Why You Suck at 1 Rep Maxes

Why You Suck at 1 Rep Maxes

Do you ever feel like you’re bad at checking your one rep max? For example, maybe you can lift 295 lbs for 6 reps but can’t lift 315 for one. What causes this? Are you just not built for one rep maxes?

I don’t think so. And ignoring whether it is actually a good idea to test your one rep max or not, I know you can be better at it.

Here is why you aren’t getting the one rep max numbers you expect!

You Don’t Practice 1RM

There is more to testing your one rep max than just strength. Heavy lifting is a skill. And although lifting any weight requires some form and skill, heavy singles require even more.

Most lifters are good at moving weight in the 65-85% max area. However, they struggle immensely in the 90-100% space. If you aren’t actively practicing this skill, you likely aren’t going to get better at it.

Many powerlifting programs now include regular singles before they get into the volume section of the workout, specifically to fight this problem. For example, they might have one set of one squat at an 8 RPE followed by five sets of five at 80% of that single rep.

The whole point of a workout setup like this is to train your mind and body to work when doing heavy singles. You start practicing it more, and you’ll get better at it.

It is essential to note that these heavy singles are not done at max weight. You should not try programming singles if you don’t know how to program a powerlifting routine. They are built into a well-rounded powerlifting program, typically at an RPE 7-9. However, they are meant to get practice, not beat up your body. If they aren’t programmed right, they can hurt your progress, not help it.

You Aren’t a Powerlifter

If you are going to the gym to get bigger or leaner rather than get stronger, you simply aren’t training right to be testing one rep max. So why do you feel the need to test it?

If your primary goal isn’t strength, and you aren’t training for strength, then you don’t really need to know your one rep max.

On the flip side, if you are trying to gain strength, stop training like a bodybuilder and start training like a powerlifter. A powerlifting program will prepare your body to lift heavy singles, and you will make far more strength progress than you were with any other training style.

Will you gain strength in other training programs? Absolutely. But nowhere near what you will achieve with a strength program.

Your program in the gym should be specific to your goal if you want to make any decent progress. For example, wanting to be the biggest guy in the room and the strongest guy in the room are two very different goals requiring two very different training styles.

That said, if you are dead set on getting bigger and stronger, find a program that caters to both. Just expect to make less progress than you would with a single goal.

You Aren’t Peaking

Peaking is training to be maximally prepared to achieve peak strength performance at a specific time. For example, powerlifters peak for their meet dates.

Your body isn’t capable of being at maximum strength all the time. Have you ever noticed that some days the weights feel lighter or unreasonably heavier? This is normal and can be programmed to happen at specific times.

Typically this involves building strength up, then doing skill work with your new strength, and finally tapering down the volume to reduce fatigue.

The Simple Answer to Being Better at 1 Rep Max

Rather than trying to solve all of these problems on your own, take the already readily available knowledge and leverage it for yourself!

Most decent powerlifting programs have peaking built in and will train your body to be prepared for max attempts. So all you have to do is pick a good powerlifting program and STICK TO IT!

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In 2013 I attended TVCC with my studies focusing on nutrition and biology. After leaving TVCC I pursued a career in inbound marketing and have worked in many different industries including health and fitness, firearms, coaching, and many more. I spent 6 years training for powerlifting and 6 years after training for a bodybuilding show in Idaho, which sadly did not come to fruition.

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