. National Strength & Conditioning Association. NZ: Human Kinetics.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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