The Scary One Rep Max

Preparing (Mentally and Physically) for a One Rep Max

We don’t want to tell you when, but the New Year isn’t just going to bring some ‘new-found’ motivation, but it will also bring the chance to find your true strength with One Rep Maxes….

*cue scary scream*

Read below to see how you can prepare for your 1-RM and not make it seem so scary. These are also great tips on how to approach ANY lift because as Coach Ali always says “approach the bar like you’ve already lifted it”

We often get asked about how to prepare for a new max effort. We also see a lot of people in the gym jump up too fast in weights and we see way too many times when people mentally fail a lift before they ever even approached the barbell.

we’ve said it before, but we often like to refer max efforts as “max efforts for today”. There are a lot of factors that go into getting a new one rep max, and today may or may not be the day where everything aligns just right.

Getting a good night of sleep and eating well the days eating up to the big day are hugely important as well. A well-rested, well-fueled body will make a big difference!

One rep max efforts and how to approach them are a very individual thing. If you have something that works for you – great, I encourage you to stick with it. If you are struggling a bit, here are some tips.

Mentally Prepare

This is something that starts long before a max effort lift.

Every time you appoach the barbell (or box, or kettlebell or rower, etc.) do it the exact same way. Create a habit and a pattern.

Make a signal to your brain and body that you are going to be doing something now. So often we see people get all set up for a lift and then you can see the wheels spin – should I go now? How about now? Am I ready now? What if I miss?

“When I double under, I always do one single to make sure the rope is spinning tight and then I go right into doubles. If I am doing any sort of power lift (clean or snatch), I walk up to the bar, plant my feet, take a deep breath, put my hands on the bar, take the tension out of the bar and lift. For a strength lift, I unrack the bar, make sure it is settled in, clench my butt cheeks, tighten my core, take a deep breath, and then lift.”

It seems really fast, but now you have mentally prepared for it before putting your hands on the bar. No sense in sitting there and freaking yourself out about all the things that could possibly go wrong. That is a sure way to a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Warming Up

The warm up is a delicate balance of being thoroughly warmed up, but not getting too tired when it comes time for those big attempts. Be sure to do enough sets and reps to be warmed up, but not so many they are you too tired when it comes time to lift the big weights.

A sample warm up if you have 20 minutes may look like this:
5 – empty barbell
5 – 35% of old 1RM
5 – 50%
4 – 75%
3 – 80%
2 – 85%
2 – 90%
1 – 95%
1 – 105%
1 – 105%+ if time allows

When we work on one rep maxes in class, we have a set amount of time on the clock. If you have unlimited time, you may approach it slightly differently, but this gives you enough time to recover and get blood back into the muscles, but not too much time that your muscles start to cool down.

If you have previously failed a lift, you can’t just go back to it right away and expect to make it. Your muscles will need a few minutes (two minutes is recommended) to gather their resources before you try again.

“I avoid doing the barbell math and psyching myself out. I just keep adding weight until I can’t anymore. Anywhere between 5-10 pounds per set depending on the lift,  where I am at with time, and how I am feeling.”

If you do want to know the weight you are at Try to avoid doing my old one rep max again, go for 95% and then 105%. You have to play some mental games with yourself when it comes to lifting something heavier than you’ve ever lifted before!

What It Should Feel Like

We see people lift heavy weights all the time. And very often feel that people could do more, but they are scared. They are afraid of failing the lift (which is the whole point!) and they think they have just gone heavy and aren’t sure if they can do more. They often can!

A one rep max is just that. You are attempting to lift something heavier than you have before. You don’t know how much you can lift until you can’t lift it.

While reaching for a new one rep max, you should go to failure. You should have that moment of panic when you aren’t sure if you can do it. And then you should push through and see what happens – you may surprise yourself!

Don’t give up too early.

You may get stuck for a moment in a back squat. The bar may not be moving, but you should keep trying for a bit. You may surprise yourself and get that bar moving! I often see people get stuck and panic and bail too soon.

And don’t be afraid to bail!

You are testing your body at it’s upper limits. You should wonder if you can lift that weight. You should have a moment when you aren’t sure. And if it turns out that you physically just can’t – bail with dignity! Now you truly know how much you can and can’t lift.

You should keep adding weight until you can’t safely lift it anymore. Now, safety and form are things to consider. We often see form break down in a new max effort, which is expected, BUT we still want to be safe and remain injury free. If your back is severely rounding in a deadlift, you should stop. If your rib cage is flaring in a shoulder press, you should stop. If you’re catching that power clean with your feet super wide and your back is arching, you should stop!

It is unlikely you will have perfect form during your one rep max, but you should certainly aim for that!

Managing Expectations

Keep in mind that you might not get a new one rep max every time you try.

You can always improve, but some days the stars are aligned and some days something is just a little off.

Be sure to track your lifts so you can see your progress over the course of months and years. At some point, you will get to a place where it may take you quite a long time (maybe years) to get that extra pound or two. It doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing or that what you are doing isn’t working, it means that you are at the upper limits of your body’s physical capacity.



Ali SchumacherComment