Anyone who lifts weights, loves seeing strength gains.
If you’re like me, you lift to improve your body’s functionality, health & shape.
Increased strength in the gym can be a positive sign these attributes are a step closer to you achieving your goals.
To assess strength in the gym, athletes, coaches and trainers often utilize a 1 Rep Max assessment before and after a program.
The 1 Rep Max (RM) means just that; the most weight you can lift for 1 complete repetition of an exercise.
In the big lifts, a healthy, enthusiastic novice can progress quickly to 200lb, 300lb or more in a couple of well-designed programs. However, high loads, maximal effort and misguided focus can increase the potential for injury.
For example, every time you lift, and your spine loses that ‘neural’ (anatomically correct) position even by a few millimeters, it can increase the shearing forces through the vertebral discs up to 1000%.
Bending the spine under high loads repetitively, squeezes the natural moisture out of these discs that serve to keep our back mobile. Over time this produces micro-tears in the disc annular (onion-like layers).
These tiny tears never heal. A herniated disc is an accumulation of these tiny tears over time and ironically occurs after a seemingly mundane task like picking up a child's toy or moving a chair. That ruptured disc is now bulging on a delicate spinal cord, and anyone who has experienced this, knows the excruciating and debilitating repercussions.
I should know, with all my lifting and strength testing, I managed to completely wear out the two biggest discs in my spine by the ripe ol’ age of 27 years old. I spent years in agony and eventually had the discs surgically removed and the vertebra bolted together with 4 titanium cages.
Painful? You bet.
That was over 16 years ago, and now I live everyday with osteoarthritis that would stop a water buffalo stampede dead in its tracks…. All because my weight training programs revolved around seeing how much I could lift - squat, deadlift and bench press.
The result of too much of the wrong strength assessment.
Destroyed lumbar discs, removed and fused with titanium bolts. All because in every program I was hung up on seeing how much I could lift...
Next time you're on social media and view a friend's spine bend like a coat hanger under the immense load of a max-effort lift, think before you hit the “like” button - just remember the price their body and spine is paying.
When deciding on your method of strength assessment ask yourself, "What am I lifting for?"
If you are a Personal Trainer, think about what the goals of your clients really are.
Is the goal more "likes" on social media?
Or is it better functionality, health & body shape?
For effective, safe and accurate assessment, a science-based, research-proven warm up protocol is essential. As is a clearly defined system that identifies & teaches correct technique.
This is why I developed both for our MP Transformation Specialist Certifications.
On the question of what RM to use, a 1 rep max-effort is the most accurate. However, because it is the heaviest load possible, it also carries the highest risk.
If your livelihood is derived from your strength efforts, then regular 1RM assessments might be worth the risk.
Thankfully, the research also shows us that using lesser loads and higher rep ranges such as a 10RM for novices and a 6-4RM for the more experienced, serve as very accurate strength tests in the gym. [3-5]
If you’re after a lifetime of pain-free lifting, give your strength testing procedure and RM selection some careful thought – the damage and unrelenting ache in your back lasts long after you’ve forgotten how many Facebook likes the lift received.
1. Rasch, Philip J. Kinesiology and Applied Anatomy. 7th ED. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1989, pp. 169-191.
2. Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, Carey MF, Hayes A. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Feb;39(2):298-307.
3. Reynolds JM, Gordon TJ, Robergs RA. Prediction of one repetition maximum strength from multiple repetition maximum testing and anthropometry. J Strength Cond Res. 2006, 20:584-92.
4. Mayhew JL, Johnson BD, Lamonte MJ, Lauber D, Kemmler W. Accuracy of prediction equations for determining one repetition maximum bench press in women before and after resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2008, 22:1570-7.
5. Prediction of one repetition maximum (1-RM) strength from a 4-6 RM and 7-10 RM submaximal strength test in healthy young adult males Dohoney P., Chromiak J.A., Lemire D., Abadie B.R., Kovacs C. 2002 Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 5,3;54-59.