How Often Should I Test My Max?

volume

One of the more frequent questions we receive from new and intermediate lifters is how often they should be testing their one rep max (1RM). I am going to briefly discuss what I feel are appropriate times for 1RM testing, and some errors I see some athletes commit when following structured programs.

Simply put, it is my opinion that new athletes aren’t really in need of testing a 1RM for quite a long time, and even intermediate athletes do not need to test single maxes very frequently. I used to think that new and intermediate athletes should be testing a 1RM, as you can see in some of the older programs I have written. To me, new athletes don’t need to test 1RMs for a few reasons. The first reason is elementary: 1RMs do not really contribute to strength. For new and even some intermediate lifters, a 1RM amounts to little more than mental masturbation to make yourself feel better about what you are doing. 

This seems to be suitable to athletes across all strength sports: A new lifter would gain much more benefit from higher volume training, even a 3RM or 5RM would be more suitable for someone whose primary goal should be building strength, muscle mass, and joint/tendon thickness. This leads to the second error I see with lots of 1RM implementation: 1RM testing does not increase muscle mass, joint thickness or strength in any worthwhile amounts. 1RMs are mostly a stressor on the CNS, and while “frying the CNS” isn’t really our worry here, newer lifters should be focused more on increasing muscle density and strength.


Now, this isn’t to say that heavy singles can’t be a useful training tool. Sometimes we put heavy singles into newer athlete’s programming, but there is a difference between getting in lots of volume of a lift, and then adding a little amount of weight for 4-5 singles. We do this, knowing that it is not their max, we simply want them to get to feel some heavier weights and build some confidence under load, without making their confidence and technique go down the drain when a true 1RM is approached.

The third error I see committed when following programs based off percentages are lifters that can’t resist testing a 1RM on a day they feel good, a day that doesn’t call for testing. I definitely understand the desire to test a new max when I am feeling good, the issue is that the progress of a program can be altered when an intermediate athlete tests a 1RM out of turn. I said “intermediate lifter” because I don’t feel that percentage training is an efficient way to train new lifters. I am not alone in that mentality, for reasons that were stated above: New lifters need volume and multiple rep maxes, not 1RMs.

Intermediate lifters still will benefit from multiple rep maxes, rather than monthly or bi-weekly 1RM. I consider competing as one of the stages of being an intermediate lifter, and competitions are an appropriate place for 1RM testing to occur, usually on the third rep attempt. Leading up to a competition is still not an appropriate time to test 1RMs, in my opinion. Instead testing heavy doubles would be more beneficial until the lifter gains more experience and muscle memory with the movements.

You will see in some our training videos that we spend the majority of our time on 3-5 rep maxes, for nearly every lift. We are still at a level that allows us to perform higher volume that will increase our 1RM, thus keeping us from the necessity to perform singles often. It is indisputable fact that submaximal loads for higher reps are extremely beneficial for increasing overall strength, and because of this, 1RM will not lead to an increase in strength in a similar way whatsoever. The strength comes from submaximal rep training, and the strength is present whether or not you test the 1RM. 

Keep yourself from mentally masturbating in the gym by constantly feeling the need to test a 1RM. Instead, spend your time developing strength through the 2-6 rep range for strength, this will increase your overall max without wasting time on a lift that may make you look cool, but ultimately isn’t making you stronger. Save the max singles for competition.
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  • i´ve been seeing a lot of weekly “pr´s” in the crossfit community, people really don´t know what the f**k are doing and even the “coaches” let their clients go for their pr´s every 2 weeks. I understand that feeling of i´m strong when you lift something heavy, but guys, you need to be inteligent and careful. I think most of the people don´t know what they really want when they start a training program

    • Dude, who cares… A lot of CrossFitters don’t compete in powerlifting or strongman comps… They are just competing against other people at their box so they go for PR’s to put a new number on the board… It’s fun to lift heavy weight and a lot of people are doing it just for that reason… Not everyone is in a 12 week carefully mapped out cycle to become the strongest human on planet earth

    • Yeah they may not be competing in strongman or powerlifting, but those same people pretend that they are training to be champion of the world…and then when told that they are frying their CNS they argue. It’s not good to test 1rm’s for a trillion reasons with the first coming to mind that once in the 90% range peoples form tend to go to shit. Shitty form = imminent injury.
      So yeah, if you want to train for fun and to beat people at your local gym AND risk injury on a weekly basis, go for it. I’ll stick to my mapped out programing and PR once every 4 months on a platform where it counts.

    • Many people in the crossfit community also do not really have an idea of what an X RM actually feels like. For a lot of people a new “pr” is breaking a little bit of a sweat on their last round, not fighting for two minutes through the sticking point.

  • The one exception I can think of is snatch and clean & jerk. Working to a weekly 1 RM doesn’t stress CNS that much and helps with moving heavy weights on those technical lifts (Bulgarians and others lift near maximal on those lifts every day). Moving near maximal lifts on those two in particular feels different than sub. max. You aren’t looking to get a true “1 RM” each week, just to work up to what is as heavy as you can on that day. Some weeks you’ll hit a new PR, most you won’t.

    Besides that, I agree, reps in the 3-5 are where the money is made. And if you see numbers go up in that range, you know the singles are going up too.

  • I rarely test a true 1rm unless im seeing how i progressed and even thats rare! but with that being said i do perform heavy singles with weights i know i can grind out 2 or 3 reps with, i usually add volume by adding several sets anywhere from 5 to 6 doubles and singles and add a back off set of about 5-6 reps as my last set and i improve upon that for the subsequent 2 to 3 weeks then i switch the variation of the exercise the following and repeat! I had huge success with this!

  • The one good thing about testing out a new 1 RM is that it will set you up for a better 3-5 RM. I like to use the 1 RM as a measuring tool. Whatever it is, it is and end of story. Now the important part IMO is when you are doing your sets. I always like to do percentage schemes. 5 reps @ 75% 4@80%, etc, etc.. but you get the point. By increasing your 1 RM, you now increase your other percentages as well.

  • Perhaps its mental masturbation, or perhaps it just works for me… but I go for a PR attempt about once a week (granted always in a different lift OHS, FS, BS, OHP, BP, CJ, Snatch, and DL). So a given lift only gets attempted at Max once every 2 months or so, but in the meantime I get to see slow consistent improvement across all my lifts that motivates me to keep going. 2 years of training has paid off pretty well for me (squat 320 -> 465, snatch 185 -> 245, OHP 185 ->235, CJ 250 ->325). Crossfit style workouts, 37 years old, @ 245, 6′ 4″… from about ~19 to 36 year old I did nothing but get fat..

  • haha i love all the CrossFit haters… “they don’t do this, they don’t know this…” they are some of the happiest athletes i’ve met and love the progress they make, versus “your type”. I’ve been both and everything has its pros/cons. why do you care so much? you do you… let them do them.

  • CJtheRebel

    What’s wrong with doing a 1RM to make yourself feel good about what you’re doing? I’m going to go for a 1RM on a deadlift at 315 next week; I know it’s not going to make me stronger, but I feel like doing my first ever lift with three plates will validate the work I’ve put in this year.

    • John Heaton

      I quite agree I can’t see what’s wrong with trying a 1 rep Max if your feeling strong

    • Themistoklis Kolaridis

      Well, there is nothing wrong if you feel going for it. But the article is about advice and a reasonable one. There is no need to stress your CNS so often. You can instead make gains in strength and muscle for a period and then go for it. Guaranteed it will work better for you.

  • Chayanne

    I was doing 1 rep max for every single muscle one a week, destroying those weights. 5’7 , 167LB and benching 375 raw. Squat 495 raw and deadlift 515 raw. every week I was getting stronger and stronger but eventually I had to giveit up due to frequent joint pain. They’re back to normal now and I will eventually resume my training again..