1RM Testing Protocols

Often a training program will require you to lift a certain percentage of your 1RM. The program may not list the 1RM part.. but if there are percentages given it is implicit that they are of your 1RM.

What is a 1RM?

1 RM stands for 1 Repetition Maximum. It is the most weight one can possibly lift for one repetition without compromising correct exercise technique.

When training for maximum size and strength, 80% of lifts should fall in the 70%-85% range. Ten percent should fall above, and ten percent should fall below. When too many lifts are attempted above the 85% range, over time strength will decrease as the nervous system does not recover sufficiently over time.

So it is a useful thing to know, and testing it is not too difficult.



If you have have been training regularly for more than 6 months and your technique is good, you can safely perform a 1RM test. If not, a 3RM-6RM test will give us an approximate 1RM that you can use to plan your training.

To test your 1RM, set yourself up with about 20-30 minutes of time. Start off with some easy calisthenics or light cardio for just 5 minutes to help increase your core temperature.

Then get yourself over to your exercise of choice and go through your set-up, practicing all elements of technique very carefully with just an unloaded 45 lb bar.

At this point you will do the following loading scheme to prepare yourself for your 1RM test.
You may do a few lighter warm-up sets if you feel you need to, but keep the reps to 5 or below.

Take the unloaded bar and add approximately 10 pounds to each side of the bar and do 5 reps.

Add 10 lbs per side and do 4 reps
Add 10 lbs per side and do 3 reps
Add 10 lbs per side and do 2 reps
Add 10 lbs per side and do 1 rep

Continue adding weight in 10 lb increments until you feel you are getting close to your 1RM.

At this point if you are not sure you can add another 10 lbs to each side, add 5 lbs to each side and do one rep.

If you are successful, decide whether or not another 5 lbs per side will be possible, if you are unsure, add 2.5 lbs per side and make an attempt at 1 rep. If you are unsuccessful then your 1RM = the last weight you successfully lifted.

If you are successful go up by 2.5 lbs again per side and make an attempt.

Continue this type of step-wise progression until you fail at an attempt.

If you are a beginner, and depending on your body size, you may find increases of between 2.5-10 pounds per side are sufficient to get you up to your 1RM weight within 3-7 sets. If you’re a more seasoned lifter, you may find increases of 5-20 lbs per side will get you there in 3-7 sets.
If you are an advanced lifter, you may find increases of 10-45 lbs per side will get you there in 5-9 sets.

In fact, the number of sets is not predetermined, but rather useful for helping your nervous system prepare for subsequent heavier loading. So don’t try to get up to your 1RM with too few sets. Of course if you’re an experienced lifter, don’t use too small of a jump between sets or you’ll be there all day before you get up to your 1RM.

Example 1. :

A 225 lb guy with a training age of 5 years has benched 275 lbs for 3 reps in the past, but hasn’t lifted weights in 6 months. To test his 1RM, he might follow the following protocol.

45 (empty bar) x 5
275×1 (Just barely made it)

So although he could try to do 280, because he only barely made 275, its probably wise to just leave it at 275 as his 1RM.

Example 2. :

A 135 lb woman has been training for just over a year. She’s going to start a new program which requires a 1RM. Her best bench press thus far has been 95 lbs for 5 reps.

Her 1RM protocol might look like this:

115×1 (fails the attempt)

So her best 1RM is 110 lbs.

If you are a complete novice, attempting a 1RM can put too much strain on the ligaments and tendons, as well as unnecessary stress on the nervous system. For novices, a 3RM-6RM test is a better choice.

To do this type of test you follow similar protocols…

Example 3. :

A 145 lb guy, slim build wants to start a program where he needs to know his 1RM.
We’ll test him with a weight that is comfortable enough that it feels safe, and yet he can strain a bit against it.

First we try the bar, and he finds it ok and does 5 reps. Then we move up by 10 lbs total. We do four reps and stop him there as it looks as though he could do a few more. We add another 10 lbs total, and again stop him at 3 reps. We add another 10 lbs and yet again stop him at 3 reps. Finally we add another 10 lbs and this time he seems pretty shaky… so we’ll see how he looks at 3 reps. He hits 3 reps and appears to be able to possibly do one more. He attempts a fourth rep and is successful. A fifth rep is tried, but his spotter has to help him complete the rep.

Here it is again:
85×4 (the fifth rep required help)

So this means that his 4RM is with 85 lbs.

We now take this and reference approximately where he is on the chart:

1RM = 100%
2RM = 95%
3RM = 92%
4RM = 90%
5RM = 87%
6RM = 85%
7RM = 83%
8RM = 80%
9RM = 78%
10RM = 75%

You can go lower following approximately the same pattern, but below 6RM the accuracy
starts to fall off.

Interestingly, women tend to have a higher strength endurance than men, so women will usually be able to do more repetitions with a given percentage of their 1RM than men.

So if he managed 4 repetitions at 85 lbs, this represents approximately 90% of his 1RM. Dividing 85 by 90% we get 94.44 lbs.. or rounding it off to 95 lbs (easiest for weight selection).

I hope this sheds some light on RM testing and how to apply it safely.

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