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Measuring your strength

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by thekensingtonstudio

Following on from our last post about testing your cardiovascular fitness, this article will enable you to determine your absolute strength. The best way to measure your maximal strength is through one rep max (1RM) testing, which is a measurement of the maximal weight that can be lifted once without failure or injury. Your 1RM is typically measured with compound exercises that target the major muscle groups including the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.

To perform a 1RM test, it is important to avoid fatiguing the muscles beforehand. After a thorough warm up, you will need to select a weight as close as possible to what you think your maximum would be. Rest for three to four minutes before increasing the weight slightly and trying the lift again. The test is repeated until you can no longer perform a full repetition with good form. It is advisable to use a spotter when performing this test.

However, only advanced weight lifters should perform a 1RM test. Lifting a maximal load is extremely taxing on the body, and it is imperative that one learns and practices correct form before attempting this type of lift. Injuries can easily occur if you overestimate your ability and attempt to lift too great of a load.

Therefore, those with less experience with weight lifting should estimate their 1RM by using a lighter load for a higher number of repetitions to fatigue. Select a weight and lift it for as many times as possible with good form and steady pace.

As a guide, you can typically perform 10 reps at 75 per cent of your maximal load. For example, if your 1RM is 40 kilograms, you should be able to perform 10 reps to fatigue with 30 kilograms. This would be referred to as your ’10 repetition maximum’.

Use the following formula to determine your 1RM, where ‘weight’ is the amount you lifted:

1RM = (Weight x 0.0333 x Reps) + Weight

For example, John can squat 100 kilograms for eight repetitions.
John’s 1RM = (100 x 0.0333 x 8) + 100 = 126.64
Estimated squat 1RM of 126.64 kilograms.

The above calculation is only an estimate. The true amount can vary significantly depending on the individual’s weight training experience and muscular mass. For example, those with little strength training experience may find their actual 1RM is lower because their nervous system is unable to handle the stress of a high weight.

There are a number of benefits of knowing your one rep max. Firstly, it gives you an idea of what weight you can safely lift so as to avoid injury when exercising. Secondly, it allows you to target specific weights as a percentage of your 1RM. For example, training for strength typically involves working at 85-90 per cent of your 1RM, hypertrophy training is generally based around 80 per cent of your 1RM, while training for fat loss or muscle endurance usually involves lifting 70 per cent or less or your 1RM.

Finally, knowing your one rep max provides a measure of progress. As your strength develops, it is important to repeat either a one rep max test or an estimated one rep max test at regular intervals to monitor improvements in your strength.

There is not a standard measure to compare yourself to when it comes to beginners. In the beginning, you will be competing against yourself and trying to better your own scores. For the more seasoned weight lifter, provides a more advanced set of guidelines to judge yourself against. This link will enable you to determine whether you are at a novice, intermediate, advanced or elite level across five lifts: the overhead press, bench press, squat, deadlift and clean.

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